Where this spring’s Batman v Superman‘s narrative messiness was strongly bolstered by visual power and a clear tonal and atmospheric vision from director Zack Snyder, Suicide Squad is an amalgamation of seemingly disparate influences that consistently threaten to flatten it entirely; and it is lifted only occasionally from a few of the standout members of its game cast. There’s the dark, gloomy aesthetic for which Ayer is known for, as well as flashes of his trademark nastiness, but his sensibilities are all but cancelled out by a hacked-up editing job married with a very, very rough script. Even then, the little Ayer flourishes that did make it past the production company big wigs don’t hold a candle to the night time bravura that Zack Snyder and Larry Fong conjured up in Dawn of Justice.
It’s unfortunate, because there is a really good movie in here somewhere. Irregardless of the DC comic books from which it is based, the idea behind the “Suicide Squad” has always been pretty brilliant and compelling. Task force administrator Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis, who dominates every frame she’s in) rounds up a group of super villains in order to carry out missions against meta-human attacks. At all times the Squad face death from their opponents, as well as Waller, who carries around a cell phone that can detonate a remote explosive implanted in every member’s neck. The whole concept is thought provoking. Waller, then, becomes the antagonist (and she’s no-nonsense and morally gray enough to fill its shoes), and we naturally gravitate towards the “villains.” Conceptually, it’s brilliant, and adds immediate layers to the film before we even hit act two. The problem is, Squad’s script is so messy (about as messy as its needle-drop happy soundtrack) it doesn’t trust the audience’s alliances and scrambles to conjure up contrived situations with which to force us to sympathize. The PG-13 rating doesn’t help, and is again in direct conflict with Ayer’s tendencies as a filmmaker. We are consistently reminded, several times verbatim in dialogue, that these are the “bad guys.” Why are we being reminded? Because it’s clear the film doesn’t have the bravery to show them ever truly being evil.
Perhaps the worst example of this is Jared Leto’s Joker. Sure, there’s too much Ledger aping in his performance, and through his mouth of silvery grills his dialogue is often indecipherable, but Leto is the least of the problem. Suicide Squad cuts the character (and the whole cast, and thus itself), off at the knees, resulting in a Joker who comes off as more charming and a little off-kilter than truly villainous. These opposed influences deaden and dull Squad‘s effect. The editing worsens it, and the “villain” of the movie is so weak it borders on self-parody (which would have been a refreshing touch, if the film committed to it). But Squad never commits to anything. A studio insistence on silliness and humor comes into direct opposition with Ayer’s dark and violent gunfights, of which there are far too many (the action in the film is by and large monotonous and uninteresting).
This isn’t to say all is lost. Will Smith and Margot Robbie do everything they can to keep the movie interesting, and they’re intermittently successful. The poor script renders many of the Squad members complete afterthoughts (Katana, Croc, and Boomering are complete non-entities), but Robbie imbues Harley with some real character, despite the fact that even she is cut off at the knees by a script that doesn’t seem to fully know how to handle Quinn. Smith’s performance is a far cry from the Deadshot of the comics, but he pulls it off with a brogue, nasty bravado. He gives a big movie star performance, and I loved it. I just wish the rest of Suicide Squad committed as much as those two.