Suicide Squad is a movie released in a state unlike any film I’ve seen before, and I mean that earnestly. Years from now, I will point to what will probably be known as the “theatrical release” (in hushed tones) in order the showcase exactly why editors deserve to be paid more money, or perhaps given more time than whatever was afforded to whoever painstakingly worked on this botched cinematic experience.
Warner Brother’s Suicide Squad follows a rag-tag group of DC’s most interesting rogues gallery and C-tier villains (read: almost entirely from Batman’s universe) as they’re assembled as a black ops group. This group serves to perform behind-the-scenes missions deemed too “gray-area” or dangerous for any members of, say, the Justice League. The “bad guys” have to be cajoled into the roles through promises of shorter prison sentences or increased visiting rights for their families. Just to make sure, they’re rendered obedient by their handling government agency through use of what’s effectively a grenade collar while out in the field.
That’s the premise on paper at least – to fight villainy with villainy. Suicide Squad instead finds the team tasked with taking out an ancient power by utilizing entirely heroic and documented means – which leaves the viewer asking why Wonder Woman, Batman, or the Flash (the latter two actually being in the film besides) can’t save the day from the now-cliché giant trash vortex in the sky. I’d have added that Superman could have saved the day, but the movie takes a good minute of screen time to remind you that in this cinematic universe he is dead, and definitely not coming back.
As much as I would love to hand wave this movie away as a “mindless summer action flick,” I find it impossible to do so. At least in Batman Vs Superman, or even Suckerpunch, the visual spectacle was persistent, engaging and digestible. Sure, in those movies the monsters are green-screened to heck, but the punches seem to have weight and the character designs are good, right? But the best thing that Suicide Squad had going for it on the onset was its really unique and beautiful art style I can only refer to as “Erratic Neon,” which it finds itself almost immediately ditched after the “music-video style” introductions and flashbacks of every character in the squad has concluded. The film features an entire underwater sequence that’s indecipherable, as murky water and poor lighting leaves no hints as to what is happening to who or how. The only time dismal broken concrete and rebar vistas are swapped out for different set pieces is when it’s for ‘generic dimly lit bar’ or ‘stock-photo abandoned business office skyscraper’ interior.
The movie is decently acted: Viola Davis commands the scenes she helms, Will Smith succeeds as being Will Smith, Jai Courtney gives a few laughs - but its dialogue is just so poorly written and disjointed. I honestly felt that Leto’s attempt at The Joker fell flat, but it’s hard to like any version of the Joker written to be “grim and realistic” and “flashy gangster” and “cartoonishly insane.” Leto’s Joker is pulled in too many directions, and that leads to the comparisons to Ledger’s 2008 gritty and believably anarchistic version of the character likely to never swing in Leto’s performances favor.
One of the most glaring problems with the film is the existence of a character created solely to be stuffed into the fridge (If you aren’t familiar with the trope, it refers to “any character who is targeted by an antagonist who has them killed off, abused […] for the sole purpose of affecting another character, motivating them to take action - taken from TvTropes.com). I had to look up the character in question, “Slipknot”, as his name and power are only mentioned once in passing, in the film. Slipknot is introduced well after the rest of the characters are already mingling together before the once and once the character has established a single second of screen-time, he then proceeds to immediately punch an unarmed woman in the face, unprovoked, “because she had a mouth” and isn’t seen again until he speaks two lines and dies by his handler activating the collar. If the audience paid no attention to the fact that Slipknot is missing from every single trailer and piece of marketing for the film, then it probably became obvious that the instant the character arrives to no fast-paced and engaging neon flashback/character card that he is bound to die “in order to show the stakes.” Instead of doing so, Slipknot, who we didn’t know or even empathize with at all, dies an entirely predictable death to thinly give the impression that any of the rest of the characters we are actually (supposed to be) invested in could be taken at any minute.
Suicide Squad is full of strange decisions like this. A helicopter crashes when the squad enters the terrorized city, but not a single person dies and it doesn’t actually serve the plot in any way. Characters pull out their weapons to join a firefight, but the editing makes it look like they don’t join the fray for another good minute, causing any agency in them joining the melee to evaporate by the time they actually start fighting. Continuously, characters forget the fact that they are fitted with the blast collars and are only reigned back in when one of their handlers re-explains it. One of the last spoken lines of the film is a character (insultingly) explaining the plan, which is already 95% complete, to the audience.
These mistakes and blatant continuity errors drown out the few truly beautiful moments there are; Harley Quinn and the Joker sharing an actually intimate scene in the Ace Chemical Factory is beautifully directed and edited and their “embrace” will stick with me for a long time to come. A very quick scene where Harley is separated from the rest of the group and allowed to show true emotion, before just as instantly steeling herself away and going back to sadistically upbeat when the others return show Margot Robbie bringing real characterization to what was otherwise edited and written to be a mobile pair of spandex shorts. The first sequence of June Moone transitioning to the Enchantress, shown by June extending her hand only for a shadowy mirror version of the same hand appear underneath and interlock her fingers, and as the camera spins upside down the shadow version takes over is completely and utterly hypnotizing.
It’s a wonder what kind of state the film will be in when it come out in the inevitable “Directors Cut” and “Original Version” of the film come out on DVD in the coming months. The haphazard music editing, Joker’s second act disappearance and jilted dialogue can perhaps be fixed with “45 minutes of bonus content” but until then theater-goers are left with a summer (anti) hero film that’s honestly just a jumbled mess of an edit.