It’s official folks. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn is coming over to Warner Bros. and will be making his mark in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) with his very own rendition of DC Comic’s Suicide Squad. Simply titled “The Suicide Squad”, the film is set to hit theatres come August 2021. Judging by Gunn’s title, it’s safe to say that the studio intends the film to be a kind of soft reboot/sequel to Ayer’s Suicide Squad in 2016.
In any case, we’re happy that Gunn will be taking the reins on this project. He did excellent work with Marvel’s own band of outlaws with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.1 and Vol. 2 doing extremely well, commercially and critically. We think Gunn is the right man for the job. With that in mind, we decided that now would be a good time to talk about the worst film in the DCEU thus far: Ayer’s Suicide Squad.
We’re taking a look at how a film with so much promise and hope shat the bed so badly. Examining its paper-thin characters, pointless plot structure and other glaring flaws that led to the film’s downfall. So without further ado, this is why 2016’s Suicide Squad sucked.
Style Over Substance
We need to talk about director David Ayer. The reason why I had such high hopes for Suicide Squad was the man himself. In the past, Ayer has shown that he can really put together a solid ensemble-cast film with great team chemistry. In 2012, he dazzled us with a phenomenal found-footage buddy cop action thriller, End of Watch. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena’s dialogue, delivery and camaraderie was believable, hilarious and even touching at times.
In 2014, the man gave us Fury, a gritty war drama that followed a tank unit in Europe during the final push of World War II. A story of innocence lost, collective trauma and the bravery of a group of flawed men in the face of insurmountable odds. So when 2016, came around I was sure that Ayer would bring that signature team chemistry he had built up over the years. What could possibly go wrong? Everything apparently.
If you had told me that Suicide Squad had been directed by Ayer and I didn’t know any better, I would have laughed you out of the room. It’s completely foreign to the down-to-earth style the man is known for. This film is garish, loud and incoherent. Ayer seems to have fallen into the trap of believing that snarky remarks and screaming matches count as “character development”. It doesn’t and that’s all we got here. When Harley Quinn isn’t pissing everyone off, Captain Boomerang is saying something stupid but not before the vanilla bread leader of the team Rick Flag tells them to shut up.
I guess Killer Croc and Quinn got along fine but that never really pays off in the end. Instead of taking the time to actually set up team dynamics by having them train with one another and converse about everyday things besides their tragic backstory or how great they are at killing, Ayer thought it sufficient to simply give us a freaking character montage. Almost as if he presumed the audience’s attention span to be too short for human dialogue or moments. But hey, at least it’s flashy I guess.
Which is precisely the problem with Suicide Squad, it’s all style and no substance. It’s all spectacle. When they’re not having big, loud and dumb CGI battles with CGI monsters or having one of their big, loud and dumb attempts at humour (Harley being the worst offender), they’re busy saying big, loud and dumb things! The bar scene was a nice reprieve I suppose but it honestly felt like Ayer forgot he needed to actually have intimate character moments so he decided to slap together some unearned rallying cry moment with the “bad guys” suddenly realizing they want to be heroes.
Therefore when the squad starts acting like a team near the end, it comes off as contrived and forced. There was no foreshadowing of any of them longing to be heroes. There was no proper time to set up emotional stakes because the film is too busy setting up its meandering story (which we’ll get to in a moment). We’re not the Suicide Squad, we won’t suddenly give a damn about something just because the script told us to.
A Pointless Plot
Right, context. So a year after Superman’s death in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Amanda Waller decides that the American government needs a superpowered team to combat global threats. Her answer is Task Force X aka the Suicide Squad. Among the recruits Waller brings on board, is Dr June Moore, an archaeologist who is bound to an ancient dark power, transforming her into the Enchantress. Waller, however, loses control of the Enchantress and she proceeds to unleash total chaos and anarchy upon the denizens of Midway City.
To clean up her mess and prove Waller’s case, she deploys Task Force X to take down Enchantress or die trying. Let me get me this straight. Waller is going to use her Suicide Squad to take down another member of her Suicide Squad…and she still thinks this is all going to work out? Lady, you ain’t gonna have no damn Suicide Squad after your bloody program was responsible for all this mess in the first place!
