DC’s latest installment has been met with some decidedly mixed reviews: some like it, others are dismissive, and the rest are frankly “meh” about the whole business.
Some, however, seem content to review the film for what it is: a seat wriggling, popcorn crunching, grin inspiring romp through a dystopian cityscape cesspit which looks like it needs a fast injection of Judge Dredd’s law enforcement, let alone the attention of a group of morally-dubious misfits.
The plotline is relatively simple: some Bad Guys with very specific talents are smuggled away to a secure compound so remote that, to paraphrase Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller, ‘I threw them in a hole and threw away the hole…’. When a threat arises that is too dangerous for even the best that humanity can offer, it’s up to this elite group of nasties to try to stem the tide of damage with some government backing in the form of heavily armed, best-of-the-best Special Forces. There is a get-out-of-jail card to be pulled should these misfits fail, too: who’s to question a group of villains being responsible for the destruction of a city? If in doubt, send in the expendables. Naturally it ends as well as a film can with antagonists starring in the protagonists’ roles: the Bad Guys defeat an even Worse Guy, save the world, before being thrown back in jail with the softening blow of reduced sentences and coffee machines.
So what did I think of it? During the screening, I loved the atmosphere and the fast-paced drive of the action: in the mad dash to the inevitable Big Fight, the audience was never allowed the time to catch a mental breath before plunging on with the story. It’s a bit hit-and-miss with the construction of the narrative, but it follows the typical “Squad” film dynamics for audiences to be familiar enough with the stereotypical conventions to fill in the gaps.
Let’s kick off with a theme of positivity about the film.
I love that soundtrack! As soon as the OST is released, you can be certain that I’m downloading it. There’s barely a scene in this film where emotive instrumentals set the tone, or popular ditties provide musical characterization pieces to accompany the visuals onscreen. Take for example the preparation montage: the gang are reunited with their possessions to the eminent smuggery of Eminem’s “Without Me”. At first glance, the scene is brimming with optimism- even though we have been forewarned that these are villains, the audience can’t help but share in their joy of rifling through beloved clothes, weapons and pink unicorns. The lyrics set the tone perfectly, and even the upbeat tempo has the audience synced in their bopping and wriggling with Harley as she wriggles and writhes back into a clearly much-loved sweater.
Batman’s monochromatic pecs aside, the clothing worn by the Squad situated them as distinctly plausible beings. Deadshot’s suit and Harley’s itty-bitty, teeny-weeny, is-my-femininity-sufficiently-raunched shorts are probably the most outlandish costuming in the film (I’m ignoring Katana’s clothing choices– she’s so much of a bookend character that even the ninja get-up and mask is forgettable): the one-piece and mask easily flag Deadshot as the graphic novel assassin, and Harley’s overtly skimpy and infantile-fetishised attire places her in front of so many male and female gazes Laura Mulvey would have an aneurysm… and yet despite this, the costuming in this film strikes a sufficiently fine balance between realism and metahuman spectacle for our squad.
They say that the devil is in the detail, and with one pair I can’t help but agree. There is an osmosis, a mirroring, a transposition of character identifiers between Harley and Joker which I thought was so open and so subtle it was beautiful. It all came down to a smile: the Joker has a laughing mouth tattooed on his hand, providing a dumb-show snigger that makes a mockery of mime and leaves the audience decidedly unsettled when we see dead eyes paired with that muted cackle. Throughout the film, where the Joker is absent, we see his trademark, maniacal grin howling out at us through Harley. Her mimicry of the Joker’s tattoo visually underlines her all-encompassing devotion to her Puddin’: her grin shows the world that she truly is the Joker’s girl, his mascot, his representative, and his favoured puppet.
Humour is never too far away, whether it’s a well placed one-liner to lighten the mood, or to provide a brief pause in the flurry of bullets and sometimes gratuitous framing of Harley’s skewball sexualisation. One area I was glad to see what the one-up-manship of Deadshot and Flagg turned turtle as the boys were schooled in leaving no trace behind, no weakness open for exploitation at the hands of Waller: shooting her agents at point blank range, Waller doesn’t appear phased by her actions and simply holsters her gun. Both gentlemen are taken aback, but maybe not shocked, to see their leading lady taking charge in the most brutal of ways. Smith’s musing tone delivering the line ‘That is one mean lady’ is beautifully spoken: it shows respect from one killer for another, and the even pitch of his voice would seem as though he were commenting on a football match rather than bloodshed. Flagg whimpers an acknowledgement, and in that one small sound, it becomes apparent that neither posturing man has the same level of grit and determination that Waller possesses in her little finger.
Positives aside, and there are many that I haven’t touched on here, I’m not going to be the first or last person to identify some flaws in this film. Though none of them are distinctly major, persay, as the time between the screening and reflection grew, so the little niggling doubts began to increase in number.
Characterization, and the audience’s bond with some of the squad, was a tricky mixture to balance: there are undoubtedly leaders within the group, and so the limelight of narrative focus fell on some more than others. As such, there are some characters who I feel we must take a moment of solemn silence to remember.
Slipknot: can anyone determine a greater reason for his inclusion other than short-lived, roving plotpoint? His characterization has been likened to the Trekkie red shirt, a disposable unit whose one purpose appears to be reminding the remainder of the Away Team of their mortality. No sooner has he been unloaded from his SUV, he becomes the Warning, a visceral ultimatum for the Squad. So beyond a fairly typical character-convention, Slipknot dies a fairly pathetic death, going out with a bang and literally left hanging as the remainder move on. Sad, really.
