Batman Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Suicide Squad

I blame Ben Affleck for this.

Okay, that’s not fair, but the mere two-minute presence of Batfleck means that I have to include Suicide Squad in this series of articles. I hate this movie. It’s the most cynical, money-grabbing, uninspired piece of shit I have ever seen. It wastes just about every character and does absolutely no favors for the DCEU going forwards, which in 2016 was becoming a familiar feeling. I’ve seen a lot of bad movies, movies that are terrible in every sense of the word, but Suicide Squad has a special, festering place in my heart because it took what should have been a great premise and fucked it up completely.

The idea of a Suicide Squad is, frankly, a brilliant premise for a movie. Have a bunch of villains put into a position where it’s either save the day or get your head blown off is a classic action movie premise. Add to that the fact that these baddies fight superheroes in their day job and you have a winner. To be fair, the trailers for Suicide Squad were very promising, back when everyone thought that Jared Leto’s Joker would be the main villain that these other villains take on, but alas, no. Instead we got the usual bland powered villains that shoot a damn beam into the sky for reasons that are only vaguely defined.

That’s only one of Suicide Squad’s clown-car full of problems. I could list them all one by one, but I would just be repeating things you already know (and that our other reviewer covered at the time). That may sound like a cop-out but even the most layman of movie fans doesn’t need to think too hard about what they’re watching before seeing through all of this ugly stylistic bullshit. The point of these articles is supposed to be about Batman and, as we have seen with Batman vs Superman, if you lean into the director’s vision for the character then it might be more rewarding.

And Zack Snyder does have a vision. He knows what he wants from his superhero movies; even if most fans don’t agree. David Ayer hasn’t a clue what he wants. The Suicide Squad director has made some decent movies in the past, usually to do with cops like the underrated Harsh Times, the extremely underrated Street Kings, and the slightly overrated End of Watch. Most of his movies take place in our world, which means making the jump to a superhero movie is more than just bashing some life-sized action figures together in terms of his artistic development – and it’s not a jump he makes with any grace.

With regard to setting and worldbuilding, most of the DCEU movies are very strong, whether its Metropolis getting destroyed, or the more gothic Gotham City, to the distinct Themyscira. Yet in Suicide Squad, we have no real feel for Gotham City during the “here’s how we got caught” montage, or of Midway City, which makes its cinematic debut, during the rest of the damn movie.

Then there is the characterization. Again, I’ve got a favorable comparison from Batman v Superman (I’ve nearly become everything I’ve ever hated). Remember at the beginning as not-great actor Ben Affleck was able to convey Batman’s helplessness and anger at Superman without a single line of dialogue? Well, in Suicide Squad we get three different, exposition-heavy, introductory montages for each major character, and do you know what? They still don’t feel like real characters after all of that effort. Which brings me to a technical complaint: montages are supposed to make conveying information easier, but if you use three different montages that achieve the exact same thing then you’re just an idiot.

So, let’s forget about the characters that aren’t related to Batman, because the movie doesn’t really care about them either. Deadshot has the advantage of being played by Will Smith, but It’s been a while since Smith’s star personae disappeared into a role and it doesn’t happen here at all. The whole character leaves me with the feeling that Smith deserved a better movie, and Deadshot, in general, could have born more of the brunt of humanising and grounding this hysterical mess.

Killer Croc is here but who cares – he’s given nothing to sink his massive teeth into. If you’re going for a Guardians of the Galaxy rip-off, and that’s exactly what Ayer is going for (fuck Marvel indeed), why do so little with a character that could so easily be this movie’s Drax? Hell, forget Guardians and watch some of Croc’s appearances in Batman: The Animated Series and you’ll find a lot to work with, work that is left untouched here.

But the most high-profile appearances are Harley Quinn and The Joker, and everything about this aspect of the movie is dreadful. For one thing, Harley has one of the more pronounced arcs of the movie: choosing to fight with the Squad for something noble after she thinks The Joker has been killed. Then they walk it all back as The Joker, who is alive and bizarrely purring, breaks her out of prison, which also makes you wonder why he didn’t just do that in the first place. The treatment of Jared Leto is infamous, with most of his performance being left on the cutting room floor, which is just more proof that Ayer, or whoever the fuck put the theatrical cut together, hadn’t a clue what this movie was meant to be.

But that isn’t the biggest problem with The Joker. The biggest problem is that The Joker never feels cinematic. Think of the first time you saw Jack Nicholson’s maniacally bleached grin emerge from the shadows. Or Heath Ledger taking his clown mask off to reveal his own demonic features. Leto gets none of that flair (and Harley only gets a little) in his introduction  – instead, he just sits, goblin-green hair and bestraightjacketed, making bug-eyes as the hapless Harleen Quinzel. And it’s just downhill from there for Leto’s Joker, as the movie plays up the “gangster pimp” angle of the character that literally not one person ever asked for, mangling it with a romance (?) subplot that feels more abusive than seductive, dragging Margot Robbie (trying her darndest against a cavalcade of gross sexism and objectification) into the whole mess with him.

I could go on and on, about who Enchantress is a shit villain, how Joel Kinnamen is one of the worst actors I’ve ever seen, how the need-to-know situation that drives Amanda Waller to put the squad together takes her own damn self by surprise, and how Margot Robbie is treated like a sex-toy throughout the entire movie, or how Batman puts Deadshot’s daughter in needless danger as he picks that moment to apprehend him. I could go on and on, but I don’t want to talk about this horrible clown vomit any longer: all you need to know is that Suicide Squad mangles Batman’s villains as much as it mangles the rest of the futile “story” it’s trying to convey. Thank goodness next week is Lego Batman. I’m going for a lie down now.

If you enjoyed this retrospective, please be sure to tune in next week for our look at Lego Batman. You can also take a look at our other cinematic universe retrospectives, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Jurassic Park movies! And, as ever, if you enjoyed this and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting us on Patreon.

By Kevin Boyle

(header image courtesy of Business Insider)

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