Suicide Squad is the latest film in the DC movie universe, following on from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman and continuing to set things up for future entries like Wonder Woman, Justice League and The Flash.
But it’s also something quite different, a movie which focusses on the other side of the coin, the bad guys who Batman and Superman might be chasing in an alternative story. That’s a unique spin on the run of comic book films we’ve seen from Marvel and DC, which presents its own challenges for writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury).
And it’s not his only challenge, including having to introduce close to a dozen entirely new characters, setting up the framework of a shadowy government agency, establishing a villainous threat, credible motivations and connections to the wider DC ‘verse.
Perhaps inevitably this heavy responsibility proved too much for a filmmaker taking on his first blockbuster, and that’s before you factor in the reshoots and extensive re-editing in the wake of the reception to Warner Bros’ Batman v Superman from earlier in 2016.
What I’m getting at is the unmistakable fact that Suicide Squad is a mess, but that fate is far from surprising and the blame can hardly all be attributed to Ayer.
It doesn’t lie at the feet of the talented cast either, who are trying their hardest under the pressure of an underwritten script and an overall sense of plenty of trimmed material.
That leaves most of the parts extremely undercooked, though Margot Robbie fares decently with a vibrant take on Harley Quinn. The real standout though is Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller who feels like the only character that really knows what she’s doing.
Elsewhere it’s all a bit flat, mostly because there are so many folks who flit by the camera. Will Smith has his demons and the film sometimes tries hard to make us care about Jay Hernandez’s Diablo before throwing him into the background again. As for Jared Leto’s Joker, he’s lurid and chatty but distinctly lacking in menace, a gaudy inversion of Heath Ledger’s 2008 take on the character.
In some ways, Suicide Squad’s biggest enemy is its own marketing. Ever since that Queen-laced trailer debuted six months ago alongside a parade of neon-laced posters and character shots, there has been an expectation of the film as some kind of action-comedy-partytime. A comic-book writ large complete with over the top characters and one liners.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, despite rumours that Warner Bros spent millions trying to inject more lightness and humour into the mix. This is a dark film in any way you choose to define it- characters, story, lighting, outlook and humour.
These are bad folks, doing bad things, in poorly lit areas and there’s a real lesson here in being careful of what you’re selling. While this kind of marketing might be good for an opening weekend boost, word of mouth is quickly going to let folks know just how different the final film is.
Right now, predictions are suggesting a huge debut for Suicide Squad and that’s no surprise given the property, promotion and cast. But there’s a strong chance of a serious decline in the second week and with the lesser known characters it could end up faring worse than Batman v Superman globally.
Mostly though the film feels like a lost opportunity. Ayer is a talented filmmaker and he’s assembled an epic cast with a premise and characters unique in the current superhero landscape.
That was a recipe for something truly special but a huge combination of factors that we’ll never fully understand have left the film feeling oddly empty. There are so many clashing characters, temperamental tones and warring sensibilities in play that it’s hard to really get on board with what’s happening.
It doesn’t help that few of the characters are really likeable with many downright evil- who exactly are we supposed to be rooting for here? And there’s an oddly grounded or even dull approach to action for a comic book film, with a whole lot of fairly mediocre gunplay against some literally faceless and uninteresting enemies.
Throughout the 123 minute running time I was just waiting for Suicide Squad to offer up something- a truly impressive set piece or special effect, a story turn, character bit or even a really cool snippet of slow motion ultraviolence. But it wasn’t to be.
Mostly, this was a film I really wanted to like but in the final analysis Suicide Squad can be best described in terms I never thought possible- utterly forgettable.