Never underestimate the value of a really good trailer. In the span of two and a half minutes they can turn a mediocre blockbuster into an epic to rival Lawrence of Arabia, and even resoundingly weak efforts like Transformers: Dark of the Moon or Terminator Salvation lured in audiences with the help of well-cut previews.
Similarly the trailers for Suicide Squad promised a colourful, action-packed comic book movie that would reinvent the DC Cinematic Universe after the glowering bore of Batman v Superman. It showed the main cast cracking jokes and seemingly having a great time, all set to infectious themes like ‘Ballroom Blitz’; how could it fail to be a good time?
That’s the question to ponder after seeing the final product, because Suicide Squad is an utter mess. It feels like it was cut by three different editors who were each given different briefs, and the final cut was randomly stitched together from what they did. It has jarring tonal shifts from wacky to deathly serious, and the story itself jumps around, often without providing context for what’s happening.
The basic setup is a team of imprisoned “bad” guys being assembled by the government for a dangerous mission. The squad is made of up of so-called meta-humans like Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and other members of DC’s C-list cast. They also have to deal with Harley’s psychotic gangster boyfriend the Joker trying to steal her back, which makes an impossible job even impossibler.
Suicide Squad is such a frustrating experience because it feels like there’s a better version buried underneath. Director David Ayer is known for gritty thrillers like End of Watch and Fury, and while he tries to ground it in some kind of reality he feels ill at ease doing a comic book movie. The plot is razor-thin, with the villains and their scheme being so badly defined they barely register. The flat story twists fail to surprise and the Joker subplot is worthless, something that’s made worse by Jared Leto’s obnoxious turn as the Clown Prince of Crime.
Ayer’s put together a quality cast for Suicide Squad, but they don’t click together the way they need to. It might pretend to be an ensemble but make no mistake, Will Smith is the lead. Deadshot is given the most screen time and dialogue, along with a subplot about how much he loves his daughter; Smith might play a bad guy, but he needs the audience to know he’s not a bad guy. Margot Robbie’s having a blast playing Harley Quinn, but it’s not the career-defining turn it was hyped to be. Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo has the most interesting arc and proves to be the low-key highlight of the gang.
The action scenes are a chaotic blur of the squad shooting or hacking at clay zombie things that fail to inspire excitement, and it feels like gory violence was trimmed from the final cut. Suicide Squad also has the weird habit of inserting classic songs into scenes – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ – which is probably to make it feel like Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s a distracting gimmick here.
Suicide Squad had so much potential – a great cast, a cool setup, and a director with a unique voice – but it’s sad to report it doesn’t gel at all. Occasionally there’s fun to be had, but it feels like too many cooks messed around with it and watered down the movie Ayer intended to make. One thing is clear though: Warner Bros.’ trailer editor seriously deserves a promotion.
Words by Padraig Cotter