I’m pretty sure that future historians will trace the fall of modern civilisation to the moment when people began to speak reverentially of “the Marvel universe” or “the DC universe”, as if it was the Manhattan project of literature. I mean we don’t talk in sonorous tones of “the Eastenders universe”. Before I went to see Suicide Squad, I knew it had been declared a disaster. Apparently Marvel have got this universe thing wrapped up, but DC is a mess. Indeed I went to see it partly hoping for a clusterfuck, there’s a certain joy in watching (and reviewing) such a film.
And it is certainly a very flawed film. There are plot holes so large you wince at their nakedness. The main foe, The Enchantress (played by Cara Delevingne), is about as menacing as someone in the office who has learnt belly dancing and wants to show you their moves. There isn’t much chemistry between the gang, and there is so much idiot-lecture exposition you wonder if these characters have indeed wandered in from a different universe.
But it’s also got some good points. It has a Warriors style gang look and feel. It’s more ‘street’ than any DC or Marvel film (with the exception of Deadpool). Smith is cool and sufficiently human to give his character depth. But it’s Robbie’s film – Harley Quinn gets all the best lines and scenes, and she plays it with the right level of danger, sympathy and comedy. Both Robbie and Smith understand the type of film they’re in – playful nonsense. Leto on the other hand thinks he’s playing Macbeth. Thankfully his appearances are relatively scarce, because every time he is on screen you are desperate for the scene to end. It’s a shame the “universe” demands that he and Quinn are a couple, because a much better ending would be if she put her baseball bat to effective use.
I sometimes see commentators pondering how to ‘fix’ the problem of the poor DC adaptations. The underlying assumption here seems to be that we have to keep making them, as if some law has been decreed. We could just make other types of films you know. In psychology this is known as cognitive inertia – you keep perpetuating the same behaviour despite the lack of success. But the production cycle of Hollywood is already fixed for the next 5 to 10 years on DC and Marvel adaptations. And I guess that is the appeal of the ‘universe’ approach – it is comfortable and reassuring, both for film execs who can plan their hits for the next decade, and audiences who know previously what world their entering. But that’s why they’re boring too.
Suicide Squad is a mess, but it’s a reasonably enjoyable mess. I preferred it to any of the Avengers or X-Men movies. It’s just not as good as other movies.