suicide squad

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Director: David Ayer

Genre: Action

Year: 2016

What exactly is wrong with David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD? Just about everything. After the success of END OF WATCH and FURY, you’d think Ayer was prepared. But no. This is cinema’s abandoned child. A film so narratively jumbled and aesthetically confused that it can’t settle for a formal structure, desperate to find an identity of its own but failing completely due to a lack of guidance. Trying to play catch up with Marvel’s cinematic universe, DC’s latest outing is an ensemble piece that vaguely introduces a dozen new characters without ever delving deep enough to make a single one empathetic.

Halfway into this film, I couldn’t help but think, “My God, how is BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE infinitesimally better than this?” Then I realized Snyder made a bad film that had something to say. Yes, it was misguided in its execution, but at least he knew how to frame action around a core principle. Ayer, on the other hand, has absolutely no idea what the point of his film is, desperately grasping at straws to find a semblance of meaning in all this ugly action.

suicide squad long

“We’ll assemble the best of the best: a marksman who never misses his target, a samurai who traps souls with her sword, a killer crocodile, an energy drink-obsessed Aussie with a boomerang, and a Hot Topic customer who uses a baseball bat. It’s foolproof.”

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The candy-coated comic book aesthetic from the poster designs is almost nowhere to be found here. And that’s what really irks the most. In a cinematic climate where every superhero film looks and feels the same, it was refreshing to see an ad campaign for something so wholly comic book-esque. But alas, despite his lousy track record as a storyteller, Zack Snyder is much better at panel recreation than David Ayer. There are a brief handful of gorgeous images, but SUICIDE SQUAD is mostly ugly browns and dark grays, following suit with Snyder’s Superman films, minus the mythological bombast. But Ayer must have known. He must have been aware that his film lacked substance, so why not opt for perfecting the style? I left SUICIDE SQUAD bored, as if I hadn’t seen a single innovative graphic novel image. That, to me, is a cardinal offense when it comes to a film that prides itself in presentation.

Here we have a rag-tag special ops unit that’s sent into Midway City after a non-human entity coordinates an attack. On paper, SUICIDE SQUAD ought to be foolproof, playing out like a superhero version of James Cameron’s ALIENS, but the fact David Ayer can’t seem to settle on any emotional structure makes for a Sparknotes reading of nine anti-heroes. The problem seems to be that DC is far too anxious to get the ball rolling for JUSTICE LEAGUE, forcing their film to introduce so many characters that they squander the potential for far more compelling origin stories.

suicide squad harley

It is also never explained where Quinn was hiding this hammer while using the baseball bat. So I’m just gonna say it. It was in her asshole. Yes, you heard me. It’s the only explanation.

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Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn legacy is covered in a matter of minutes, leaving me upset that I will never get a film that delves deeper into the psychological tennis match that is The Joker versus Harleen Frances Quinzel. The same applies to just about everyone else in this film, notably Karen Fukuhara’s Katana and Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo, two characters that clearly have emotionally complex backstories that never get their fair treatment in this macaroni salad of a film. Will Smith’s Deadshot is the only protagonist here with clear motivations and a thorough backstory to support it, but he’s also the most milquetoast archetype when compared to Quinn, Katana, Diablo, and The Joker. Hell, even Killer Croc is more interesting.

But with all these heroes and varying powers, the least you could expect is some satisfying action, right? Wrong. Not only is Ayer’s cinematography geographically confused and choreographically lazy, but SUICIDE SQUAD squanders every opportunity to be worthwhile ensemble action. The Avengers are fun to watch in unison because they bounce off of each other, using each of their strengths to complete the seemingly impossible. SUICIDE SQUAD is all brawn, zero brains. Will Smith does all the heavy-lifting during action scenes, relegating everyone else to brief vignettes. And because Smith is just so perfect at firing a gun, Ayer somehow accomplishes the impossible: He makes gunplay boring. El Diablo refuses to fight for most of the film and Killer Croc doesn’t have a single satisfying second of screentime, confidently gliding this trainwreck into oblivion.

suicide squad cara

Cara Delevigne thought she was acting in Season Three of TRUE DETECTIVE

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But perhaps the real salt in the wound is The Joker, arguably DC’s most important property. Jared Leto certainly gets a second or two to present a gangster spin on the timeless villain, but his appearances are relegated to brief, spastic flashbacks and loud action, maxing out at roughly half an hour of screen time. Why DC decided to introduce their most important villain in both a non-Batman film and a film in which Harley Quinn is a side character is beyond me. Everyone knows that The Joker is at his best in dialogue and his violence is a supplement to his intimidating stature, so making him nothing but an abrasive psychopath not only feels try-hard, but woefully misguided. Could Jared Leto give viewers a good Joker film? Maybe. But he doesn’t have enough time to talk here to leave a lasting impression. Instead, we’re treated to garbled growls.

