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What’s wrong with Suicide Squad (and what’s right)?

August 7, 2016

robbie

I have a ten year old.  I go see superhero movies.

Is Suicide Squad as bad as “They” say?  Well, it depends what you’re used to.  I think the best preparation for Suicide Squad is to make sure that the most recent Superhero movie you’ve seen is Batman Versus Superman – partly because Batman Versus Superman sets the context for Suicide Squad – which inhabits an immediate post-Batman Versus Superman universe – but mostly because after seeing Batman Versus Superman, your expectations will be set very very low.

Viola Davis plays Amanda Waller – by far the most evil and ruthless character in the film.  She plays the high up government security type person who actually thinks it’s a great idea to take the most violent, unstable, super-powered villains available and turn them into the next Dirty Dozen – so as to see off the hypothetical threat of the next Superman type thing kidnapping the president.  Waller’s ruthlessness exceeds that of any of the “meta-humans” on display and you ask yourself whether a world run by the likes of Waller is actually preferable to a world run by any of the many unspecified threats she’s protecting us all from.

And it turns out that she’s to blame for the fight that ensues.  Thinking that it would be cool to recruit an “Enchantress” – a Deity with powers that nobody fully understands – Waller risks the extermination of the entire human race.

Will Smith wanders through this movie as though he’s been forced to appear in it as a result of some kind of court ordered community service.  Or as if a close family member is being held hostage pending its completion.  But since both these circumstances are relevant to his character he does quite well.  Only ten more stupid movies, and the star of Six Degrees of Separation and Ali will be allowed to make another real film.

The problem with this movie is that it doesn’t know how funny it wants to be – with the result that you spend a lot of time waiting for Harley Quinn to say something else hilarious.  Of course Harley Quinn deserves her own movie – but she’s not famous enough yet, so she has to fight for oxygen in this awkward ensemble effort that’s full of too many traumatic back-stories to do justice to any one character.  Perhaps the whole movie is just a trailer for the next Harley Quinn movie, in the same way that Batman Versus Superman can be charitably regarded as an extended trailer for the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie.  In the meantime, there’s the crocodile guy, the Japanese sword woman, the Australian bankrobber of dubious utility and the reformed gangster who has incinerated his entire family with rage and is anxious about getting too involved because of the sheer extent of his inflammatory impact.  The film wants us to care about most of these people but it knows that the clock is ticking.

Trailers for the movie made much of its soundtrack – but those great songs are better served by the trailers than the movie itself.  The snippets you get of Sympathy for the Devil, Ballroom Blitz and Bohemian Rhapsody are awkwardly truncated in the actual film as though the director (David Ayer) is worried that the audience is having too much unreflective fun and his film will not be taken seriously enough.  It’s as though Ayer is saying “OK Audience, you’ve had your fun – now to get serious – but not for too long – let me hear from a few more focus groups”.

The need to be dark and serious has been the bane of the twenty-first century superhero movie.  Thank you Oh So Very Much Christopher Nolan.  So you get a movie that is neither a comedy nor a drama nor a focused action film but something that is trying to press too many buttons.  A film that doesn’t really believe in itself.  It’s not as bad as, say, Vanity Fair have said – because there are sources of enjoyment along the way.  It’s more enjoyable than Batman Versus Superman.  But if Batman Versus Superman is your standard of enjoyment, you need to make more time for reading, going for brisk walks – or just staring blankly into space.

 

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