Katana could have been an interesting character had she been introduced to the group earlier in the film and given a chance to become an identity beyond a sword for hire. You might have thought that someone with a vendetta wielding an enchanted blade might have merited a little more development, but it seems that this was not the case. Like Slipknot, she is denied an introductory flashback by Waller in her steak dinner with a side of governmental dealings and chips. She becomes a sidelined character, who plays a minor role in the final fight (her anonymity clued in further for the audience by her lack of alternative reality as promised by Enchantress) and is yet further denied a final scene in the rounding off at the end of the film.
I have only one thing to say about Captain Boomerang: where did he go, and why did he come back!?!? Presumably his pink friend reminded him of his compassionate side, or the bomb in his neck or something or other…
The one selling point of this film for me, beyond a killer soundtrack, was the promise of a rebooted DC power couple. The Joker and Harley Quinn: the King and Queen of the city, Gotham’s very own submission to the undesirables special episode of All Star Mr and Mrs. These two psychopaths are as an iconic a duo as Batman and Robin, or Tony Stark and his Ego. Leto’s slick-haired, metal-grinning face had been leering at me from posters, buses and computer screens for months and I could. not. wait to see how he would tackle the Crown Prince of Loonies United. However, as rumours started to circulate that we’d be seeing less of the Joker and Harley than we might hope, I started to feel far more subdued towards the two. These guys are meant to be the epitome of Bad Romance, the couple that you know belong to eachother as much as perpetuate their self-destruction. When I finally got to see the film, much as I appreciated the little gestures which aligned the reboots to their predecessors, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the editing of this film left a whole chunk of these character backgrounds on the cutting room floor.
As such, the Joker projected in this film went from psychopathic murderer with a perversely niche sense of humour to just another run of the mill Gangster Boss. He may have the green hair, he may have a purple leather jacket- but the outter trimmings did little to translate the horror of the demon Harley falls for. In the little screentime he was allowed, the Joker threatened and swaggered, had an alabaster body covered in tattoos and a ‘bad bitch’ moll. There’s even a nod to the classic mobster shootout, even though the iconic Tommy Guns are replaced with heavy artillery and fully-automatic rifles. Sad to say, the main difference I saw between our dear Mista J and his 1930s parallels was his visual calling card and stylization. We weren’t given the chance to see the monster that Jared Leto is supposed to have reached dark depths to create, so we see a desaturated and side-lined baddy instead.
Now for Harley… I’ve already aligned this reinterpretation with the gangster’s moll. She’s pretty, she’s provided for, she acts as the living and breathing pride of Joker’s loot- gilded and paraded for all the world to see. But where is the lunatic that we’re promised? Waller’s voiceover to the characterization flashback states that she’s crazier than the Joker: forgive me, but I didn’t see it. Robbie’s projection doesn’t show any of the fear her beloved Joker inspires in her. For all that she loves him, Harley genuinely fears her puddin’- but where in this film do we see that shell-shocked creature who simpers to as much as sniggers with her lover? It’s possible that more of this will appear in a longer cut on release, and then we might begin to see something so much deeper than the twisted fairy tale we see in this edit.
The Bosses: after the build up, the final fight seemed not unlike a Boss Fight in a console game. Jerky, somewhat disjointed, and suffering from the usual drawbacks that can afflict these sequences, the mass punch-up seemed dashed towards and rushed through so that we could enjoy the saccharinity of seeing Deadshot teaching Shooting 101/trigonometry with his daughter. So to see the final showdown with Enchantress and Incubus (why was he even given a name since the two facets of his character were so spectacularly dull?!) fighting various members of the Squad seperately struck me in two ways. Why, when her brother was being pounded upon by the flaming fury of El Diablo’s Final Form, did Enchantress not step in? A magical being whose powers seemed unaffected by the direction of gaze and waving arms could surely have aided the efforts of her beloved brother? Narrative convenience has a LOT to answer for here, and as such the villains of the piece fell short of apocalyptic duo and became more of a badly edited bar brawl that no-one is quite sure why it was choreographed the way that it was.
The final item is a balance of positive and negative: the use of colour. Throughout the film, colour is synonymous with narrative atmosphere, character association and time: this is brought into play beautifully with the Joker’s more psychotic moments, especially noticeable in the club sequence when his ‘itch in his crotch’ is leered at by an underling gangster. The sickening pinks, yellows and purples blend to create a film across the screen- and the audience is given a visual clue into the trigger states of the Joker’s psychotic moments. However, colour also serves to create a greater sense of expressionism within the film that seems out of place against the previous desaturation and seeming realism of the mise-en-scene and costuming. Instances such as the lurid colouration of Enchantress and Incubus’s magical forms which I’m sure are intended to highlight the alien nature of their presence and purpose in the narrative stretches beyond the metahuman and seems too “CGI-y”. Yes they are magical creatures, yes they are the villainous focal point of the movie, and yes I’m certain that their luminous hues are deliberately enhanced to create a difference between them and the Squad. One thing I would have appreciated was if their design was muted a little, so that they became more of a “WOW” factor than a “WoW” factor….
Would I see this film again? Absolutely. Will I be getting it on DVD? Without doubt- I need to see what scenes have been cut from the final edit, and how the addition of those moments alter the narrative dynamics as a whole. I did genuinely enjoy the experience of this film: the soundtrack; the character dynamics as a group; the moments of vibrancy provided by pinks, blues, purples and greens against the desaturated mise-en-scene– all blend together to create a 2.5 hour long MTV/graphic novel mash up which needs to be seen again and again to catch every detail. Certain elements of the film prevent this from being a Classic, but it by no means deserves the outlandishly harsh critiques it has recently received.