This is a terrible plot to have, especially if you’re just now introducing your team to the world. The whole point of the Suicide Squad was to have a team of highly effective convicts take down external threats like the way Task Force X took down the Justice League in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. A more contemporary example would be DC’s Animated Film Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay, which saw the team take on villains like Vandal Savage and the Reverse-Flash to retrieve a “Get Out Of Hell Free” card. Now that’s a fantastic premise with plenty of room for fun and excitement.
2016’s Suicide Squad felt like it was going nowhere. The team was fighting wave after wave of lifeless foes so Rick Flag can save his possessed girlfriend and everyone else either ends up being dead or going right back where they started: prison. And Waller still gets to keep her program apparently. No actual progress was made here and by all logic, there shouldn’t be any more Suicide Squad, judging by how destructive and ineffectual the project turned out.
Perhaps, if the film had a smarter script, it could have found some way to sell us this idea but I’m afraid to report that they’re lacking in that department as well. And while we do acknowledge that the theatrical cut wasn’t Ayer’s full vision of what the film could be, we’ve seen the extended cut and let’s just say…it’s nothing to shout about. I sincerely hope Gunn is planning on doing a soft reboot with 2021’s The Suicide Squad. Hopefully, the writers will find a way to sweep the events of the first Suicide Squad all under the rug. If not, there’s going to be a ton of contrivances needed to explain why Waller is still allowed to pull this shit. Honestly, the film’s shiftless story and lacklustre script aren’t the worst offenders. No, we need to talk about Jared Leto’s Joker.
A Bad Joke
When it comes to any interpretation of the Joker, there’s no such thing as a middle ground. It’ll either be hailed or reviled by the public. In the past, we’ve discussed the cultural significance and popularity of the character. He is considered by many, even before Ledger’s explosive performance, to be one of the greatest comic book villains of all time. There’s a certain amount of care and reverence that has to be taken into account, to best understand the character’s nuances and philosophical complexities.
It seems though that Mr Ayer has completely thrown caution to the wind and has made something utterly revolting. A crime boss with garish tattoos that read “HAHAHAHAHA” across his body, the word “Damaged” scribbled on his forehead, grilled teeth and the letter “J” written at the side of his face. This isn’t the methodical agent of chaos we’ve come to know and love. This is a pimp with a clown fetish! Even Ayer has admitted that he went a little overboard with the character’s reinvention.
Look, we’re not against creative liberties being taken with the Joker. We acknowledge that every auteur wishes to make their own unique signature with the character. In spite of the fact that director Todd Phillips has foregone one of the most important aspects of the character, the notion of Joker’s ambiguous identity, we’re still excited to see what he’s going to do with him.
This is because Phillips is honing onto a particular aspect of the Joker, his disenfranchisement and disillusion with modern society which does have historical precedence in Alan Moore’s Killing Joke. Even the most far off version of the character played by Jack Nicholson still managed to impress with Nicholson really diving into the inherent campiness of the character before shocking us with horrific acts of violence. This still feeds into the Joker’s incongruous nature that we’ve discussed before.
The issue with Ayer’s version is that he hones in one the most shallow aspect of the character which is his “crazy” aesthetics. If you had removed the makeup, the tattoos and the green hair, no one wouldn’t have ever guessed that it was the Joker. We would have all assumed that it was some random drug lord ala Tuco from Breaking Bad. Jared Leto’s Joker is far too normal and predictable in performance to bank on the character’s campy comedic value and yet far too frivolous and garish to invoke the character’s nihilistic tendencies. Ultimately, he ends up being nothing more than a lukewarm disappointment.
2016’s Suicide Squad could have been a great film and certainly had all the makings of it. A talented director with an eye for action, a star-studded cast of characters and a fairly large budget. Unfortunately, none of them can ever be a substitute for bold storytelling, an intelligent script and respect for the source material. Something director James Gunn would do well to heed in his upcoming endeavours.