DC Comics’ film department may as well bear Ozymandias’ great epitaph (“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”), for in the space of a year, it has torn down and sullied every monolith in its catalogue. Sadly, for those expecting DC’s answer to Deadpool, Suicide Squad is the last nail in the coffin, mired as it is in traditionalist muck.
Rogue government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has a bright idea to use Gotham’s greatest supervillains as black ops agents, and she has all the pieces in place to make it happen. With villains like hitman Deadshot (Will Smith) and lunatic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) under the thumb of secret serviceman Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the squad is sent out on its first deadly mission.
Where the film’s marketing promised colourful anarchy, the film itself delivers tired superhero cliché, with little to differentiate it tonally from the dreadful Batman V Superman save for a tendency towards quipping. We are promised the worst of the worst, forced against their will into action; what we get is a re-run of Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy sans colour palette, even down to Warner Bros. showing off of its many licensed songs. DC pulls off its most diverse casting yet in a film where every character is an out-and-out bad guy.
Penning witticisms is not writer/director David Ayer’s strength. Intending to show the villainy of his cast, he layers the dialogue with sexism, racism and ‘no homo’ bromance. An early, particularly egregious example sees Slipknot (Adam Beach) punch a female officer in the face, under the pretence that “she had a mouth”.
The greatest waste is Quinn, a fan favourite for her offbeat demeanour and wild behavioural tendencies. Quinn is introduced to the tune of Grace’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’, an irony Ayer misses as he paints the character as a possession of the Joker (Jared Leto). She, like every other female character (including the big bad) is damseled, robbed of her anarchic agency and given sexy costuming in its place. It’s hugely disappointing given Robbie’s manic characterisation.
For all the hype around Leto’s Joker, his most watchable moments are never characterised by his acting. While it may be interesting to see the performance develop, here his aura is both underused and underwhelming. Smith’s Deadshot, likewise, is a tired tough guy with the kind of skewed morality that supposedly makes him not so bad a bad guy. So why is he here?
Guns, that’s why! Just like Zack Snyder’s lethal Batman, Ayer sees guns as roughly equivalent to superpowers. They overcome everything, including demigods impervious to everything else. The solution to supernatural terrorism is basic munitions distributed without background checks.
Davis’ chilling turn as Waller, Jai Courtney’s entertaining Boomerang and some fun action sequences can’t salvage this wreckage of another promising franchise. The only madness on offer is DC’s ability to take all the ingredients for a chaotic delight and toss them haphazardly around the kitchen.
Suicide Squad opens in cinemas on Thursday August 4.