Let’s talk, if I may have your attention for a moment, about Suicide Squad.
Not The Suicide Squad, despite what the title of this article may have implied to you – no, I want to talk about David Ayer’s 2016 entry into the DC cinematic universe, in the form of the first foray into a live-action cinematic Suicide Squad adaptation. Because that movie fucking sucks. I’ve said it, my co-editor said it, everyone agrees: that movie is ass of the lowest order. The very worst kind of movie-by-committee, devoid of personality yet claiming bunches of it, sexist, Jared Leto is there; it’s a fucking nightmare. I genuinely think Suicide Squad is one of the worst movies ever made (even if it did end up being the jumping-off point for Birds of Prey, the actually-brilliant Harley Quinn movie that we always deserved).
So, in some ways, James Gunn had a pretty easy run of it here. After getting fired from Marvel for being an edgelord back in the day, Warner Bros spotted an opportunity to market his pedo jokes as genuine boundary-pushing artistry to offer a sliver of actual edge: “FROM THE TWISTED MIND OF JAMES GUNN”, announced all the trailers, like every wannabe-boundary-pushing fourteen-year-old wasn’t making more creative versions of the same jokes that James Gunn was making as an adult man.
But anyway – Gunn was making an easy follow-up, in a lot of ways. And that’s so much of the discussion I’ve seen around his sequel-cum-soft-reboot, The Suicide Squad – God, it’s so much better than the first one! And yes, it is, actually – obviously, almost. James Gunn has an eye for decent action sequences, making inventive use of various characters’ different powers and skillsets; the cast is instantly more likeable, with introductions like John Cena, Idris Elba, and David Dalmastchian instantly feeling better fleshed-out than any of their counterparts. Joel Kinnamen puts in perhaps the first good performance of his entire career, and Margot Robbie is predictably brilliant as Harley Quinn, but we already knew that. Character-wise, the best part of The Suicide Squad is Daniela Melchior as Clea Cazo; Melchior has genuine charm and wit, and building the movie around her as the heart was the right choice. All in all, The Suicide Squad is not a terrible way to spend two and a half hours.
And there’s one of my many problems with it – The Suicide Squad is so fucking bloated, it feels more like an endless wandering-around than anything functionally forward-moving. The story stops and doubles-back on itself (a conceit taken from the comics, where I could see it working a lot better), and it gives the entire thing a stop-start, juddering feel that never really lets us get into the flow of it.
And I know some people will disagree with me on this, too, but I was really disappointed to see how hideous a lot of the CGI was. I’m a huge fan of real effects when they’re possible to implement, and seeing the disastrously ugly, PS2-graphics King Shark tottering around the screen for half of the film just got me wondering if it really would have been that much harder to build a decent suit or at least parts of one for his character. This is the same studio that could find the money to let Zack Snyder basically remake a film that had already been released; couldn’t they have found the spare change to make an actual costume for Weasel that actually exists instead of pasting him over in post?
But the thing that annoys me most about The Suicide Squad is all that “twisted mind” bullshit that became part of the marketing. Yes, James Gunn made a bunch of rape jokes in 2009, and it seems like his idea of edge hasn’t expanded much beyond that. As with movies like Deadpool, another so-called boundary-pushing superhero movie, “edgy” just means “Gory, sweary, and occasionally someone makes a meta-movie comment”. I know that Gunn is limited by still being in the franchise and extended universe mould, but even still – Idris Elba just says fuck, really. It’s much of the same character beats, the same story moments, the same, the same, the same as other movies in the same genre. Edgy? I don’t think.
So, yes, The Suicide Squad is a better film than the original Suicide Squad. But making a movie that’s not worse than one of the worst films of all time, though, doesn’t feel like much of an achievement. It’s still bloated, frequently uninspired, with a clunkily-paced story that doesn’t translate particularly well from page to screen. It’s not dreadful, but it seems that its reputation is mostly built on being not as shit as its predecessor – and that really doesn’t seem like a film that can actualy stand in its own right.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via CNET)