Thursday, 11 August 2016

Suicide Squad 'review'

Dad was much more… witty.  Umm…  I remember watching a particularly inane dance routine with him on television once, and he turned to me and said, “I don’t think this will ever replace entertainment."
- John Cleese, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut)

That American optimism... I think it does speak to, now that we’re a global family, what it means to police the world and how hard that is.
- Zack Snyder

An eternal story of love and loss, set against the backdrop of an abortive alien invasion. Though you don’t actually find out it’s abortive till the end of the show.
It’s my
Romeo and Juliet
But less whiny.

- Garth Marenghi

Let’s start with some basics. 

Comics are a medium and superheroes are a genre within that medium.  A genre aimed at children.  Specifically, American children.  During the period that folk in the UK are currently lucky enough to think of as 'post-War', there’s been some clever cultural sleight-of-hand blurring those basics.  And that’s far from the worst of it.

Work-made-for-hire is a concept that consumers seem happy to ignore when nostalgia’s involved.  If I were to compare Marvel and DC to Burger King and McDonalds, it might seem an irrelevant stretch.  Stick with it though, because by the time I do make that comparison, many people reading this will already be so annoyed they might miss the opportunity to become further enraged. 

This may sting.  Ready?

DC need Suicide Squad to be a financial success.  It’s essential to them.  Or rather, it was, because at the time of typing it’s already obvious that, despite an exceptional opening weekend, this film’s going to die on its arse.  Now, before going any further, let’s make it very clear that when the covering of backsides and throwing of blame really gets going, DC will forget that there's absolutely nobody responsible for the critical and financial kicking other than themselves.  Suicide Squad, like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Team America (and FANT4STIC before that) are exactly the movies that they wanted.  The buck stops with them.

You’ve read this far, so I’ll stop teasing you by telling you the result up front and then showing my working afterwards:  Suicide Squad is not just a terrible film, it’s also an extremely scary one. 

Suicide Squad is a mash-up of two different edits.  The first is the film that director David Ayer turned in (this edit has an orchestral soundtrack), the second is the remix that the folk who spliced the trailers together came up with (this is the edit that sounds like someone forgot to remove the temp score).  The final cut-and-shut currently stinking up flea-pits all over the world (with the exception of most of Mexico and all of China, who saw this faecal tsunami coming) has been welded together by DC’s accountants, and they've produced a disastrous pile-up, lacking the integrity of even Alien Vs Predator.1

Suicide Squad contains no thrills, no laughs, no engagement, no jeopardy, no surprises and, most damning of all, no soul.  Manos: The Hands of Fate is often cited as one of the worst films of all time, but if you ignore its technical deficiencies, Manos is a far superior film to Suicide Squad because its intentions were at least honourable: director/producer/writer/actor Harold P. Warren bet he could make a horror film by himself, and he did.  Not only that, Manos was, and is, an entertaining film, although probably not for the reasons Warren intended.   Suicide Squad might have one or two good shots and - mostly - competent acting (Will Smith's performance as Will Smith in the Will Smith role ticks all the Will Smith boxes; Margot Robbie cheekily sneaks character moments past all the editors), but it would still be a colossal disservice to accuse it of being entertaining.

Of course, despite what I'm about to type, many people will enjoy Suicide Squad for many different reasons, and more power to them.  To drag out the emaciated cliche, "It'd be a dull world if we all liked the same things."  Of course, having said that...

Someone in Hollywood’s fed all those huckstering How-To-Write-An-Accountant-Moistening-Movie-Script books into a Transformer, and Suicide Squad is the soulless, cliché-recipe subsequently squeezed out through the machine's inky printer-sphincter.  Make no mistake, you’ve seen all of this before: for a start, the whole final act's from 1984’s Ghostbusters.

There was a joke doing the rounds when The Sopranos was about to cut to black for the last time: any recap of the preceding episodes would need to be days long, in order to bring a casual viewer up to speed.  Suicide Squad feels like that’s actually happened.  In their greedy rush to catch up with the franchises they scavenge behind, DC’ve compressed so many characters, backstories and events together it plays more like a ‘Previously… on Suicide Squad’, than a coherent narrative.

