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Joking aside
Comic giant DC was thrust into a war with Marvel after the latter’s stock took flight with Iron Man and now soars in the box office stratosphere. After the widely panned Batman vs. Superman, DC is pinning its hopes on its bad guys. Camus goes punk and reviews SUICIDE SQUAD.
 
  "The hotter the fire, the sharper the sword. I'm a big believer in that. You know my Russian cinematographer Roman [Vasyanov] always says that art must be painful. It must be pain to have art. I think there's truth in that. As a creative person, you have to have people calling you on your bullshit. There's been plenty of times where that makes you realise it's a bad idea, never mind. At the same time, you have to fight for what you know is a good idea. It's the nature of filmmaking and it's like that on any project."
 
Director, David Ayers*

 

Fighting "...for what you know is a good idea." This is laudable and all respect to any filmmaker who stands his/her ground against studio 'cooperation'. But 'good' in a creative industry is enormously subjective. Filmmakers can pour their all into their efforts but it's often up to time, luck and the movie gods if that magic dust reaches the audience. Good and great cinema goes way beyond their component parts and together these parts create something whole that can sometimes be magical. Often what studios want is (a) based on what's come before and (b) nothing original in case it doesn't connect with an audience. I submit that while (a) may work over the crucial opening weekend, without wit and good characterisation in the mix, it will fall flat by the following Monday. If the antithesis of (b) works, you have yourself a Star Wars (rare, admittedly). Let's not be coy here. Lucas's space saga was about as original as an authentic Leonardo Da Vinci hologram but the mix was intriguing and the US, post Vietnam, seemed to need that precise alleyway of safe escapism. Times change. What's commercially proven today is the cinematic deification of the super-hero and while one company cannot move for the inpouring of dollar bills, the other flounders trying to grasp the ungraspable – the magic formula. They may as well try bottling hope.

Suicide Squad

Up front I must admit to knowing nothing of the DC comic characters except those that have been featured on screen. I've read a few of the more adult leaning Batman stories but know nothing of fan favourites Harley Quinn et al. So while it may enhance the experience of watching the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child with a whole Potterverse already nestled happily in your own head from the books and movie adaptations, perhaps your reaction to Suicide Squad can be made more satisfying by familiarity with the characters of the bad guys on offer. So, get frickin' familiar if you want a fun night out. Going in cold, looking for cool, I left lukewarm. Mainstream movies and mainstream movie characters would give a significant percentage of their budgets to effortlessly attain the status of 'cool'. Cool is bestowed upon those who do not seek it. It cannot be bought. Ipso facto, those who seek it are not 'cool'. Suicide Squad has 'wannabe-cool' stamped all over it. In my Deadpool review I already lamented the need for those responsible to try so hard with Jared Leto's look as the Joker. I stand by that opinion. The harder you try, the warmer you become. But there is something, some buzz, some fan-traction that has clung on to Suicide Squad over the six months of anticipation and leaked Comic Con footage. The two notable trailers (Bohemian Rhapsody and Ballroom Blitz) were lovingly and exactingly cut for maximum bite and yes, there are teeth marks. I'm not immune to this corporate wooing but also sticking to this release is the 'little brother syndrome'. DC needs to prove to the world that it can play in the big leagues and give The Avengers something to compete with. Man of Steel aside (which I enjoyed except for the ludicrous digital orgy of destruction at the end), director Zach Snyder has taken the fun out of super heroics and made Batman a dour, grim human tank while Superman's grace and lightness from his solo outing has been replaced by a brooding intolerance which is mostly ponderous and oh so dull. At least these macho dullards gave Gal Gadot the chance to shine in her introduction as Wonder Woman. But then even her imminent solo outing is bound to be marked by a plethora of digital effects. It'll be a miracle if she makes me care at all. It's surely time for DC to let its hair down and have some fun. Please? Fun is what made Marvel's otherwise ludicrous Guardians of the Galaxy so intoxicatingly entertaining. With a machine gun toting raccoon.

I kept wondering if Marvel supremo Kevin Fiege has some sort of demonic hold over his counterparts at DC. "These are not the business plans you're looking for..." The company is either aiming at the wrong target, is using ill-judged ammunition or its sights are unquestioningly faulty. Apart from a few isolated moments, Suicide Squad just never clicked for me and there are several reasons why that may be the case. I sat there with my son and when we exchanged opinions, it was hands out, palms upturned in the universal sign of "So what?" I didn't care for anyone, good or bad and sat there while one gratuitous action sequence followed another with nary a reason to emotionally invest. The plot is fairly thin. A group of enhanced or darkly talented human beings is serving time. Each is offered ten years off their sentences if they team up and complete a mission. They are led by a soldier whose girlfriend is inhabited by a powerful witch (stay with me) and who suddenly decides to kill the human race. God, I am so bored with desperately uncreative McGuffins. "We need a threat..." "OK, how about everyone in the world will die if the anti-heroes don't succeed?" "Cool! We haven't heard that before..." These studios have to start employing older executives, people who know what the word cliché actually means (and who can then avoid them like the plague). Apologies, always enjoyed that one. The witch summons her brother (why is he twice the size of everyone else?) and he starts yet another energy vortex (oh God, we've already had one of those this summer, two actually) which will kill and... yadda, yadda, yadda. Speaking of killing... Each of the group has a small explosive device embedded in their necks to ensure their cooperation and for a plot convenience one character seems to have figured out how to nullify these devices. You know whom I'm talking about. I'll give you a clue. Ha, ha, ha...

