Friday, 5 August 2016

Movie Review: 'Suicide Squad' makes the DCEU zero for three [Full Spoilers]

Of late, I've made a habit out of going to the midnight screenings of some of the big, blockbuster movies - Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Batman vs. Superman, etc. - and so, Thursday night, I sat in for DC's third entry into its Extended Universe, Suicide Squad. Based on the marketing, I had high hopes for it, and in spite of the generally negative critic reviews, I wanted to enjoy it.

Full spoilers for Suicide Squad coming after the jump.

Unfortunately, I did not.

Suicide Squad reeks of a movie pulled in multiple different directions, one that director David Ayer and Warner Bros. played a game of tug of war with before settling on something in the middle, the result ultimately worse than what either side's vision would have amounted to. It feels like it's trying to run an Olympic sprint race before it can even crawl. It comes as no surprise, then, that THR report on a lot of behind-the-scenes issues that saw a rushed script, WB intervention, and an ultimate decision that the movie Ayer wanted to make - a far cry from the first full trailer that got many, including myself, excited - wasn't the one that would hit the screens and that it would instead be "a very common-ground place." It's no way to make a movie, and all of it feels like a knee-jerk reaction both to Marvel's successes in the past eight years and the backlash to Batman vs. Superman: Rushing through movies and world-building in an attempt to catch up with the rival studio, where Captain America: Civil War marked the 13th movie in its Cinematic Universe, which has made over $1b worldwide; manipulating the movie and conducting reshoots to make it fit more in keeping with that trailer in fear that audiences would dislike the false marketing and the end product itself. And even the latter it fails at.

It wants so desperately to be Guardians of the Galaxy with humorous dialogue but uses nowhere near enough jokes, nor is it in any way funny enough to achieve that. (Of the few occasions where laughter could be heard in my screening, much of it was in response to a statement from Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) rather than anything even remotely resembling an attempt at humour.) That would be the studio-desired version, based on that trailer reaction. But it simultaneously wants to be dark and gritty - Ayer's version - but is neither and, like Batman vs. Superman, becomes murkiness. Ultimately, it hits on neither end of the spectrum and falls in the middle ground, an achievement that benefits nobody, certainly not the audience. It's a poor combination that does little to entertain.

Perhaps more crucially, Suicide Squad simultaneously attempts to do far, far too much while doing almost nothing. There is far too much juggling going on. The introduction of the team members is the best example of this: A 20-minute (probably, though it felt longer) sequence at the beginning, consisting of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) going through a binder and literally telling two military figures - and, by extension, the audience - about these characters. The problem is that we learn next to nothing about them, save for Deadshot (Will Smith, who I'll come to in a moment), and the sequence becomes tedious extremely quickly. The on-screen graphics are not only a weak attempt at providing insight and humour but took me right out of the movie, because they served no purpose within the context of it; they were visual effects for the sake of visual effects that only the audience were aware of.

Even beyond that, the whole thing is severely overstuffed and, in the end, the development is minimal. Deadshot is well fleshed out, and it's his development that arguably saves Suicide Squad from being as bad as Batman vs. Superman; the slow build of him going from aggressive criminal to a man voluntarily willing to sacrifice his life to stop Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) feels earned, particularly with the flashbacks to him and his daughter. Harley Quinn gets a little development, and Waller's progression from cruel boss to killer boss isn't a huge leap, but it's something. And that's all I was desperate to see as the movie played out. Just something. Because the remainder of the characters are so abysmally underdeveloped that they don't even waste screentime, they simply waste screenspace. That is, to say, the runtime isn't affected by them but they essentially serve as props that fill the screen and whose abilities are utilised when necessary and only when necessary. The late attempt to give El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) a backstory is in vain, while Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) might as well not be there. The two lines about Katana's (Karen Fukuhara) past is a pathetic excuse for character building while Adam Beach's Slipknot gets to have his head blown off as an example to the team after appearing from nowhere a third of the way through the movie.

