(2016, David Ayer)
[2.5 out of 5 stars]
[Image courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures]
After the final shot, the first thing I felt was relief. At least it was slightly coherent. At least there were some genuinely fun moments. At least there were some characters I rooted for and found interesting. At least there were some emotions involved. At least, at least, at least, I kept saying to myself. I realised I was constantly comparing this movie to previous DC films BATMAN V SUPERMAN and MAN OF STEEL. Compared to those two, this is a masterpiece. Which, honestly, doesn’t mean it’s good either. It just means, at the very least, I wasn’t bored to death by it.
I always liked being introduced to new characters (or new renditions of characters) especially when it comes to superhero movies. I like seeing the genesis of each character, how they come to be, their root motivations, how they’ve discovered their extraordinary abilities and how this has led them to where they are now. This movie begins with a really, really long introduction consisting of vignettes for each member of the Squad. Their tone and style are so different that when viewed together as a whole, it makes no sense. It’s like each section is approved but no one really thought about how it would all go together. And there’s a lot of characters to get through that none get enough screen time for audiences to emotionally invest in them.
Right off the bat, I can already detect a problem with pacing and editing. It juggles way too many elements that some are bound to fall flat. It wants to be serious but it also wants to be funny, flipping between the two in such a jarring way that it’s hard to tell what it’s doing. Recent DC films lacked any identity but this one seems to be trying it all at once.
It wants to please everyone so badly that I can imagine the studio executives, clipboard and pen at hand, ticking off a checklist. Fan service? Check. Exposition for new audiences? Check. Cameos? Check. Franchise tie-ins? Check. This is a product made to be as safe as possible which is strange for a movie about troublemakers and anarchists.
Some characters were more interesting than others but that’s in large part to the presence of the actors playing them. The script and the direction severely lets them down. The only thing supporting the actors here is the costuming which said more about the characters than the words coming out of their mouths. Deadshot’s back story is heartbreaking though it leans more towards the overly sentimental side but I got on board because Will Smith was really selling it. Same goes with Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie really sells it. My boredom instantly diminished when either one enters the frame. Their presence filled the empty holes the movie has dug out for itself.
The reason these two were interesting to watch is because they both understood that villains aren’t binary. They aren’t purely evil, they’re just motivated by evil things and sometimes this it out of their control. Through subtle intonations in their line delivery and slight morphing in their facial expressions, these two actors reveal some complexity to their characters even if the simplistic filmmaking tries to suppress it. There’s a great set of dream sequences that shows that, whether good or bad, we all want the same thing but the movie just touches on this idea before hastily moving on to the next set piece.
Ultimately, bringing a bunch of villains together is a brilliant concept, particularly for DC because their most interesting characters are the bad guys. It’s what Marvel, the direct competition, is so bad at (I can barely recall Marvel villains) and so they could have really carved out the DC cinematic identity here. They have the talent for it and examining villainous identities is where most of the narrative meat is, but instead they chose to chew off the same bone Marvel has been gnawing on for years.