The team who made Suicide Squad's trailers have been cursed by their success.  The sections they’ve been tasked with ‘enhancing’ are, in long-form, clumsy and ludicrous.  Anyone unlucky enough to’ve experienced the Michael Bay produced ‘reboot’ of The Hitcher should start feeling uncomfortable right now.  Also, the use of familiar songs is cynical.  Some cigar-chomping mogul noticed that the Bohemian Rhapsody promos were getting better reviews than Batman v Superman, and decided it must be the music that was responsible.  Simple.  Add more tunes the peasants and livestock’ll recognise and the money’ll print itself.  The songs in Suicide Squad are even more misjudged than each contractually-obligated Piece for the Proms Murray Gold gets to emit every year  Doctor Who’s on the TV.  There’s no artistry to the choices, which is why they sound like a temp score. 

Speaking of desperately rolling turds in glitter.  I’m willing to bet someone else’s money that I can identify every scene recorded during the infamous, and very expensive, reshoots.  Most of the Bar Scene for a start.  Touted as something that’ll astound, it’s exactly what a script-squirting algorithm would think of as ‘character moments’.  To paraphrase Alan Moore’s glorious D.R. & Quinch, “scar tissue adds character, man.” 

Ah.  Alan Moore.  The hairy, snake-worshipping magician in the room.  Yeah, let’s talk about Alan Moore shall we?  Especially as, despite attempts to hide the evidence by throwing reshoots over it, Zack Snyder’s involvement in this film is still honkingly obvious.  And I don't just mean the scene he directed.  Or the massive smiley badge filling the screen at one point.  (To be fair to Snyder, the badge is only really there as a greasy, 'Funk you, you funking hippie!' from DC.)

The decision to use Zack Snyder as DC's 'through-vision' to success was obviously going to result in a mess like this.  Anyone who understands how comics work could it see it coming as soon as Snyder disgraced himself all over Watchmen, an adaptation that simply revealed that he didn’t have a clue what the damn thing was about, but just thought it looked cool.  Snyder’s vision is limited solely by his inability to understand that all those words in comics are there for a reason, and are often just as important as the art (no matter how cool that art may be).  Alan Moore has apologised more than enough, even though it’s not his fault, for Watchmen's legacy.  The work's been enthusiastically misinterpreted for decades by folk who got trapped in the surface.  Watchmen's beautiful narrative structures - the illusions and allusions, reflections and reversions, all designed to highlight effects only available in the comics medium - were largely ignored by the next generation of Hot Artists.  Like mosquitoes staring through the glass face of a watch,
unable to comprehend the hidden interacting layers of careful precision implied, and rubbing themselves to mimic ticking, the deconstructive aspects of Watchmen, itself based on a satire of superheroes from the Fifties,2 were decoded as: TITS!  GUTS!  GUNS!  VIOLENCE!  RUDE WORDS!  POUCHES!  These artists (and writers) completely failed to understand that the work they worshiped was showing that ridiculous children’s characters would fit no more comfortably into a complex, consensual reality with consequences,than an enraged bear would remain quietly in its seat during a film premiere.  I’ve discussed this at tedious length before, so at this point we should return to why Suicide Squad's scary.

Suicide Squad feels like a music video.3   It also feels like watching someone else play a video game.  The structure, such as it is, acts like a set up for each new level.  The dialogue does nothing more than explain to the audience what they’re about to see.  Characters are introduced as though they can be upgraded later; more than one feels as though they’ve been unlocked after the completion of a level, turning up out of nowhere, solely to fulfill an obvious plot function in the almost-totally-CGI climactic battle.  Perhaps it’s been based on the Arkham series.  Ultimately though, who cares? 

To touch on the Intellectual Properties briefly (it hardly seems fair to dignify them with the term ‘characters’ as they’re only there to shift t-shirts), some mention should be made as to how repugnant they all are.  Yes, even Will Smith (whose orthodontist deserves his own credit).  Why are the audience supposed to sympathise with these scumbags again?  The female characters are also dealt a particularly unpleasant hand, from Amanda Exposition to the gratuitous ogling over the other three.  Maybe I’m getting old, but it seems there’s a far finer dividing line between empowerment and misogyny than I’d previously realised.  Living, as I do, in a country that has a mature attitude to guns, the scenes of firepower porn’re just tedious, for reasons we’ve not quite reached yet.

