I consume a fair bit of critical pop media, like reviews for movies I haven’t seen or don’t intend to see. Part of this is convenient – it’s free – and part of it is that I like to look at work in terms of the ideas that go into it rather than necessarily their execution. One movie that got an absolute beating last year from everyone in my critical circle was Suicide Squad.
I sort of wondered why I hadn’t seen any ninety-minute piece-by-piece dismantling of the thing. The longest form critique of it I’d seen from anyone is Dan Olson who talked about it specifically in terms of editing, something that’s clearly his area of expertise. But the normal sources that dredge into these works and really stomp around on the details seemed to just let Suicide Squad go.
I thought that was kinda weird, and when Netflix sent me an email telling me I could watch Suicide Squad now, I took that insult as a personal challenge. Maybe it’d be interestingly bad.
Turns out, no, and I learned why it didn’t get that big ole teardown I was expecting from anyone. It’s too dense.
You can go through this movie in terms of plot beats and just kick each of them around for being bad or badly set up or morally incoherent or diegetically nonsensical or breaking disbelief or any of that. Not hard, not hard at all – the entire movie can be summarised as different types of bad decision. But what really surprised me is in the seventeen minutes of utter horse-butt garbage I watched, was how densely packed it was with really basic bad decisions. And some of those bad decisions were dizzying.
The opening of Suicide Squad is just watching two squad members get randomly abused by their prison guards – just two of them. Two of them out of context, which would, conventionally, suggest that these are the focal characters. Right there, you have a structural problem; why two and why just two? If it was just Deadshot, for example, you could see him being treated as the focal character, the one they have to introduce into the squad to explain things to, and use him as a Watson-like lens. But instead they introduce both Deadshot and Harley Quinn, and then don’t go on to the rest of the squad with this same structure. One, two, – fphhhhpt.
There’s a reason movies do things in threes. Threes form pleasant structure. You can even tell a little story with three – the establisher, the twist, and the counterpoint, for example. A dynamic group can be easily made with three. But instead we get two, and it just so happens to be the two who are by all accounts the best things in the movie. Thing is, there’s some surprisingly detailed flashback stuff which uh, look, if you show me a beautiful woman getting a tube stuck up her nose in that kind of detail in a movie, director, I am going to assume this is some Quentin Tarantino feet thing. You don’t need to show that, you can just cut it and move on to the next thing.
And then skinny Amanda Waller walks in through the door in a different scene and… and…
I thought I could get through the first seventeen minutes explaining bad decisions this movie makes.
I was wrong.
I haven’t gotten past the first five minutes.
This movie is really, really bad.