Justice Has A Bad Side
After last year’s Fantastic Four bombed, several critics and fans pointed out that a Fantastic Four adaptation shouldn’t be difficult at all, as it was already achieved by The Incredibles years ago. Equally, while Suicide Squad may seem like a radical new concept, we already have the perfect Suicide Squad film in Escape From New York; a criminal sent on a hopeless mission with a time limit and a virus coursing through his bloodstream to ensure obedience – not to mention it’s a damn-near perfect film. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This is the third film in the DC shared cinematic universe, following Man Of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. With the death of Superman, government official, Amanda Waller [Davis] decides that the rise of meta-humans is something the United States needs to prepare for. As such, she pitches the idea of an expendable team of incarcerated villains who could be sent on errands. Should they fail or desert, they would be eliminated. At a Pentagon meeting, Waller demonstrates the powers of a woman possessed by a shamanistic witch called Enchantress [Delevingne] and gets the green-light for her group. From there she assigns military golden boy, Rick Flag [Kinnamen] to oversee the team, made up of a crack-shot assassin, Deadshot [Smith], a notorious mentally unhinged murderer, Harley Quinn [Robbie], an ex-gangster with the ability to control fire, El Diablo [Hernandez], a cannibal with reptilian features, Killer Croc [Akinnuoye-Agbaje] and a dastardly Australian thief nicknamed Captain Boomerang [Courtney]. The film then takes a bit of a weird leap and drafts the group against the Enchantress, who Waller loses control of. This leads to a city being under supernatural control and a large magic/machine being created for.. some purpose.. it all got a bit convoluted to be honest.
Beneath the surface of this oddity are two rather different films hacked and mashed together through brutal editing and studio interference. On one hand there’s a very manic, self-aware cartoony release filled with visual vibrance but a stuttering narrative flow and the other is a sombre looking, back-talking analysis on the difference between bad and evil.. and if that sounds familiar, it should, it’s exactly how one could describe one of this year’s best films, Deadpool. The difference is that Deadpool had a simple drive, scope and scale, was cleverly and clearly written, charming and remained wonderfully loyal to the source material. While there are entertaining elements to Suicide Squad, it falls flat on a lot of basic technical and narrative functions, feeling like a step in the right direction but far from the leap we were hoping for. The biggest flaw is following Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice’s odd two act structure which boils down to a rather weighty introduction and then a drawn out action-filled conclusion, leaving the events feeling simultaneously drawn-out and confusingly rushed regarding certain plot points. What’s more, Suicide Squad also adopts Batman v Superman’s character motivation, or complete lack thereof, outside of a few two dimensional developments. The musical accompaniment is equally divisive, with Steven Price’s pleasing score and heavy use of songs which could be considered either fitting or extremely heavy-handed. Ultimately it depends on what type of audience member you are, some will think “Oh! This is the perfect song for this person right now!” and others will think, “Fortunate Son? Bit obvious isn’t it? Quentin Tarantino you ain’t, mate.”
For such a character-driven piece, it should come as no surprise that this film is largely sold on charming performances. The story is very trite and formulaic, the direction is vanilla so the only hope it has is to sell you on these people and hope you form a connection with them. This both works really nicely and fails fucking miserably. Doing a quick rundown, the cast can be divided between Deadshot, Harley, Waller, Diablo, Boomerang and Flag, Katana, Croc and Slipknot. As I don’t think I’ve praised the film at all yet, let’s start with what works. As the recent sequel proved, a lot of Independence Day’s success was down to the incredibly charming Will Smith. That man has an uncanny ability to deliver so much heart, gusto and swagger with enough charm to ensure none of it is annoying; a talent all actors need but few possess and it’s on fine form here. Wonderful presence, brilliant performance, relatable (to a degree) and fun to watch. Equally amazing is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Robbie is not only perfect casting for the role physically but absolutely nails that incredibly dangerous combination of cute, psychotic, hilarious and irritating-as-fuck. She’s incredibly capable, emotionally damaged and much like Deadshot, is a nicely rounded character. There is one huge problem but I’ll get to that later. Another example of off-the-page casting, Viola Davis is a great Amanda Waller, a sociopathic figure with seemingly no conscience and no problem treating those above and below her station with the contempt she clearly feels they deserve. An utterly fantastic performance. El Diablo was a character that didn’t seem to feature much in the trailers and, in all honesty, could have been worked on more but provided enough of a unique temperament to give us something different. Equally surprising was Captain Boomerang. The phrase “stop trying to make Jai Courtney a thing” resonates with me as he keeps cropping up in major features but brings so little to each respective film. Not here. Boomerang is an amazingly self-centred quipping Australian prick who should have been horribly infuriating but came off as quite amusing; much to my relief. I mean, there are still a lot of quirks that were solely there to be quirky, which I can’t stand but in a way he was a largely stronger character than the remainder. I understand the need for Rick Flag but he’s still a tedious individual with completely wasted potential (could have been an example of the grey between the black and white of good and bad, acting as a good comparative/juxtaposition for our leads) but never really gets there. Katana [Karen Fukuhara] is a really interesting and solid hero in the comics that is reduced to a few throw-away exposition lines and flashbacks and only present as another body in the fray. Killer Croc was also wasted, nothing more than a big-heavy given little else to do other than smash things and utter a few monosyllabic lines that are frankly anticlimactic. And Slipknot [Adam Beach] is barely worth mentioning, recruited to prove a point – which didn’t have the desired impact because we knew nothing about him and could have been written better to avoid his inevitable fate.
