From the first moment official photos of Jared Leto’s Joker hit the internet, proudly displaying his love of laughter and edgy skulls, it became my hope that this film would reach “enjoyably bad” levels. That was all it needed to be. It just needed to show up, let some over-the-top bad guys dispense of mindless masses in over-the-top ways, and relish in its shallowness. At least, in that world, it could’ve been enjoyed on a primal level. Instead, we were delivered a schizophrenic movie that never knows what it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s dancing in its “heroin-laced-bubblegum” aesthetic. And other times, it’s taking viewers into flashbacks and flashforwards to try and make you really feel for these bad guys. It never successfully does either.
Near the very beginning of the movie, Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller marches onto screen and into a private dinner with two vaguely-government-looking men. She chomps on her steak and sips her wine as she throws a cartoonishly large binder on the table with the words TOP SECRET plastered on them. Davis is one of the few joys of the film. She leans hard into her “angry lawyer from corporate” demeanor and is somehow joyously humorless. As Waller flips through the binder, we are treated to character vignettes for each of the chosen baddies in her “suicide squad”. The mugshots pop off of the paper in a neon glow and drip graffiti from their Street Fighter-esque statistics screens. The touch is stylistically cool and unique. For a brief moment, it seems as if the film might reach for a sort of video game aesthetic like Scott Pilgrim. We spend some time learning the histories of these characters and how they came to be. And that’s where the film drops the pop-grunge sheen and starts to get “real”.
We meet Deadshot (Will Smith), a professional hit man who loves his daughter. Batman shows up, you know, for branding purposes. Smith does great work with what he is given, and his understated performance contrasts nicely against the extravagance of the rest of the film. We meet Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), an ex-psychiatrist who is tortured to the point of madness by the Joker, leaving her in an abusive relationship that the film really never knows how to portray. Margot Robbie is naturally likable, but Harley is problematic. She’s an abuse victim, and yet, we’re supposed to feel empathy for her relationship with the Joker, and even root for them to get together. She’s fun and zany, but she’s also strutted out in a hyper-sexualized fashion for eye candy purposes (including a strip tease in a nightclub in one of the films literally dozens of flashbacks). The less said about Leto’s Joker (who shows up for all of six minutes of screen time and should have been cut entirely), the better.
There are other characters on this squad, but honestly, I don’t care. And you wouldn’t either. The film does the bare minimum to shoehorn backstories in for these characters, in hopes to make them feel fleshed out. One character accidentally lost his family in a fire. One character is an Australian who–wait for it–throws boomerangs. Another character is a giant crocodile, or something. Then, if that’s not lazy enough, multiple characters just show up and join the squad later in the film with no fanfare. One of them just shows up to get killed in the very next scene. The rest of them are ostensibly there to each have “their moment” that sells the character’s motivations, and most of these moments fall flat.
Suicide Squad never really commits to a tone, and that makes a lot of it feel like noise. Even the bad guys that our anti-heroes are fighting throughout most of the movie are just black zombie blobs of gook, created by yet another evil beam of vague energy shooting into the sky. There is plenty of violence, but half of the time you can’t tell who is hitting who. I would actually just let my eyes glaze over in some scenes and wait for the “action” to be over so I could figure out what happened. If there’s one thing I thought David Ayer could do, it would be put together a semi-coherent action sequence. I’m not asking for Mad Max: Fury Road‘s arthouse action, and I’m not even asking for Captain America: Civil War‘s peak-of-the-genre action. I just wanted coherence. The problem seems to be that Ayer is focused on giving each character a showcase in each action scene. In turn, each sequence is a series of brief moments for each character to look cool chained together by nameless military guys mowing down faceless zombie creatures. Nothing feels connected. Everything is scattered.
I’m sure I could laundry list the rest of my problems with the film. Why was the Joker even in this movie? Why is each line of dialogue seemingly only there to justify its inclusion in a trailer? Why did they include Harley Quinn on a secret covert team of superhumans? Why, oh why, did the film include classic rocks song that played over the lines spoken by the characters? There’s more. There’s so much more. But it’s not worth the discussion. Even writing this negative review feels like more effort than the film is worth. Suicide Squad is artificial edginess that doesn’t deserve any more of my time, or yours. Save your money and just do MDMA at an Insane Clown Posse show.
Will Hare is a web marketing and digital media professional residing in Durham, NC. When he’s not on the job, he likes to consume and critique board games, video games, films, and television.