SUICIDE SQUAD: Is It Really That Terrible…?

Posted: August 9, 2016 in COMICS, FILM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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You may have heard that Suicide Squad is terrible.

You may have also heard that’s it’s actually pretty good. Ultimately, as with everything, you should make up your own mind: and judging by how well the movie seems to be doing at the box office, the harsh criticisms don’t seem to be hurting it commercially.

I actually wasn’t one of those people who was all that hyped about the Suicide Squad movie coming out. Having dipped in and out of the comics and being particularly a fan of Harley Quinn in general, I was looking forward to seeing it; but I was actually very surprised that Warner Bros even decided to make it at all, given that it wouldn’t logically feature so close to the top of a hypothetical pecking order for DC Universe big-screen adaptations.

In that sense, I commended the studio months ago for going with this particular film, because there would’ve been a more obvious logic (at the executive level) in putting this lower down the list and focusing more on bigger brands like Justice League or the Flash.

But Suicide Squad was a much cooler move: particularly as it meant we would see one of DC’s finest cult favorites, Harley Quinn, brought to cinema much sooner than I would’ve expected.

And then, like mostly everyone else, I saw the trailer and the promo images and I thought ‘shit, this is going to be bad-ass’. But that was the extent of my expectation: I expected a fun film, something very different for the DC cinematic world, and not much more.

So I wasn’t really in a position to be all that disappointed.

And I also have no reason to particularly treat critics or immediate online ‘consensus’ too seriously (I always like to remind people that most critics wouldn’t give Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi any praise when they were released).

But after months of general hype and enthusiasm, when SUCH negative reactions and low ratings began to trickle onto the web days before the release, it felt like Batman V Superman deja vu.

Some of the reviews have been pretty brutal; worse probably than the early reviews for BVS. Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal, was unremitting; ‘In a word, “Suicide Squad” is trash. In two words, it’s ugly trash. Maybe no more words should be wasted on a movie that is, after all, only a movie, not a natural disaster or a terrorist attack…’

Bit harsh. It’s only a movie, after all; and meant to be a fun, end-of-summer diversion, not some epic masterwork.

Is Suicide Squad really so terrible? Not really so terrible. I mean it’s a movie I was okay with having paid to see – mostly for one main reason. Is it great? No, certainly not. In fact, even ‘good’ might be a little too generous.

The critics aren’t so wrong in this instance. It is tonally a mess. It is badly edited. It doesn’t feel like it goes anywhere. It often feels like it’s trying too hard to be offbeat and edgy in a manufactured sort of way instead of finding an organic tone. The story is poorly told and riddled with problems. It juggles a whole bunch of meaningless characters that aren’t developed at all. It’s too loud and abrasive most of the time. And the underlying fetishism gets boring quickly.

It is not a grown-up movie at all; but it isn’t a kid-friendly movie either. It’s more like something cooked up by a confused adolescent trying to vaguely rebel against something.

 
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For the type of film it could’ve aspired to be, Suicide Squad  is also unnecessarily constrained by its PG-13 rating and could’ve done better had it gone more decisively adult.

The one thing I mentioned above that rescues this enterprise from being a complete waste is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn (pictured above). It leads to an inescapable thought that this would’ve been better as just a Harley Quinn movie with the rest of the ensemble simply there as minor guest roles (or maybe with Will Smith’s Deadshot as the main supporting role).

I’m thinking along the lines of the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie – also a very bad film (much worse than Suicide Squad), but I’m not talking about quality-level, just the way it was a Wolverine movie that happened to have a bunch of other characters in it too.

Jared Leto is a complete waste of time as the Joker.

In fairness, he doesn’t have much screen time – and how does anyone follow Heath Ledger’s singular interpretation of the character? But even so, given Ledger’s extraordinary performance in 2008, DC/Warner Bros might’ve sought to brink the Joker back to the big screen too soon.