Jared Leto's Joker is entirely a waste of screentime, and given how little he's actually in this thing, that says a lot. I appreciate that to use Harley Quinn, you need the Joker, but there is exactly no reason why he should have featured in the present day beyond the final scene, since much of Harley's minimal development comes from interactions with the rest of the squad rather than with him; when she does interact with him, she reverts back to her status quo and it's infuriating to watch. Leto does some entirely fine work, but it's not even nearly enough to match up with the lack of material he's provided. He's essentially reduced to a slightly large cameo appearance, and both Batman (Ben Affleck) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) are better in their respective brief cameos.

Suicide Squad's laziness can be summed up just by looking at whatever story it tries to tell with Enchantress. Dr. June Moone is taken over by the witch Enchantress while she's on an archaeological search, and the witch then frees her brother. The pair then spend the remainder of the movie trying to destroy the world(?) by unleashing demons of some description while she beams a massive blue light of energy into the sky for the better part of 75 minutes. It's all very clich├ęd and haphazardly constructed (*), like someone made a collection of all the easy and uninteresting villain plot motivations and climaxes and taped them together with masking tape. End of the world stakes generally lower the stakes, because all that's at risk is too much to result in the 'good guys' losing, but there are smart and interesting ways to portray that. This was not that.

(*) For much of the movie, Waller possesses Enchantress' heart, yet at no point does she or anyone else think destroying it would stop her, despite Waller poking it earlier on to cause Enchantress pain. It's lazy and dumb and frustrating, particularly when that's exactly how they 'destroy' the witch.

The structure (*) of Suicide Squad is fascinating yet completely bizarre. Acts two and three are clearly separated by the scene at the bar and yet both seem to do the exact same thing, to the point where the bar scene feels like something of a pause button on one gigantic act rather than the breakpoint between two. Worse still, within each act, it's the exact same thing over and over again. The aforementioned character introductions play like a series of short films played back-to-back with a single, Viola Davis-voiced thread joining them; the use of different pieces of music for each character here does help distinguish them, but it completely alienates one from the next and from the next, and is so clearly shoehorned in as a mindset of "Guardians of the Galaxy was loved for its use of music, so let's use as much as we can ourselves," with virtually no understanding of why it worked in Guardians. Later on, the frequent and random use of flashbacks attempt to cover for the lack of real introduction at the beginning, and not only is that tactic highly overused, but they amount to the equivalent of the movie shrugging at its audience and saying, "Here you go." When we get to the second and third acts, scenes become the same one after another as the characters are faced with adversaries, and once they defeat them (not that it's particularly possible to see what's going on, thanks to yet another visual effects nightmare involving dark figures and clouds of dust - yes, I'm talking to you, Batman vs. Superman), there's a quip or two from one of the characters. It's the same rinse-repeat formula that spans much of the final hour of the movie, and it's not fun to watch.

(*) Some of the structural issues may come from the editing, which is appalling. Most of the scenes beyond act one have blatantly had content hit the cutting room floor, and it only contributes to the complete mess this thing is. Given how tightly and wonderfully edited that "Bohemian Rhapsody" accompanied trailer was, the end result is both confusing and embarrassing.

And that's perhaps the most telling criticism: It wasn't fun. Suicide Squad was not a fun movie. Granted, I wasn't as colossally and mind-numbingly bored as I was sitting through Batman vs. Superman for what felt like an eternity and a day, but it was a considerable contrast from what the marketing teased and what Warner Brothers clearly wanted this to be; even still, Ayer's vision for a gritty movie could have been fun - in a very different way, of course - but what hints we got of that faded into complete nothingness thanks to what I presume was, according to that THR piece, studio meddling.

Since DC tried to launch its Extended Universe with Man of Steel back in 2013, we're now zero for three in terms of quality success. They will persist with trying to build this world (thanks to Batman vs. Superman eventually making some sort of profit when combining both ticket and home video sales, and the likelihood of Suicide Squad making a whole lot of money), but they're building a house on a pit of quicksand.

Wonder Woman is next on the roster. The trailer looked good. But, then again, so did Suicide Squad's.

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