Suicide Squad

In the 90’s, emboldened by the critical and popular acclaim of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns in the prior decade, DC set out to make itself the producer of mature, grown-up comic books graphic novels that could sit proudly on any bookshelf next to Cormac McCarthy. Instead what we got was a plethora of ultraviolent, terribly written, astoundingly immature books that missed the mark so hard they landed next to Alpha Centauri.

Suicide Squad completes the 90’sification of DC movies that began with Man of Steel and continued with Batman v Superman, a dark, gritty, remarkably violent and creepy movie with the racial and sexual politics of a Transformers movie. The premise is that Amanda Waller, an evil government agent with far more menace than sense, decides that in case someone like Superman decides to kill everyone the US government should assemble a team of blackmailed supervillains to do their bidding. This fucks up within twenty minutes as Enchantress, an ancient demon who resembles a decaying stripper, breaks free of her control and decides to end the world (as you do).

Enchantress then spends the rest of the movie wobbling in what I suspect was meant to be a sexy fashion around a giant pillar of light leading to a portal in the sky (very original), while Waller’s other Dirty Dozen shoot their way through her army of identical tar babies to stop her. They consist of Will Smith, an assassin with a young, precocious cliche daughter he loves, Killer Croc, a man covered in bad fake crocodile leather, Captain Boomerang, who has no reason to be in this movie, El  Diablo, a latino gangbanger who shoots fire from his hands, Slipknot, who dies almost immediately, Katana, a samurai-wannabe even more stereotypical than her name implies, and Harley Quinn.

This is the first time I’ve seen Harley in anything, and I can only assume she’s different elsewhere as this movie’s depiction of her can charitably be called creepy, and uncharitably called fucking creepy. An absurdly sexualised caricature of infantilised women, coupled with this really uncomfortable fetishisation of mental illness, which stands out as bad even by the standards of the Batman universe which is typically only half a step up from Victorian madhouses. Her past relationship with the Joker (played by Jared Leto in one of the worst performances I’ve seen in years) is clearly abusive but the director has no idea how to write this in an interesting or clever fashion, it’s halfway played as romantic.

The depiction of romantic relationships here is so bizarrely and proudly retrograde I’m surprised it exists in a modern day blockbuster. At one point a soldier with the team starts talking about his relationship woes, at which point Boomerang tells him he needs to ‘get a handle on her’ by slapping her arse and telling her what to do, and I’m not sure if it’s even meant as a joke. The jokes themselves typically land with a thud and the studio reshoots studio to make the film more like its first trailer are painfully obvious, as it cannot commit to a tone. Parts of it try to be dark and gritty but never allows itself the casual amorality it aims for, and despite being about villains the cast are never allowed to be particularly evil.

Filmmaking-wise this thing is an astounding mess, with characters introduced to the audience multiple times, awkward flashbacks, choppy editing and action that varies from bland to unintelligible. I don’t know if it’s quite as bad as Batman v Superman was, both are incompetent but SS was never boring and a half hour shorter, but if this is now the standard for the DC universe expect it to end very soon.

Finding Dory

Outside of Toy Story Pixar’s never had much luck with sequels. Cars 2 and Monsters University both lacked any real reason to exist, though they at least tried to branch out in new, if in Cars 2’s case stupid, directions. The same minor praise cannot be given to Finding Dory.

The plot this time is that Dory, living with Marlin and Nemo in the reef following the first film, suddenly remembers where her family are on the other side of the ocean and the three set off to find them in a public aquarium/fish hospital. After making the trip Dory gets captured and put on display, after which she must find her parents and escape with the help of an misanthropic, amputee octopus called Hank, a nearsighted whale shark called Destiny who she may have known as a child, and a beluga whale called Bailey who’s lost his ability to echolocate.

The main problem with this film is that it’s largely just a retread of Finding Nemo. Dory’s arc of getting over her short-term memory loss in that film is undone so we can have her go on the same journey this time, and while the depiction of her struggling with her condition feels like an attempt to retroactively change the first movie’s ‘you can get over disabilities by trying hard’ message, they do that exact same message with the beluga whale in this one. For a film about a group of disabled fish the tone is all over the place, never tragic enough to play Dory’s illness for drama nor right to play it for comedy. There are also a common loon and a sea lion whose stereotypes, and I would never use this to describe anyone, but the first word they brought to mind was ‘retarded’. The new characters also just aren’t that interesting. Hank is uninteresting, unlikable and has a face that looks distractingly like the underside of an erect penis. Destiny and Bailey are somewhat likeable but not notable enough to say much about.

The film also feels like it was made by people who last saw its predecessor a decade ago, since there are many things that movie made a point of that have been completely forgotten. Someone tapping on or shaking a tank or bag with a fish in it is now completely okay, as Hank shakes Dory’s environments constantly without anything bad happening. The filmmakers have also forgotten that Dory found it easier to memorise things earlier by repeating them over and over, but neither she nor Marlin think to do that this time, leading to me (in an empty cinema row, thank god) silently yelling “P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney you fucks!” over and over.

This is not a terrible movie. The central drama still kind of works and there are some good jokes, but it lacks any reason to exist. It’s so slight in comparison to Pixar’s other, better works and if I remember what happened in it in a week I’ll be very surprised.