Long before Eminem’s voice faded in, spitting “two trailer park girls go round the outside, round the outside, round the outside” during a scene in which pig-tailed supervillain Harley Quinn coquettishly flirt-threatens a group of soldiers, Suicide Squad already felt distinctly W Bush-era. It’s a trip to 2002, right down to the Eminem songs, a time when tats were tight, pant cuffs were loose, daddy issues were strength, and we were all a little messed up inside, dog, with these messed up feelings we couldn’t quite explain. It’s the most gnü-metal superhero movie to date, dumb and empty and sorta greasy, but never dull, and thank God for that.
In 2016, earnestness is a standard feature of superhero movies (or whatever you want to call this one, please don’t “actually” me, bro), in which filmmakers take great pains to convince you that the story, at least thematically, is about real issues affecting the world and we should care, you guys! Suicide Squad, by contrast, clearly enjoys the obnoxious goth kid dress-up aspects of the superhero genre more than the opportunities for profound metaphor. It’s less a college kid waxing philosophical about the world’s problems than a townie rapping along to Papa Roach at a kicker before his moms comes home. Broken home, brooooken hooooooooome…
And you know what? I kind of liked it. In the current climate of superhero movies firmly ensconced in their own metaphorical assholes, it was refreshing to watch one that just really wanted me to check out its new tribal tat. How often do you see someone using a 15-year-old Eminem song as a pump-up jam? David Ayer is back, he’s on the rag, he’s ovulating… (Full disclosure, I like that song.)
Okay, so the Suicide Squad, they’re, like, real bad dudes, right? They range from a sociopathic hitman with a heart of gold (?) — Deadshot, played by Will Smith — and a psychiatrist turned murderous S&M sub (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, changed by her exposure to the Joker), to a flammable cholo with skull tats, a crocodile man who loves BET, and an Australian dude whose entire power seems to consist of being Australian (played by Jai Courtney, the Jai-est of Courtneys).
Oh, I almost forgot the archaeologist, played by 23-year-old fashion model Cara Delevingne, whose body has been possessed by a pre-Columbian demon witch she can summon by whispering “Enchantress.” At which point she turns coal black and gains the power to teleport and read minds. SO. TIGHT. BRO. It’s like an ad for GOTH BEER, where one sip turns the head cheerleader’s hair black, her eyeliner smudged, and her fishnets ripped, and everyone parties like the rave from The Matrix 2. Isn’t being bad, like, so good? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
For whatever reason, these super vills are all being held at a secret super max detention center where they’ve apparently been sentenced to a lifetime of humorous taunting from a prison guard played by Ike Barinholtz. He treats them sort of like Kevin Arnold’s older brother in Wonder Years. Want some food, butthead? (*dumps food on floor*) Haha, so’s your face!
All of these characters, by the way, are introduced through flashback, while a badass government agent played by Viola Davis (!) explains who they are, their powers, and why she wants them for her own private team of mercenaries. Meanwhile, their respective attributes flash onscreen like Juggalo-font baseball cards. Murders, 300. Crazy Outfits + Stylized Knife Collection, .724. She needs them, she says, in case “the next Superman is a terrorist.” When the Supermen are terrorists, the terrorists get super!
These introductions, by the way, take up a full hour of screen time. Screen time that would normally be taken up setting up the villain and the grave threat they represent to life on Earth, and a plausible set of rules for this universe, is instead occupied by Harley Quinn and the Joker making out on a pile of knives (I exaggerate only slightly).
Oh God, the Joker. I almost forgot. Whereas Jack Nicholson’s Joker was a disfigured robber baron and Heath Ledger’s was a fanatical nihilist, Jared Leto’s Joker is essentially Stitches, the rapper. I LOVE SELLIN’ BLOOOOWWWW. He has caaraaazy silver teeth, “damaged” tattooed on his forehead, dyes his hair wild colors, and crashes Lamborghinis for fun because he doesn’t even care, bro. Everything he does screams “Don’t f*ck with me, bro, I’m crazy!”
Like Crazytown crazy. Quinn’s his butterfly, sugar, baby. His line reads are so overwrought and obnoxious that you kind of want him to fall down a flight of stairs, or at least give back his Oscar, but he’s also basically this movie’s flailing drama kid id. (Incidentally, Margot Robbie is brilliant, and her tone-perfect acting just makes Leto’s seem worse by comparison). Suicide Squad never bothers explaining the giant space portal in the third act, how they’re supposed to stop it, or why they even would, and frankly, this seems like a good decision. Why bother explaining why super people have to destroy a portal? They just do! It’d be like explaining why record scratching sounds radical.
Likewise, do we really want to understand the machinations of the secret government apparati who disagree on how to use superheroes? Marvel sure seems to think so. Suicide Squad is a movie that says “F that noise, homey, here’s an hour of violent sizzle reels set to Jock Jams.”
So yeah, Suicide Squad is sort of a cinematic Hoobastank song, for better and worse. I wouldn’t want to watch it every day, but it’s nice that not every comic book movie is trying to be Radiohead. I kind of like my comic book stories to feel like they were written by an angsty teen from time to time.
Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.