Sticking with the performances for a second, there are two particularly odd standouts: Cara Delevingne’s dual performance as Dr June Moon and the feral mystic, Enchantress and Jared Leto as the infamous Joker. Part of me feels sorry for Delevingne. Her performance started out pretty strong, feeling like someone coping with a severe mental illness rather than “oh no, my body is possessed,” displaying clear anxiety, post-traumatic stress and trust issues. But then the film forces her into the role of primary antagonist and suddenly the strange language and unsettling otherworldly traits are replaced with weird Tina Turner gyrating and an out-of-place refined English accent. On top of that she produces a secondary villain that turns out to be little more than a henchman and mutates the citizens of Midway City into that overused blockbuster favrourite, a sea of genetic faceless monsters.. this time with the added twist of kissing them to initiate their transformation. Had she not transitioned from half-decent to hammy-as-hell, I would have said she was one of the better aspects present, unlike the Joker who was easily one of the most upsetting points of the film. So much was made (mostly by Leto himself) about the depths he had to go to get into this mind-frame, how mind blowing his performance was that people “will have to lock him up in an asylum” for what he’s done and that’s without taking into account his off-screen antics, sending cast and crew members dead animals, used condoms and other horrors allegedly “from the Joker.” So with all this fed into such a performance, what captivating madness could we hope for? The simple answer is fuck all. Leto is a terrible Joker for three reasons: 1) rather than being this ethereal equilibrium, acting as the personification of evil to Batman’s virtuous ways, he’s just a street criminal with an extremely pronounced visual flare which makes him, disappointingly, not at all scary! 2) his relationship with Harley is fine as a standalone but seems completely alien to the dynamic seen in other mediums and finally 3) Joker and Batman share no chemistry and the clown prince of crime seems almost oblivious to the Bat’s existence. I’ve always maintained that the Joker is not a hard character to get right; he is such an unpredictable, over-the-top creation that any actor can bring him to life in some way, shape or form. The trick to nailing the performance is not to get bogged down in outside inspiration, which is why people were blown away by Nicholson and Ledger respectively. For a crazy character, Leto gives us wide-eyed stares, hisses and the same creaky laugh over and over but connecting him so strongly to Harley Quinn was probably a mistake. As the film progresses, Joker becomes obsessed without Harley Quinn and while that’s all well and good, it doesn’t feel right for the character. See, Joker is obsessed with Batman but settles for Harley as she’s the clingy fan-girl who will do anything for him. Harley loves Joker, Joker loves Batman, Batman loves justice; it’s a brutal tale of unrequited attention and affection that this film simply rebrands as crazies love crazies. I dunno, maybe in the manic edit a lot of the finest building blocks making up Leto’s performance were left on the cutting-room floor to be restored at a later date but having seen the extra half an hour of Batman v Superman, I highly doubt it.
And yet, despite all this, I was entertained. Putting technical accomplishment to one side, it was a fairly acceptable comic release that tried something different, teased a lot of the bigger universe it inhabits and delivered some impressive moments. It will probably please audiences in a way that critics cannot relate to (much in the same way the Fast & Furious films existed.. up until a certain point) but it does now put a lot of pressure on the upcoming Wonder Woman to be so far above and beyond what we’ve had to date in order to keep this largely displeasing sprawling franchise alive. And that kind of jittery mindset is probably how we ended up with this film in the state it’s in now, so I’m not holding my breath.
5th August 2016
The Scene To Look Out For:
Amidst the clutter of this film are a few really standout moments and key scenes that illustrate everything you need to know about these characters. As stated, Will Smith makes this look effortless. During the recruiting scene, Waller and Flag turn up at Belle Reve prison and present Deadshot with a table of assorted weapons. He is asked to demonstrate his abilities, so loads a gun and immediately turns on a particularly obnoxious guard. Cockily, Deadshot feels he has the situation sussed out, explaining the hammer is probably filed down and the rounds are real-feel blanks. Waller goads him, telling him to pull the trigger to find out. He does so, opting to aim the gun in the air and seems genuinely shocked that the ammunition is live. At which point he expertly races through the weapons illustrating his precision before listing his demands. It’s a very simplistic scene but allows two of the strongest pillars of this release to shine.
Having gone into reasonable detail about most of the characters, I haven’t really left a lot of room for anyone else, so let’s talk about the cameos. So we get another look at Batman and The Flash [Ezra Miller], albeit briefly with regards to the latter so we’ll start there. From the footage released thus far, I hope Miller’s Flash will be a fresh entertaining wave of humour, cockiness and emotion to counter the supreme brooding we’ve seen thus far. We were also treated to a few Batman scenes and as the strongest part of Batman v Superman, he’s a welcome addition. Granted, his relationship with the Joker seems completely non-existence but his presence in Gotham is nicely felt, which is what you would hope for in an expanded universe of this kind.
“Harley Quinn, nice to meet ya. Love your perfume, what is that? The stench of death?”
In A Few Words:
“Severely disappointing but rather entertaining nevertheless. Whatever the producers are doing to pump and pollute these films needs to stop quickly or audience patience and leniency will dry up extremely quickly, along with any soaring profits”