Suicide Squad (2016): a messy and inconsistent blockbuster that even superheroes can’t save

This film was supposed to be about the worst superheroes ever – about the bad-ass, chaotic, nihilistic criminals who are brought together to fight an even bigger, other-wordly evil that threatens to destroy the world as we know it. But as it turns out, they’re hardly anything of the above. Sure, they’re criminals – something that the film quickly establishes by letting us know they are all in high-protection Louisiana prison. But where’s all the chaos, anarchy, things spinning out of control when these inexplicably bad guys get set free? They’re far from the “worst heroes ever”, as Amanda Waller introduces them before turning them into her soldiers – not only that, they can hardly even pass as actually being bad. And as if that’s not enough, the film seems to be disturbingly aware of that for we are constantly reminded that they are, in fact, dangerous and evil, working on the wrong side of the law. “We’re the bad guys!” Harley Quinn points out defensively when she stops in front of the store window to steal a purse – just in case we forgot because based on their actions they seem anything but.

The film is an inconsistent mess that, as the story progresses, makes less and less sense. Perhaps one of the biggest questions that the film doesn’t manage to answer is why Waller actually puts the group of unrehabilitated criminals together, since the negotiations leading to their release happen before the biggest evil of them all, the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) escapes from her captivity. Waller’s shady persona is otherwise perfectly captured by Viola Davis, but as far as the plot is concerned, we hardly ever know what her motivations are or where are her constant manipulations supposed to lead.

That being said, perhaps the biggest problem I had with the film is how it is supposed to be about the members of the Suicide Squad, yet it fails to let us know who they are actually supposed to be. Only Deadshot and Harley Quinn (and to a lesser extent, Diablo) manage to rise above the rest of the crew with flashback stories that give us some minimal insight into their personal life and that, as a result, also reveal the more human side of their criminal persona. Sure, the human part makes them weaker and more vulnerable, but it also establishes them as real characters, while the rest of the group ends up being somewhat forgettable and in retrospect quite insignificant.

Will Smith does a good enough job portraying Deadshot, but the one that really and uncompromisingly stands out has to be Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Margot perfectly captures her disturbing joyfulness, unpredictability and chaotic tendencies and manages to lift the character beyond the “hot but crazy chick” that she could easily become would this part end up in someone else’s hands, since most of the remarks made by other squad members made it crystal clear that she wasn’t supposed to be much more than a sexualized object whose presence was primarily to visually please the male audience. And director’s numerous close-up shots of her bending down in the tiniest hot pants was simply another proof that she wasn’t meant to be much more than a caricature of a frat boy’s wet dream.

13-harley-quinn.w1600.h1064 (1)
Harvey Quinn’s original look (she first appeared in 90’s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series and was later incorporated into the comic books where her look gradually became more sexualized).

If David Ayer managed to spend half as much time on establishing and exploring her character as he did on close-ups of her overly-exposed ass this would have been a much better film. However, portrayed as she is, she never manages to establish herself as anything else but Joker’s counterpart, as her whole existence, her every act, seems to be for and because of him. And even Margot’s charisma and undeniable talent can’t help much about the fact that her character simply does not have her own identity.

When the film finally tries to give us some insight into Harley’s head it once again manages to fail. When crossing paths with the Enchantress, each member of the squad starts hallucinating their deepest desires and life-goals due to her unlimited magic powers and this results in a unique opportunity to see into Harley’s subconscious; to see past her current madness and into the person, a psychiatrist, that she once was. And to my complete bewilderment this subconscious dream was Harley living a perfect little family life right from some 50’s lifestyle catalogue for women, while being married and having kids with Joker. The hallucination didn’t make any sense – even Deadshot, otherwise obsessed with getting back to his daughter, imagines defeating Batman and not being with his family. Where did this dream came from? If anything, her dream should be about escaping the suffocating power that Joker has over her – about breaking free from the psychologically and physically abusive relationship they are in. This would open up doors to establish her as a character that could exist on her own, as well as address the problem of domestic violence that their dysfunctional love life clearly represents. The film thus makes a poor choice of portraying their love story as a romantic one, because it is anything but. They are far from being equal partners in crime, Bonnie and Clyde of Gotham City. They are more like Sid and Nancy, where madness is their heroin and where Nancy eventually ends up dead due to a stab wound.