Suicide Squad 2

For reasons I did not understand, the Joker (surely the most famous fictional villain of them all?) is on the outside of our dirty half-dozen, desperate to get his hands – and other parts one assumes – on his psycho-du-jour, Harley Quinn, the ex-shrink who fell for the green haired nutball while unpeeling his many layers in therapy sessions. Encased Hannibal Lector-style in a cell of her own inside another cordoned off area, we are, I assume, supposed to believe that this woman is mega-dangerous. She has no super-powers, she's not enhanced in any way. She's supposed to be insane (and we have only her word for that) and she acts like the diva of the group. It seems the level of her threat is based on her aim with a custom pistol and a baseball bat both of which she does not possess inside her cell. Oooh, scary. I'm not saying that Margot Robbie is not suited to the role. She does a good job with what's given to her but the character is so mediocre, so shallow and so dependent on the knowledge of her comic history, one I do not share, that I came away with a bad case of the 'meh's. We are far from Nolan's Dark Knight world here. Leto's Joker may have been entertaining and even satisfyingly dark if the Heath Ledger interpretation hadn't existed. To be frank, the two Joker characters exist in utterly different worlds. I cannot imagine Heath Ledger falling in with the Suicide Squad even though his death nipped his participation in the bud. Leto was on the losing side from the get go (he really gives it his all, kudos for that) and his over the top stylings don't exactly endear. They smack of a desperate yearning to be accepted as a mad, bad guy. He kept on reminding me (oddly or perhaps not so oddly) of Rick Mayall in BBC's The Young Ones showing off that he had once stayed up until one o'clock in the morning. He's so desperate to be cool and in that desperation, you feel you might pity him but then, in truth conclude that you just don't care.

The roster of bad guys is also oddly skewed. Will Smith, reasonably unwilling to stray too far from his good guy persona, has a daughter he dotes on (aaah) and we are assured that as a crack shot assassin, he never kills women or children (sexist, ageist bastard). Oh, for fuck's sake. Where are the cojones? If you want bad guys, make the bastards bad. Let's see if the filmmakers can redeem the worst scum of humanity and make us care while it's happening. The most honest moment in the film (which was almost immediately nullified by a cod sense of honour and loyalty one bloody scene later) was the lead soldier smashing the device that could push-button kill any one of the bad bunch which led instantly to one of their number sloping off, now free. It was played as a gag and it worked but it would have worked a hell of a lot better if we'd never seen him again. Hollywood assumes a built in ethical and moral code that everyone acts in deference to. How much more satisfying would it be to have irredeemable assholes actually redeem themselves (or not). There's even a cannibal character that says very little and for some reason is a human shaped alligator. Even he possesses the basic humanity to fight for what's right. Yawn. And he eats people. A lot of the perceived cautiousness must have come from the certificate. In the UK, Suicide Squad passed uncut as a 15. In the US it's a franchise friendly PG-13. I'm no gore hound but ideas-wise I would have preferred something far more dangerous than the pseudo-villains delivered here as if from sacred texts.

There were times I half expected Phil Coulson to pop out of the shadows and try and recruit some of our DC bad guys. Marvel's TV shows have already covered meta-humans or as Agents of SHIELD call them, inhumans). Yes, I know there's nowhere else to go unless you leave the planet (and human imagination hasn't exactly exploited that limitless resource in other franchises recently) but given the time, money and obvious expertise on show in these bloated, effects heavy spectaculars, wouldn't it be nice to give a damn, just a small damn with maybe a shrubbery?

 


*http://deadline.com/2016/07/suicide-squad-director-david-ayer-interview-comic-con-1201791380/

Suicide Squad poster
Suicide Squad

USA 2016
123 mins
directed by
David Ayer
produced by
Charles Roven
Richard Suckle
written by
David Ayer
cinematography
Roman Vasyanov
editing
John Gilroy
music
Steven Price
production design
Oliver Scholl
starring
Will Smith
Jared Leto
Margot Robbie
Joel Kinnaman
Viola Davis

UK distributor
Warner Brothers Entertainment UK
release date
5 August 2016
review posted
7 August 2016

See all of Camus's reviews