Suicide Squad (2016): a recap (part 1 of 9)
The DC Expanded Universe: four cursed words if ever there were any.
The twelve hours that comprise the DCEU represent such a pathetically inept wall-to-wall pooch-screw that dunking on the franchise at this point seems almost mean, like laughing at a little kid who still insists he can eat a whole tub of ice cream even as his shirt drips with vomit and tears. I’ll ruffle some feathers and include Wonder Woman in this assessment, which a) I found very overrated, and b) would not have happened, at least not when and how it did, if Batman v. Superman had a single other scene that people liked.
But Warner Bros. and DC only have themselves to blame. They were the ones caught flatfooted by Marvel’s fundamental rewrite of superhero film grammar, which sneaked in while DC was still coasting on its Christopher Nolan high. They were the ones who watched Marvel movies and concluded that the main things people liked about them was that there were a lot of them and they all crossed over with each other. They were the ones dumb enough to commit to ten movies by 2020… in 2014. They were the ones who wanted to make the angst-y, po-faced aesthetic of the Nolanverse the template for every movie going forward. And they’re the ones tainting all their future projects by their maddening habit of applying ostentatious, inorganic “fixes” in response to whatever people didn’t like about the last one. It’s become a law of nature at this point; much as the United States is always fighting its previous war, the DCEU is always making its previous movie.
I’ve recapped another movie based on a DC property: Jonah Hex, which was a thin, bitter, bowel-loosening gruel of a movie. But Jonah Hex happened before the DCEU was even a seed of an idea in some gazillionaire’s pudding-soft brain. As such, Jonah Hex failed on its own terms. More specifically, it failed because no one cared enough to make it any good.
By contrast, many people cared very, very much about Suicide Squad, and that’s almost worse. Unwisely committed to an insane deadline, and scrambling to score an unqualified hit after the wet shart that was Batman v. Superman, Warner Bros. had David Ayers cobble together a shooting script in six weeks and kicked off a famously troubled production that included at least three sets of reshoots and a whole slew of editors, only one of whom wanted to be credited.
Everything in Suicide Squad bears the unsightly tool marks of the legions of producers and studio execs and marketers and merchandisers who frantically tried to hammer all their focus-grouped bullet points into something resembling a movie. Suicide Squad pulls one thing after another out of a bucket and chucks it up against the screen, screaming “THIS TESTED WELL! YOU’LL LIKE IT!! PLEASE, PLEASE LIKE IT!!!!” There’s no surer way to smother the magic of the movies than by exposing the cynical commercialism at their foundation, particularly when the stink of desperation is as powerful as it is here.
We open on a sweeping establishing shot of a shitty-looking swamp somewhere in Louisiana (really narrows it down, I know) which houses a black-site prison.
At least two or three members of our titular squad are imprisoned here. I’m not sure exactly how many, because Suicide Squad is about to run through six characters’ backstories (complete with flashbacks!) and explain its own premise twice in the space of the next twenty minutes. Details get hazy under such circumstances.
Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot (Academy Award nominee Will Smith) is in his prison cell going to town on a punching bag…
…to the strains of “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, the first of many crowd-pleasing pop songs shoehorned into Suicide Squad. Having lots of licensed songs on the soundtrack is a first for a DCEU picture. I’m sure it was an organic artistic choice, and in no way had anything to do with any other movie about a team of C-list comic-book antiheroes with an alliterative name. No sir.
Deadshot’s dinner is dropped off by a janky-toothed scumbucket (Ike Barinholtz) who proudly tells him it contains “pasketti… toenails… rat shit… everything a growing boy needs like you” (I didn’t mistype that sentence).
Deadshot promises that if he ever gets out, he will “rain down on [this guard] like the Holy Ghost”. I’m no Bible scholar, but I don’t think the Holy Ghost is the character who usually “rains down” on people. In response to his threat against a guard, Deadshot gets hauled out of his cell, forced into a chair, beaten in the stomach with nightsticks, and…
…Smash cut to the cell of Harley Quinn (Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie). Huh. It looked like they were setting up Deadshot for some weird torture, but apparently they just wanted to beat him in the stomach a whole bunch. There was obviously a longer sequence there that got cut in one of the studio’s slash-and-burns. Strap in. This’ll happen a lot.
So now, less than two minutes in, there’s a new pop song playing (Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”), and rather than a solitary cell like Deadshot’s, Harley lives in the same cage Hannibal Lecter escaped from, which is behind a chain-link fence with barbed wire on top. This is indoors, mind you, in the middle of an empty cell block. It seems the reason she gets all this space to herself is so she can do aerial ballet routines and play with her hair, which is what she’s doing when the guards enter.
Among them is the same corrections officer we just saw with Deadshot, and since I don’t remember him ever being named, I’m just gonna call him Officer Douchecanoe, or DC for short; seems appropriate. Officer DC and Harley trade some pointless and tiresome banter.
He makes multiple comments about how crazy she is. This’ll be a running joke in Suicide Squad—“joke” in the sense of “dry heave”. For every scene Harley’s in, you’ll hear her called “crazy” twice per three seconds, but for all that, she seems to be “crazy” primarily in the hair-metal groupie sense of the word (i.e., giggly and minx-y and with poor impulse control) rather than in any marginally interesting way (e.g., weaving her hair into a papoose to carry her and Judge Mathis’s babies).
“I’m bored,” Harley says, “play with meeeee.” Officer DC replies, “You put five of my men in the hospital,” promising a level of combat prowess out of Harley that the movie is 100% unwilling to deliver. She ignores DC’s warnings to stay off the bars and gets an electric shock, which triggers flashbacks.
But not just flashbacks: flashbacks rendered in garish, eye-searing pink and blue neon, the neon-iest neon that ever neoned, like if Only God Forgives and Blade Runner 2049 had a baby whose favorite movie was Liquid Sky. It’s such a massive contrast with the movie’s prevailing Snyderian dankness that it must be the product of a reshoot. If only I could put my finger on what could have inspired such a radical shift in art direction…
In these flashbacks, Harley is strapped to a chair with a feeding tube up her nose while DC takes a selfie with her.
Back in the present, she’s mad enough at her memories to charge at the bars and knock herself out. Officer DC leaves, strongly suggesting that the entire reason he visited Harley was to get her to do that.
And here comes another pop song! This time it’s “Sympathy for the Devil”, the Hollywood hack’s go-to theme music for suave asshole characters. Right on cue, Amanda Waller (Academy Award winner Viola Davis), a shady government ratfucker who holds the position of Why You Askin’ in the department of Go Fuck Yourself, pulls up to a restaurant in a black SUV and begins a bored voiceover. “The world changed when Superman flew across the sky,” she grumbles, “and then it changed again when he didn’t.”
She passes a street vendor selling “Remember Superman” T-shirts.
The scene fades into a flashback depicting Superman’s state funeral. Wait, what happened to Superman? Gosh, I hope he’s okay!
The title card then flashes across the screen right in time for Mick Jagger to sing “pleased to meet you”, and it’s mostly the same color as Harley’s flashbacks. The letters appear in the middle of a hideous kaleidoscope of poorly-rendered guns and cartridges and knives and grenades, suggesting amounts of gunplay, color, and fun that this movie is 100% unwilling to deliver.
That wraps it up for now. Stay suicidal for part two, in which we’ll hear twenty more pop songs and see seventy more flashbacks! Nothing matters, wheee!