For all the talk of Leto’s method approaches and his deep prep for the iconic role – which I now suspect was actually either the actor or the studio simply trying to create a mythology around the performance to match the existing mythology around Heath Ledger’s performance – there is nothing on display here that couldn’t have been done (better) by a dozen other actors.

It’s a total waste of the Joker.

On the other hand, Will Smith is perfectly fine as Deadshot. But again the real standout thing in this movie, almost universally agreed on, is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. While Robbie’s interpretation of the iconic character isn’t necessarily a by-the-book adaptation of the varying source material, it is close enough – and at the same time different enough (at least to my mind) – that it works a treat.

Which is also probably why I don’t feel like this movie is as worthless some people think it is: given that Harley is the main reason I was interested in this film, the fact that she’s the best thing about it helps. This doesn’t plaster over all the problems with the rest of the film, but the fact that we get here an iconic, memorable on-screen realisation of an iconic character almost on a par (I said almost) with Michelle Pfeiffer’s 1992 Catwoman in Burton’s Batman Returns isn’t a small accomplishment.

If they’d fucked up Harley Quinn, then this movie would’ve had virtually no redeeming feature.

 
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Paul Dini, who originally created the character, has said he thinks Margot Robbie’s take is spot-on.

However, virtually every other character is instantly forgettable; which is again reminiscent of the aforementioned Wolverine film, which was also overpopulated with cinematic non-entities. The movie starts reasonably promisingly, but generally fails – as entertaining as it is in places – to capture any of its potential.

But there may be very specific reasons for all of that.

Indications have now been surfacing that Warner Bros experienced major anxiety in the wake of the negative reaction to Batman V Superman and that this prompted excessive – and very late – interference from the studio.

The indications now are that the studio had people come in and make a different edit of the movie that was significantly at odds with what Ayer had initially been doing. The end result, allegedly, was a ‘compromise movie’ that combined Ayer’s original vision with the studio execs’ late re-edit. This would explain why, as numerous critics have said, the end product is an unwieldy, disjointed picture.

More extraordinary, after audiences responded very favorably to the teaser trailer, the studio decided to hire the company behind the teaser to re-edit the entire film.

In effect, it appears Ayer was initially trying to make a smaller, more edgy, quirky kind of movie, but that the studio intervened to steer it more into blockbuster territory. According to an article in Hollywood Reporter,  ‘A source with knowledge of events says Warners executives, nervous from the start, grew more anxious after they were blindsided and deeply rattled by the tepid response to BvS… So while Ayer pursued his original vision, Warners set about working on a different cut, with an assist from Trailer Park, the company that had made the teaser. Other sources describe a fraught process — one cites “a lot of panic and ego instead of calmly addressing the tonal issue”…’

If true, this would be a perfect example of why it is often best to let one creative mind follow a vision and see it through to conclusion (take Nolan and the Dark Knight trilogy as a prime example) rather than to have art decided by committee. Too many cooks and all that.

It seems rather ridiculous for the studio to have given the job to a directer/writer they were obviously confident in and then to barge in late in the day and make an executive film instead of the one he had been trying to make. And worse, not for creative reasons, but purely out of panic after a completely separate movie was badly received.

The fact that they hired the company who’d made the trailer to assist with the film’s final cut is also extraordinary and somewhat suggests a lack of creative integrity.

And it actually feels like a movie that’s been cut together by people who make trailers: it’s all action, close-up shots, brooding camera poses and excessive pop-music montaging, with major deficiencies in depth, story or emotion. Maybe it’s the kind of edit that an audience utterly obsessed with movie trailers deserves. I mean, there are people now who spend more time obsessing over trailers or teasers months in advance than they do talking about an actual movie after it is released.

A film edited by trailer/teaser merchants seems like the natural outgrowth of that.

Many have noted that the studio’s decision to do the Suicide Squad movie may have been inspired by how successful Marvel was with the Guardians of the Galaxy movie in 2014. In both cases, we’re talking about comic-book properties that were very popular with their loyal readerships but didn’t necessarily have the big, mainstream stature that would guarantee success with broader, non-comic-reading audiences.