“I sleep when I want, where I want and with whomever I want” Harley points out at the very beginning of the film, as if this is somehow the core idea of female empowerment. But there is hardly anything empowering about her – true, she walks around with a baseball bat, but below her smudged make-up and pantless cheerleader appearance she is hardly anything else but a damaged, vulnerable and, as far as her hidden core values go, conservative character who is unable to break free from a destructive and abusive relationship.

Jared Leto does a fairly good job as the Joker, but since he went all Method-acting for a year (which resulted in a few disturbing on-set incidents that I wouldn’t mind characterising as harassment) I need to point out that there wasn’t a moment where I would forget that I am watching Leto desperately trying to fill Heath Ledger’s shoes. This was one, albeit perfectly adequate, very self-aware performance and all the publicity that was made due to his unprecedented commitment to the role just shows how unproportional Leto’s ego is compared to his acting abilities since he won an Oscar.

However, the weakest link of the film and where the story really fails to engage has to be the character of Enchantress. An ancient magical spirit that possesses the body of an archaeologist June Moone has to be one of the least interesting villains I have ever seen on screen and Cara Delevingne’s poor acting doesn’t help to lift this character above cringe-worthily awful. Her army of blobby faceless creatures also doesn’t manage to make things interesting and what we’re essentially left with is a messy and inconsistent story that threw all the potential of elevating this genre to something different and potentially more interesting out of the window.

The Basics:
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer (based on a comic book by John Ostrander)
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Jared Leto, Cara Delevingne
Running Time: 123 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 4

 

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6 thoughts on “Suicide Squad (2016): a messy and inconsistent blockbuster that even superheroes can’t save”

  1. It’s Harley Quinn. Like harlequin. This is a fantastic review. With points on the movie that escaped me when I first saw it. And very well-written. Except that you keep calling her Harvey. And It’s Harley. And I really do think Margot Robbie did a good job with what she was given. And you’re right. She says at one point that NORMAL is a setting on the dryer. But then she fantasizes about normal. Harley from the cartoon also dreamed of a kind of normal but it was always their normal. It was them still being them still being crazy and colorful… but with kids. And having said that I wish the entire movie were just Harley and the Joker. Those were the best parts. But in my opinion Harley Quinn has never been independent. She is always trying to impress someone. Mostly Joker. For a time Poison Ivy. In this she trades Joker for Deadshot for a while. She’s very dependent (and needy) no matter what she says. Her whole reason for being Harley Quinn in the firstplace is in order to impress a psychopath who has a thing for clowns. Great review as always.

    1. Thanks Mel! Yeah, I am bad with names and this escaped from me completely when I re-read it before publishing, thanks for pointing out the mistake! I already corrected it 🙂
      Anyhow, thanks for stopping by and I agree – I wouldn’t mind at all if the whole film would be just about Harley and Joker.

  2. “Harvey” Quinn? 😛

    Obviously I can’t dissent too much with your criticisms on the shortcomings of the script but the fantasy daydreams made sense to me. Harley clearly felt she could change the Joker but he changed her when she fell in love with him. The happy family scenario she held deep down inside is the last vestige of the old Harleene Quinzel – now she enjoys the erratic and esoteric crazy life she has with the Joker.

    I suppose we could argue all day whether their relationship is “abusive” or not but I personally don’t think – in the truest sense of the term – that Harley is hurt by the Joker, he just knows he has a loyal lover with whom he can share his madness. The fact he is running riot trying to free her from prison rather than simply committing crimes without her, or using them as a bargaining tool to have her freed, is a testament to the purity of their own personal warped love.

    Same for Deadshot – if he had killed Batman he’d still be free and have regular access to his daughter, not languishing in a high security jail and having to bargain for a visit with her.

    That’s how I read it anyway. 😉

    Anyway, good write up and hope you got it all off your chest now! 😛 🙂

    1. Oh shit, thanks for pointing that out, man! I make the stupidest mistakes sometimes and yeah, I’m very bad at remembering names. 😀
      The dream really didn’t made sense to me – even if it was the last vestige of the old Harleene Quinzel, it would made more sense to imagine a life where she would never even met Joker who managed to change her life so profoundly. But I’m happy to hear that it made more sense to you. 🙂

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