DC, DC, DC, why can’t you get it right? Green Lantern was so badly received it became a poster child for how not to launch a comic book universe. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was like an entitled emo kid, dressed constantly in black, pretending to be constantly miserable and determined not to have any fun despite having all the potential and personality traits every other kid wants.
And now Suicide Squad takes the most intriguing group of comic book characters in a long time and squanders them on another overblown, shouty, crashy, explodey CGI smash em up. It ends in a place that’s so unoriginal it even has the hoary old trope of the shaft of light in the sky centered on the villain where the climactic showdown will take place.
It all starts with such promise. What feels like the entire first third deals with high-level US agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) introducing the characters. As she sits in an empty restaurant with a group of high ranking generals and officials going through their files, we cut to each member of the squad, all of them announced with a unique pop song as we learn who they are, what they did and how they were caught and thrown in Belle Reve Prison.
The running time of each flashback is directly proportionate to how much screen time each Squad member will get. Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) get an entire sequence each about their characters. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, setting the standard of Australian accents on movie screens back decades), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) get cursory intros and Slipknot (Adam Beach) isn’t even seen until he’s bundled out of an FBI van to join them at the military base you’ve seen in the trailer.
Everything after that is a generic computer-generated fight scene that both overshadows and subsumes the cast and serves no purpose apart from flushing $175m worth of sets and CGI down the can.
What’s strange is that the above synopsis makes Suicide Squad sounds like a very simple story, and yet there are still individual elements in the narrative that make no sense. The tone veers so wildly all over the map from small, cool and edgy (just like moviegoers hoped) to excessive and diluted, and so does the story, with motivations, exposition and turns in the plot muddy and nonsensical.
It also has no sense of its own universe, with its own rules routinely broken and plot holes you can drive an Apache helicopter through – apparently a mystical shape-shifting being that can teleport anywhere can be defeated if you thrown a bomb at it.
In the wake of Superman’s fate at the end of Batman v Superman, the US government decides that if the next Superman to come along isn’t so friendly, they need a defense against him/her/it.
Waller’s plan is to spring the titular group of skilled criminals and blackmail them to do the government’s bidding, so when a new meta-human threat emerges, it’s time to assemble the squad.
What is the threat? Archaeologist June Moone (Cara Delevigne – hopefully she’s getting some acting training for Valerian and the City of 1,000 Planets, because she’s Hayden Christensen-level bad here) has become possessed by the spirit of ancient witch queen The Enchantress, and Waller has the creature’s heart in a locked box to keep it in line.
But the Enchantress has a brother/spirit thing, and she resurrects it in the shape of a big fiery gold statue thingy, both of them deciding to end the human race for some reason and turn all the innocent bystanders of Midway City into zombie creature things covered with eyes (yes, it comes across on screen just as dumb as it sounds).
She tells her brother that because humans now worship machines she’ll build a machine to destroy them, and it seems to be a big swirling field of debris flashing with inner lighting and CGI smoke, as visual but pointless as the big swirls of metal from X-Men: Apocalypse.
One of the biggest questions raised by the trailer was who the antagonist was going to be, and it looks like the reason they left it out was because (just like in the recent Ghostbusters redux) there isn’t one worth mentioning.
If the squad had been sent out to thwart some dastardly plan by The Joker (Jared Leto, not as good as either Nicholson or Ledger but definitely doing his own thing), it could not only have felt like a comic book movie, it could have kept its feet on the ground and stayed focused on its best asset – the characters.
Instead they walk into Midway City along with a special forces unit led by Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), who also happens to be June Moone’s boyfriend, battle an army of faceless overlord minions indivisible from every other faceless movie overlord minions and lose everything that made them interesting in a swirling tornado of special effects.
In the face of the ever-more corporatised Marvel business model, the filmmaker-first philosophy of the DCU is still a good thing for cinema, but it’s looking increasingly shaky. Just like Zack Snyder seemed determined to not have any fun with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, writer-director David Ayer’s strengths and apparent weaknesses are steering this ship.
His best work is always about character and style, but as soon as the film moves beyond that into exploding lighting bolt-ey CGI overindulgence it’s indivisible from a hundred other midyear blockbusters.
Ghostbusters seemed to prove Paul Feig either wasn’t interested in or wasn’t comfortable with big effects sequences, and maybe Ayer is the same.
Either way, Suicide Squad takes some promising characters and (as Amanda Waller says) throws them under the bus. After BvS failed to light the world on fire it only pinned higher hopes on Suicide Squad to kick-start the DCU, but this won’t be the one to turn its continuing bad word of mouth around.