[personal profile] magister
Moments when you think a film may not be going well.

A character asks “Do you know who I am?” and I think “No, I don't. Am I supposed to?”

10 minutes after I thought the film was drawing to a close, a character asks “How much longer is this going on for?”

Suicide Squad is an odd film. Something that feels like it might have been an anarchic mid-size space filler between epics has been retooled into a summer tent-pole movie. The idea is straightforward. Criminals with particular talents are co-opted by the government to act as an off-the-books black ops team. If they refuse, small bombs which have been implanted in their necks will explode and kill them. Any similarity to Escape from New York is probably not co-incidental.

The structure at first seems to be tolerably straightforward too. As security bigwig Amanda Waller introduces each of her prospective team members, we get a flashback showing them in action. Or a few of them anyway. The rest get left to one side, their flashbacks coming later, or – in one case – not at all. This latter is Slipknot – a man introduced with the single line “He can climb anything”. Going by his example, unusual abilities do not necessarily go hand in hand with intelligence. After 90 seconds screen time, one of his less intelligent colleagues convinces him that the bombs are faked and his escape attempt is ended somewhat squelchily.

It'd be tempting to think that the increasingly random placement of flashbacks is a deliberate collapse of narrative structureas the chaos of the characters overtakes the film. However, rumour has it that the film was heavily re-edited after the hostile reception given Batman v Superman, as the studio wanted something more fun. One of the main victims of this is apparently Jared Leto's Joker. Myself, I'd say this is all for the better. The Joker can portrayed in many ways – Cesar Romero's camp clown, Heath Ledger's anarchist terrorist, Jack Nicholson in white face paint. One thing he really can't be is boring. Leto's Joker is visibly desperate to impress. He has “damaged” tattooed on his forehead and lies artily posed in the middle of concentric circles of knives. He comes across as a Marilyn Manson fan boy who has spent far too much time watching The Dark Knight and Breaking Bad, all metal capped teeth and gangsta tattoos. Reports from filming say that he remained in character permanently, leading to him sending severed animal heads to other castmates and pissing on Will Smith's breakfast. One might wish that Smith had similarly stayed in character – one suspects that Deadshot's reaction to having his morning oatmeal violated would have been quite final.

Smith is one of the film's strengths. It's not one of his better performances, but the level of charisma he brings still draws the gaze whenever he's on screen. The standout performance comes from Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She and Smith remain detached from the film – he commenting on it's stupidity, she varying from childlike reactions of joy to explosions to off handedly diagnosing Smith as textbook sociopath after he denies feeling any emotions. She also manages to give the character a sense of depth – she gets a moment to mourn the Joker's apparent death, before putting her game face back on when the remainder of the squad catch up with her. In all, a character it may be interesting to see develop.

Part of the effect of the last minute reworking of the film seems to have been to make the Joker/Harley relationship less abusive. Given that as it stands, the relationship includes Harley being offered to another gangster as a bribe and also being tortured with the words “I'm going to hurt you real bad”, how successful this was must be open to doubt. The film has a familiar problem in that women are often seen to be a reward for good behaviour or something to be denied someone as a punishment. Besides the Joker who spends much of the film chasing the Squad to reclaim Harley, Rick Flag, leader of the Squad, is looking to get back his girlfriend, June.She's been possessed by an ancient witch, known as the Enchantress. At the film's close, he kills Enchantress, which he knows will kill June, and for his heroism is rewarded by having June come back to life. Team member El Diablo, who can control fire, is in mourning and lives with the fact that he burned his wife and children to death in a moment of frenzied rage. He is given a form of tragic heroism as he learns to trust himself and his control over his ability once again. Take away the fantasy elements of this though and we get a man who killed his family , plain and simple. Would Deadshot be given the same level of sympathy had he used his own special ability and shot his family? Given that he describes his ex-wife as a whore and advises Flag to control June/Enchantress by “beating her ass”, I wouldn't bet against it. Add casual displays of misogyny such as Slipknot being introduced by punching a woman in the face and explaining that “She had a mouth on her” and the film does not leave a good taste.

Simply by looking at the cast, the film seems to achieve a better level of diversity than many. Deadshot and Amanda Waller are black. There is also a Japanese woman, a Latino man and other women in Harley and June/Enchantress. Sadly, the film has a tendency to go for the stereotype. The Latino character is a gang member with rage control issues. The Japanese woman is a ninja called Katana. One of the squad is an Australian called Captain Boomerang who swills lager. No stereotype left unturned.

And yet, the film is still not as bad as Batman v Superman. This is a low wall to hurdle. Should a director's cut of Suicide Squad emerge, it may yet be an interesting film. A director's cut of BvS was never going to be anything other than longer.
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James Brough

March 2017

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