And like GOTG, Warner Bros looked to go the more quirky, indie style route. The difference, it may be, is that whereas Marvel/Disney allowed James Gunn to pretty much do what he wanted with GOTG, Warner Bros/DC apparently couldn’t resist exercising excessive executive control on whatever Ayer’s vision for Suicide Squad was.

Not that David Ayer should be entirely let off the hook: he did write the story and script, after all, and neither are anything to flaunt with pride.

I don’t, for that matter, think GOTG was perfect either. But it was far more fun, more endearing and more coherent than what Ayer and co have produced here: and the irony is that Suicide Squad, on paper, should’ve been a much easier, more straightforward movie than GOTG was to make.

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All of that being said, I don’t think Suicide Squad is quite as terrible a movie as is being suggested though.

It’s not any kind of masterpiece: but I don’t know why anyone would’ve had such high expectations that they would be so disappointed. Ayer always seemed to feel that he was making a quirkier kind of ‘side-show’ movie in the DC universe and not anything in the big blockbuster mold.

For what it is (rather than what we think it should be), Suicide Squad is reasonably entertaining at times, funny in places, has at least one bad-ass character, and is distinctly different to anything else the DC/Warner Bros machine has produced. It is probably a better ride than Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice or the Green Lantern movie (and I’m sorry, but I’m still struggling to believe Wonder Woman is going to be anything particularly worthwhile).

It is also deeply flawed, quite jarring, tonally awkward, genuinely annoying in places, and could’ve been a lot better – but a lot of that may be down to the aforementioned studio interference and last-minute panic attack. Which is something the studio is going to have to learn from.

What it doesn’t do is help the DC Cinematic Universe get onto surer footing. But that isn’t really this film’s job – that was Batman V Superman’s job; and if the former movie failed to accomplish that, that’s a separate issue.

In this fast-paced, comic-book-movie obsessed, blockbuster-centered, mass media climate we live in, people tend to be losing their ability to take in a movie on its own merit and instead attach a whole load of extended-universe baggage to it and view it in the context of other ‘branded’ movies or of movies yet to come. I’m a little guilty of that too; but that is, in fairness, how the studios themselves are conditioning us to be.

I also think that if this same film had been released ten years ago (or twenty), it would probably be a fan favorite or cult classic, even with all of its failings. But we’re in an era of over-saturation and maximum competition. There may also be a degree of superhero movie fatigue colouring a lot of critics’ immediate responses.

But again, it’s Margot Robbie and Harley Quinn that save this movie from being a total waste.

We know that there’s a Suicide Squad sequel due to go into production; but I would happily take a Harley Quinn solo movie. I would certainly take it over the Wonder Woman movie. And actually one of the things that occurs to me watching Suicide Squad is that some of the edgier, quirkier, darker characters may be a better route for the DC Cinematic Universe to go down instead of potentially floundering in Superman or Wonder Woman, Aqua Man and other staple fixtures that may be more difficult to translate to cinema without being cheesy.

If they were to look to characters like Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, the Joker (not Jared Leto), Catwoman (not Halle Berry), etc, they could craft out a very different cinematic world to what Marvel is doing instead of competeing with Marvel/Disney on the current terms. Having said that, I’m aware of course that this is kind of what they were trying to do here with Suicide Squad: so it may be that this DC Cinematic Universe is just never going to get things right no matter what route they go down.

Which is a sad thought.

In summary, Suicide Squad isn’t great and probably isn’t even good. But it’s also not quite as miserably terrible as you might’ve been led to believe. Cinema’s first taste of Harley Quinn makes it just about worth the effort.

I will say, however, that the 2014 animated Suicide Squad movie, Batman: Assault On Arkham, is overall a much better one to catch, if you’re so inclined.

 

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Comments
  1. This was a pretty good review. I know five people who have seen SS. Three of them said it was horrible. The other two said it was okay. The preview makes you want to see it though. One friend of mine said the best parts were shown in the preview. I will have to check it out and judge for myself.

    Like

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