Reviewers go through phases of thinking. I know I have. The early years murk themselves in the optimism that comes with any kind of puberty; only for the inspired idealism to be dulled by the gradual grind of movie after movie. We look back on earlier times in our career and call it ‘naivety’. We question whether our opinions even matter anymore.
So we’re a cynical bunch. Probably why there can be such a divide between reviewers’ and audience’s opinions, with critics receiving a common case of the dismissals for being out of touch. When I heard the verdicts on Suicide Squad, I was much expecting to be of the same mind. I am after all, a fancy pants reviewer. A few realisations hit me after watching it: A) I want to be a more human human-being, B) Suicide Squad was actually decent, and C) some of my journalistic comrades are pantaloon-prancing snob sniffers.
The issue seems to be that the movie supposedly isn’t fun. I suppose I find that overly harsh. Suicide Squad is decidedly 90s fun from an evil side of the Avengers. Proper costumes and good old-fashioned hair-dye splatter its canvas for a mood that’s meant to feel a little goofy. Some have accused it of the same bleak demeanour as Batman Vs Superman, to which I would counter; were we watching the same movie.
Every opening scene hits the playful tone to the silly tune. What everyone seems to be complaining about is the second half – when the unifying threat reveals itself as a brooding but bikini-wearing witch who doesn’t know which way the beach is, and people start getting a bit sad about their histories. You can then see how allegations of a muddled tone arise.
Except it’s not so much a mood shift as it is a different and more human side to the characters. These are bad guys with good sides. People whose reputations were layered upon grief and unmet needs. People whose crazed alter-egos are defined by their adjacent struggles. That’s especially true of the Joker.
And I don’t think anyone’s saying that isn’t the case. Their back stories and vulnerable moments are brief, in lieu of how many there are, but just enough to incite empathy, and just enough that I wouldn’t call them ‘missed opportunities’. Let’s not mistake tone with natural dimensions of character – even if the emotional butter just barely covers the size of the movie.
Never losing sight of the fun it can have with loose moral villainy, all that method acting must’ve done some team-bonding, ‘cause everyone feels comfortably at ease and surprisingly synergetic as a fellowship of devilry. Harley ‘Under-Bum’ Quin plays as well as a ditzy schizophrenic can; their stringent supervisor, now known as ‘Captain Texas Trucker’ for his contribution to outlandish accents; and Will Smith, who plays a convincing version of himself. It’s wasn’t an expectation for team-antagonist to get along, yet the intensive acting brought an unexpected quality.
The hustle and bustle on the Joker still remains to be seen. Jared Leto’s more theatrical Jester wasn’t present enough to have me convinced or unconvinced – spending most of the time making appearances, unable to tell if he was just underused or over-played. Social media pulled no punches with Leto’s transformation into the clown, and the result is definitively different to Ledger’s – being less despressio and more full of pills. Yet it’s hard to tell if Leto lost the craft amidst losing himself in the moment.
If I gleam any good out of all this controversy, it’s that Suicide Squad has made me question how connected I am to what I do. As a reviewer do I really represent audiences or am I simply having a higher discussion on artistic air? Am I not also an audience member? On another year I might have agreed with other critics about Suicide Squad. It’s got a Jane Doe villain straight from an unimpressive video game, and it’s not as funny as it thinks, complete with a Joker-sized hole. But as reviewers we sometimes feel like we’ve seen everything. We like to think we’re the reason amongst the chaos. So we don’t always notice the emotion, the more common things, through our professionally-tinted glasses.
Is the real thing disproportionate to the hype? Yes, but I don’t believe in chastising something for its merit. Especially when it’s not that bad.