|UK Release Date||5th August 2016|
|Reviewed||15th August 2016|
Don’t you just miss Freddie Mercury? You almost shed a tear when the best song by far (and the most telling) in Suicide Squad, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, is set to a montage of life in the Belle Reve penitentiary for super villains. Freddie’s vocals soar around the supermax slammer, serenading tough-guy director David Ayer who could be an inmate after the critical hammering he’s recently endured, “I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy, Because I’m easy come, easy go, A little high, little low, Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me.”
Surely the director doth protest too much through Freddie’s lyrics? Ayer has been fighting a rear guard action with his cast in the gutter, Stalingrad style, beating off the shit reviews for his entry into the much-maligned DC Universe shouting, “Fuck Marvel!” Suicide Squad, despite the crippling attacks and the extensive reshoots, has hoovered up the August box office receipts quicker than Tony Montana can snort his mountain of cocaine in Scarface. Ayer’s certainly selling something the public wants even if the lords of criticdom aren’t buying it. Hell, there was even a round of applause in a recent screening witnessed by yours truly.
The bottom line is, that in the mad rush to match Marvel in the franchise arms race, made even more critical by the perceived failure of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad is one of those films that dangles its greatness frustratingly out of reach of its audience. That’s not to say that Suicide Squad is great, far from it, but there’s enough ammo in the magazine to hit a few targets and stay in the fight. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the government badass who puts the Squad of super villains together is suitably Machiavellian, Will Smith as assassin Deadshot lives up to his name in a scene reminiscent of French zombie flick La Horde and the camera loves Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in the same way it used to love Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct despite her light weight zingers that fall short every time.
Another thing that makes Suicide Squad stand out is that it isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and look like a comic book movie. The hard earned realism of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and the towering self-importance of Snyder’s Superman films are tricked out like a low-rider bouncing up and down Gotham City. Ayer has spray painted his vision all across the dirty maw of Suicide Squad, creating a world where we don’t bat an eye when we’re told that the soul of Katana’s dead husband is trapped in her sword. Ayer’s tonal gear change from the Nolan/Snyder axis redlines somewhere in between Burton’s and Schumacher’s 90s Batman movies. The shift is jarring and welcome. What is the point of employing different directors if they can’t off-road and spray dirt in the faces of what’s come before? Aren’t the Suicide Squad supposed to represent anarchy?
Of course the other two big weapons in Suicide Squad’s arsenal are The Joker played by Jared Leto and the central premise of the movie itself, disposal super villains clawing at redemption or better yet reclaiming their freedom and the chance to cause more mayhem. Ayer snatches defeat from the jaws of victory by misusing both of his prime assets. The Joker is relegated to a subplot where he tries to snatch his lover Harley Quinn back mid-mission, and pretty much the whole Squad make it back alive. Why not think big like Tarantino did when he remixed the guys on a mission movie in Inglourious Basterds? QT took The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare and made the chief target Hitler. Just imagine if The Joker was the mission and most of the Squad got wiped out? The financial demands of the uber franchise wouldn’t let this happen but Superman and The Flash can turn back the clock and revive any dead bad guys needed for sequels.
The Dirty Dozen is the perfect blueprint for Suicide Squad with a clear and concise three-act structure: act one identifying and recruiting the prisoners, act two training, act three the mission. With the over bloated run times of most superhero movies the 150 minute runtime of The Dirty Dozen would have clearly benefited Suicide Squad’s narrative coherence rather than load a shotgun full of ideas and blast them all over the screen at once hoping you’ll hit something. Remember how HBO’s prison drama OZ introduced each inmate in 30-second slots as if we had known them forever? Most of the characters in Suicide Squad try too hard to be crazy, or evil or bigoted rather than just let their actions sell their motivation, think Telly Savalas as Maggott in The Dirty Dozen.
David Ayer has written or directed some of the most muscular crime films of recent memory, Training Day, Dark Blue (a personal favourite that’s made it into Oh/Cult), Harsh Times, Street Kings, End of Watch and Fury a visceral war film that takes no prisoners. Suicide Squad feels like the right movie at the wrong time for a director of his singular talents who has the balls to reference Deep Cover when tackling Deadshot’s back-story. In Bill Duke’s astonishing film, bloody dollar bills scatter across the snow after a robbery goes horribly wrong. Is Suicide Squad’s hollow box office victory earned by blood money or does the audience just want to be entertained for two hours by some slam, bang action and a Spring Breakers take on The Joker?
Suicide Squad is full of missed opportunities and damn right infuriating in places (Captain Boomerang?), but it isn’t the unmitigated disaster everyone would have you believe and it isn’t embarrassed to be a comic book movie. Let’s hope the collateral damage isn’t too severe on David Ayer when the dust settles. Sadly Freddie might already have the answers for Ayer’s next move, “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye, So you think you can love me and leave me to die, Oh baby, can't do this to me baby, Just gotta get out just gotta get right outta here.”