In fairness to Jared Leto, he manages to achieve something that no other actor playing the Joker has ever nailed, by delivering, hands-down, the worst-ever interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime.  Deleted scenes (and probably illegal 'gifts' to fellow performers) be damned, this children's entertainer can’t hold a lubricated candle to even Caesar Romero, an actor who felt so little respect for the character of the Joker that he refused to shave his moustache off for filming.  The abusive relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn could be played as something complex, but that’s not what we’re here for, so what we get is stupid, ignorant and astounding that it made it to the screen, especially when Cap'n Boomerang’s rumoured bigotry doesn’t seem to've.

America is a young country, it doesn’t have legends.  The upcoming American Gods adaptation will probably address both those points.  A culture's popular entertainment reveals a huge amount about what’s going on behind the curtains.  Suicide Squad, unfortunately, seems to be an accurate, if broad-sweeping, portrayal of America itself:
dressing children’s characters in adult themes and pretending that this makes them edgy and grown-up; mistaking money, shimmer, glimmer, glam and bling for talent and worth; believing that violence is the only answer.  Might makes right, motherfunker.  Whether it's ignorance or, more likely, immaturity that causes the confusion of weaponry and the basic mammalian reproductive drive doesn't really matter.  Immaturity seems more likely, because of America's odd inability to have an adult conversation about the mechanical action that, whether they like it or not, manufactured everyone living there.  Humans aren't miracles, not even Fox News viewers. 

Even more troubling is Snyder’s Justice Team America crusade, apparently adopted as a deliberate echo of his country’s attitude to the rest of the species clinging to this rock.  In Snyder/DC's films, America represents the sole defence against the threatening, faceless hordes of the Other.  Only their might can make it right, everyone else being too lazy, stupid or weak to rise to the challenge.  To quote Ms Quinn, they/we're all "pussies".  There’s no nuance here.  These are absolutes that religious fundamentalists wouldn’t have to make a huge leap to identify with.  Suicide Squad is shallow propaganda.  That’s what makes it scary.

Marvel are basically a Burger King variation, DC're the Hamburglar.  Both have almost identical menus with enough variations in decor, costumes and vegetarian options to differentiate who you're giving money to.  Work-made-for-hire is like employing a chef who’s achieved a reputation elsewhere to offer their own spin on a Whopper or a Big Mac or a superhero (calling them ‘metahumans’ ain’t fooling no-one).   Once the company've received this critical darling's new recipe they offer a taste of it to the peasants and livestock to see how it tests.  When those results come back the recipe's altered according to more closely suit the test audience's tastes, creating a hybrid that nobody really wants. 

The talent, if it knows what's good for it, keeps its mouth shut, does what the contract states, kisses the ring and takes the cash.  As we’ve seen recently, we don't need no ‘experts’ no more.  Pol Pot wasn’t keen on 'experts' either, let’s not forget that. 

America’s legends are franchised children’s heroes, just as their exported restaurants are franchised chains.  Both are fast, memetic, market-driven and disposable.  Ultimately, both are junk food.  Fun, filling, comfortingly predictable, but also nutritionally basic, unhealthy and potentially lethal as an exclusive diet.

I'm afraid of Americans.
- David Bowie
Stupid Shite Plod: Too Many Accountants Spoil The Big Mac

1.  Only the first one, to be fair.

2.  As usual, Mr Moore's Scottish Tribute Act's mistaken on this point (just like he was with the ending of The Killing Joke).

3.  In fairness I typed this before Die Antwoord's accusations made the news.  Freeky.  Die Antwoord've been creating some complex, intriguing, brave, powerful and important art (yes, it is) for years now.  Their accusations don't exactly damage any of my observations about Watchmen either.4

4.  Die Antwoord understand how to read comics.  The journey from Max Normal to Zef makes perfect sense.

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