So effective was the marketing campaign for Suicide Squad that it convinced the viewing public that the film was a rollicking blast of gleeful anarchy, the naughty punk cousin to the sullen, straitlaced pillars of this “Extended DC Universe.” Such a film would be the kind of rebellious energetic jolt that might enliven the DC cinematic slate at precisely the right time, as it dives headfirst into Marvelesque world building. Unfortunately, though, Suicide Squad is not that movie. The marketing campaign was a charming swindle aimed at disguising what the movie really is: a spectacularly incoherent disaster that is terminally lost in its own warring tonal identity.
No doubt that identity crisis is at least partly the result of reshoots that commenced in May, a decision triggered by two significant events: the critical indifference and not-quite-stratospheric box-office of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad’s aforementioned advertising, buoyed by trailers that set dark humor and kick-ass action to a soundtrack of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Ballroom Blitz”. Dawn of Justice was so dour, and the Squad trailers so rip-roaring, that WB felt writer-director David Ayer’s film needed to beef up the comic energy to stay consistent with its marketing. On the basis of the film itself, that was an accurate assessment, though one that further muddied waters that were hazy enough on their own. In truth, Suicide Squad more closely skews to the maudlin bleakness of the DC stable, powered not by cheeky anti-heroism but rather grim instability and brooding self-reflection. A movie based on those awesome trailers would’ve allowed DC to stake a claim on a shifting tone for its intended forthcoming crossovers. But this isn’t that movie.
For a few stray minutes, however, it seems like it might be that movie. Suicide Squad starts with a bang, introducing its increasingly steep cast of loathsome superhuman degenerates as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sets out to recruit a team of expendable enforcers as a safeguard in the event that a hypothetical “next Superman” doesn’t wind up being as benevolent as the previous one. Character intros for the likes of Deadshot (Will Smith), an expert assassin, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the happy-go-lucky ex-girlfriend of The Joker (Jared Leto), and Boomerang (Jai Courtney), whose namesake is his weapon of choice, are gaudy and brash, replete with bright colors, extreme image manipulation, and on-screen graphics. The fun lasts for about 20 minutes, or however long it takes for the film to blaze through its hastened first act. After that, the brightness turns dank, the attitude is sobered, and though the film remains loud, it clearly isn’t turnt.
What is it, then? Well, it’s the kind of movie you would expect David Ayer to make: a square-jawed cop-and-soldier procedural, a 90-minute street fight between players whose garish costuming and elaborate doomsday opposition clashes violently with the environment they inhabit. Comic book inspiration – with the help of those reshoots, most likely – permit the occasional anachronistic zinger, usually from Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the only character permitted a stray spark of hedonistic joy, though even those glimmers are quickly snuffed out. Otherwise, the characters tend to just hang out, whether it’s behind dumpsters, atop buildings, or in dark alleys, huffing and puffing while they await the next short burst of incomprehensible action, consisting of standard-order gunfire occasionally punctuated with underwhelming CGI.
That CGI is the film’s chief villain – in a literal narrative sense, not a figurative one, since there are far more glaring issues within Suicide Squad than bum effects. Enchantress is the name of said CGI villain, the possessed form of an archaeologist whose relation to the rest of the characters is tangential at best and whose preening treachery is among the film’s soul-crushing embarrassments. Enchantress is played by Cara Delevigne, though it can’t quite be referenced as a “performance” since the poor thing labors under layers of CG, becoming a gyrating cyber-figurine who speaks in overemphatic echoes and whose villainous plot is the laziest cliché-laden superhero armageddon scenario in any film during this near-decade-long comic adaptation boom. You might ask what any of this has to do with Leto’s Joker, and the answer is “nothing,” since his appearance is entirely inconsequential, amounting to less than five minutes of collective screen time in what will become legendary as an epic audience troll.
That’s bad enough not even considering the screenplay’s casual ignorance of its own characters, adding a few without introduction and then offing them with little fanfare; or the tactless ethnic stereotypes applied to the fringe Squad members; or how the film eventually gives up on trying to make sense of its own story, assuming a cosmic black hole will be enough to let viewers know they should be scared. So in the end, reshoots added to the quagmire, but didn’t create it. Suicide Squad was anarchic from its inception, though not in the way anyone might’ve hoped.