Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad ½

Something I’ve learned writing about the cinema professionally for a number of years is that there are bad movies and bad times at the movies, and the latter are considerably worse. Bad movies can be laugh riots, howlers, like shoddy horror pictures or inane science-fiction, to be indulged in or cackled through or suffered with glee. Bad movies are often likeable, or somehow charming, or else might endear themselves to you with personality or ambition, like, say, Southland Tales or Jupiter Ascending. Whereas a bad time at the movies brings only despair. A bad time at the movies isn’t droll or chucklesome or ironically diverting ‒ it’s just miserable. And Suicide Squad is the most miserable time I’ve had at the movies in my life.

A moviegoing experience this execrable ‒ this soul-searchingly unpleasant, this watch-checkingly dull, this corporate-restructuringly ill-conceived ‒ practically implores you to assign blame, as I imagine somebody in a position of authority over the people responsible for making the film will. We might look to DC Films, who refuse to let a total lack of creativity or talent interfere with their aspiration to cultivate a multi-billion-dollar blockbuster universe of interlocking comic book adaptations. We might look to Warner Bros., whose confidence in that universe, eroded by the response to Batman v Superman earlier this summer, provoked a cataract of last-minute “refinements” to a film they feared would likewise founder. We might look to the director, David Ayer, who can’t direct. Or we might look beyond the symptoms and to the festering, implacable disease: our interest in superheroes, which has gone from unhealthy to terminal, from amusing fantasies to whatever nightmare this is.

But perhaps a better way to explain such a horrorshow is to simply plunge in and look around a little. Let’s begin with the characters. There’s Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a buoyant, day-glo-gothic ingenue in boy-shorts and pigtails, who carries a baseball bat and moves like an Olympic gymnast, and who doesn’t have any superpowers, as far as I can tell. There’s El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a gross Latino stereotype, which I gather fans are okay with because, fine, he was also a gross Latino stereotype in the source material, and who can shoot fire out of his hands and at one point transforms, inexplicably it seemed to me, into some sort of enormous flame-covered demon with horns. There’s Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a talking bipedal crocodile who both looks and sounds completely ridiculous, and the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a wicked witch, who somehow looks and sounds even worse.

If you find it a bit boring to have these characters described to you in detail one after another, I sympathize, because Suicide Squad does exactly that for about 45 minutes. And I’ve only described four of ten ‒ not including Batman (Ben Affleck), who swoops in pointlessly for a few moments, and the Flash (Ezra Miller), here to remind everyone, groan-inducingly, that we’ve still got next year’s Justice League and its attendant standalone features to come. If you thought the Avengers films were beginning to feel rather crowded lately, you have no idea. This is a film in which Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney, two actors I can hardly distinguish from one another in different movies, both play heroes on the same team, each with abilities, motivations, and backstories that the filmmakers presumably expect you to keep in mind from scene to scene. I could try to explain who they are and what they’re all about, but seriously, who cares? Life is too short. Suicide Squad is too long.

Anyway, Will Smith is here, and clear enough, too, because he refuses to wear the marquee-star-obscuring mask his character ordinarily does. He plays a kind of sniper-hitman named Deadshot. His superpower is that he’s got very good aim, I guess, but doesn’t every action hero? Early on there’s an introductory sequence in which Deadshot is presented with a table of automatic weapons and a targeting range. He starts shooting the humanoid targets in the center of the forehead, over and over again, to the blood-pumping sounds of Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”. It’s interminable. You could say it’s meant to establish ‒ very emphatically, for the sake of the confused ‒ that Deadshot is, indeed, something of a sharpshooter. But this fact was already established, fifteen minutes earlier, in another, evidently redundant introductory scene. Suicide Squad cost $175 million to make. $175 million! Astonishing. It’s about as accomplished as a Tommy Wiseau film.

At this point I suppose I should mention the Joker. Christ, the Joker: since this film first entered production it seems we’ve heard little else about it than what extraordinary lengths Jared Leto went to for his performance, steadfastly refusing to break character and express-mailing rotting animal carcuses to his co-stars. And it turns out he’s in Suicide Squad for a grand total of ten minutes. (Two of which find him zooming down Toronto’s Yonge street in a violet sportscar, past the very theatre in which I was watching the film ‒ the only millisecond in which my interest was piqued.) It is, needless to say, a cataclysm of a bad performance, all phoned-in lunacy and anticharisma. That we’ve had endure the PR machine’s infernal bluster on the subject for so long embodies so much of what’s disastrous about the film: hype before product, salesmanship before skill.

As I left the theatre and wound my way down through the Financial District, past local landmarks pulverized by CGI monsters in the downtown core of “Midway City” in the film, I felt wretched, almost hungover, as if I’d just emerged from shameful sleep after a night of bad behaviour and too much drinking. I had the strange sensation that I couldn’t bear to think about whatever I’d just done. There was a time, I’m fairly certain, when going to the movies was something you did to feel good for two hours rather than disconsolate and woebegone ‒ when movies aspired to the condition of joy and bliss and high spirits rather than… faux-punk misery and lurid special effects and a whole lot of noise. But that’s the effect Suicide Squad has. It’s such a profoundly bad time at the movies that you can’t remember if you ever had a good time at them before, or whether you’re likely to have a good time at them again. Here’s hoping.

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