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Suicide Squad (2016)

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The next instalment in the DC universe is the much anticipated Suicide Squad. Although superhero movies don’t usually do it for me, I really enjoyed writer/director David Ayer’s Training Day (2001), Harsh Times (2005), and End of Watch (2012). I knew nothing of the source material, but found the idea interesting, and was also intrigued to see what Jared Leto would do with the Joker role. The film is based on the DC comic series about a group of antihero supervillains acting as covert government assets for high-risk missions. Here, Viola Davis’ government official gathers the group for the first time as the film’s villain, Enchantress, begins to wreak havoc on ‘Midway City.’ Since it’s release Suicide Squad has had to withstand a wave of criticism. I wanted to form my own opinion though and did my best approach it with an open mind. It didn’t help.
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I went in to this expecting a focus on the contrasting personalities in the squad and the relationships between each of the film’s talented cast. It’s something Marvel’s Avengers series does really well. What we have though is a Will Smith film where he’s outshined by Margot Robbie as everyone else is completely sidelined. The opening 30 minutes consists of one character introduction after another, but only Will Smith’s Deadshot and Robbie’s Harley Quinn are given any sort of interesting character depth (Slipknott’s introduction essentially consists of “Here’s Slipknott, he climbs walls” before dying five minutes later). There is so little to the rest of the squad that you would be forgiven for wondering who that stranger wondering around in the background is. Will Smith is fine, but his entire story is that he loves his daughter and can shoot things in the head. Jai Courtney wasn’t entirely bland, so well done Jai Courtney, but the most interesting character by a mile is Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie was great at being scarily unpredictable and her eccentricity brings nearly all the film’s few laughs. She and Deadshot are in both the scenes with Ben Affleck’s Batman, a side story I was much more interested in. If rumours of a Harley Quinn spinoff are correct, it’s something I could get on board with.

There’s always a buzz around interpretations of the Joker character. Although I would be lying if I said I had seen any of Mark Hamill’s highly regarded voice work in cartoons and games, Jack Nicholson’s 1989 turn in Batman made a big impression on me as a kid, and it’s fair to say Heath Ledger’s was one of the best on screen villains ever. Big shoes to fill, but Leto felt like a strong choice. His Joker is more of a gangster/mobster fuelled my money, excess and his love for Harley Quinn. The marketing for the film didn’t give a lot away with the film’s Joker, hinting at something pretty special. As it turns out, it’s just because there wasn’t a lot to give away. Leto is barely in the film at all, and when he is, I just found him pretty irritating and too over the top. In Tropic Thunder (2008) Robert Downey Jr advised never to go “full retard” when acting. It felt like Leto had gone “full Joker.” Angelica Jade Bastièn raises a fascinating point about whether this epitomises the death of method acting in her piece for The Atlantic that I really recommend giving a read.

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Then there’s the story’s villain, Enchantress. I’m not entirely sure what else she was trying to accomplish, but she did a fine job of gyrating and flailing her arms about as grey smoke swirled around her. To combat that terrifying threat, in a world where Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash exist, Viola Davis decides to band together a group of dangerous criminals… okay. We’re therefore left with a team that includes an insane girl with a baseball bat, and a guy who throws boomerangs. Good luck world. Other than Margot Robbie and the brief appearance of the brilliant Stranger Things’ David Harbour, I was really trying to think of things that I enjoyed in Suicide Squad. What I can say is that I would download the soundtrack. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that it worked when watching the film. It was as if they watched Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) and thought, “Yeah those songs were really good, let’s do that too.” Eminem’s ‘Without Me’ aside, every song jarred with what was happening on screen. Rather than it supplementing the drama, it was overpowering and took me out of the film entirely as I tried to remind myself to put that song on in the car on the drive home. There are lots of intrusive moments like that, not least with the film’s messy editing and tiring pace.

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Suicide Squad feels like a really rough first draft, which is bizarre considering the talent involved, the source material, and the amount of time and money that went in to re-shoots ahead of its release. Already people are looking forward to the director’s cut and the scenes that were missing, but why should we have to wait until the DVD is out. It’s a huge mess, and I couldn’t help watching it wondering how those responsible watched it back and thought that was a finished product. I don’t think major surgery would have saved this film, but it may have begun to make a little sense. The trailers didn’t show a lot of the Joker because he was actually barely in it. They also gave away none of the story as there wasn’t a lot of that either.  It's as bad as you've heard.

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