Absolutely nothing is tactfully executed in this film. Utterly tone-deaf narrative beats are loosely strung together through obnoxious edits, garish visuals and a pre-teen boy’s endlessly shuffling iTunes library of “badass” music, from Black Sabbath to The White Stripes. That’s the core issue: SUICIDE SQUAD lacks any narrative coherency. It’s all the vague beats needed to establish a conflict, without any character work to make the action worthwhile. Instead of ideological conflicts within this ensemble, we get musical interludes that bring us from action set piece A to B. What I really don’t understand about all of this is that DC has over a decade of Marvel films to look at for inspiration, films that might be tonally different but at least understand that the action needs to be earned.

suicide squad leto

Jared Leto’s experimental performance as Yelawolf is certainly… everything awkward about white hip hop?

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The truth is that SUICIDE SQUAD has no right to be abysmal. At its worst, it should be mindless action, and at its best, it should at least have a compelling group dynamic. But the problem is that Ayer patently accomplishes neither. What blows my mind is that I could imagine each of these characters having a fun solo movie of their own. Enchantress and Slipknot are completely wasted in this film and Boomerang is the most edgelord representation of Monster Energy teendom that Hollywood has ever seen. And yet even the weakest characters could be fun if treated with the correct tone.

A final thing that ought to be mentioned is just how uncomfortably racist SUICIDE SQUAD comes across. Killer Croc is a BET-watching hood, Deadshot dresses like an 80s pimp when not in costume (so I guess he has two costumes?), and Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller is a heartless FBI head who Will Smith dubs “gangsta” after she kills three of her own men. To top things off, El Diablo is told to “drop the burrito.” But even if all of this appears to be nitpicking, director David Ayer has the audacity to “prove” that Iran is hiding nuclear weapons. And while this can just be excused as a trivial narrative beat, it holds some seriously heavy circumstances. In a cinematic universe where every American city is already fictional, it seems oddly anti-Iran-Nuclear-Deal to embed a thought in the mainstream’s consciousness regarding a country’s top secret, sinister intentions. This also goes oddly hand-in-hand with the Drumpf’s America themes found in BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. To call this plot detail ill-advised would be an understatement. This is offensive and arguably dangerous filmmaking.

suicide squad hair dye

Very kind of the American government to let Harley dye her hair prior to the operation

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“Worst Heroes Ever.” SUICIDE SQUAD’s tagline isn’t kidding around. Marvel realized a long time ago that Starlord would need the goofy sensibility of James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY to find his niche in the franchise universe. Imagine if studio execs had said, “Oh, screw it, we’ll nix the DOCTOR STRANGE origin story and just introduce him and CAPTAIN AMERICA in one movie.” Do yourself a favor, and spare yourself the pain. This is, without a doubt, one of the worst films of the year. Fundamentally, the fact that SUICIDE SQUAD tries to put so many brand new characters into one group film makes for a contrived experience that feels like it’s been edited by a 12-year-old who’s had one too many bottles of 5-hour Energy. In fact, now that I think of it, Boomerang probably did the editing, pink pony by his side.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

"When I make love, I realize eating steak was the preferable alternative." Sergio is the Crossfader Film Editor and a film connoisseur from Romania. He pretends to understand culinary culture enough to call himself an LA foodie, but he just can't manage to like scallops.

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3 Responses

  1. Nelson says:

    I saw this last night and was actually excited to read your reaming review. I’ve been thinking about it all day and how terrible it is on multiple levels – I even wrote a list immediately after watching (and before going online) of everything I found bad about it. I think a lot can be summed up in the Slipknot character (no intro? must be a REALLY important character), and the fact that it’s juggling between trying to be gritty/dark and funny/hip and the most on-the-nose soundtrack I’ve ever seen. I give it a 2/10 but may even downgrade the more I think about it. It’s a complete rush job and you hit on a lot of the embarrassingly bad parts. It feels like a movie with great elements but that nobody bothered to watch all the way through before releasing. A lot to discuss, very little good

    • Sergio says:

      thanks for the read, Nelson! Boy there’s a lot to unpack. This should stand as a lesson for anyone who takes on the responsibility of directing a Superhero film.

  1. October 20, 2018

    […] by bringing us heroes that prefer to be called anything but. Rather than a much-needed antidote to SUICIDE SQUAD, Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and […]