In Which Jared Leto’s Existential Crisis Troubles Us All

Swamp Thing

by DICK CHENEY

Suicide Squad
dir. David Ayer
123 minutes

“Were there any that didn’t get cut? I’m asking you, were there any that didn’t get cut? There were so many scenes that got cut from the movie,” Jared Leto explained. “We did a lot of experimentation on the set, we explored a lot. There’s so much that we shot that’s not in the film.” He slightly massaged his left testicle and took a break to rewatch The Dark Knight. “If I die anytime soon, it’s probably likely that it’ll surface somewhere. That’s the good news about the death of an actor is all that stuff seems to come out.”

There is a disease called Jared Leto disease. Once minute you’re performing a very emotional scene opposite whatever has become of the rapper Common, and the next you think you have one thirty-fourth the talent of Heath Ledger. This ailment is about believing that you are more than what you seem.

The worst part of Suicide Squad is Jared Leto, which is not surprising since almost every actor involved in this movie besides Jai Courtney is a substantially better performer in every way. Hopefully Leto’s comments about how mad he is about watching his scenes get cut gets him replaced by the little kid who disappeared in Stranger Things when it comes to the next Batman movie. In a few they will both look exactly the same: like a teenager who freshly discovered emo.

The Joker had one last card to play in the movies — that was his toxic relationship with Harley Quinn. Unfortunately, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto are both in their forties now and playing ten years younger. The characters themselves have aged horribly. The Joker is repositioned here as a sort of manipulative mastermind instead of the crazy man he was when Heath Ledger administered the finest acting performance of the last decade. As Leto suggests, Joker disappears for most of Suicide Squad, although he does send his girlfriend Harley (Margot Robbie) text messages.

Because Suicide Squad is PG-13, Joker never even beats his girlfriend up or causes anything except the most mild inconvenience. Sensing how bad this was coming across in early cuts, director David Ayer decided that Leto’s performance was probably the worst part of the movie as it existed. Joker was minimized and fast.

Replacing him as the centerpiece of Suicide Squad is Deadshot (Will Smith). The first twenty minutes of the movie consists of a shortened version of his battle with Batman (Ben Affleck). Affleck is more bloated than he appeared when he strolled out of an after party recently looking like he wanted to pull his pants over his head in shame. Say what you want about Smith’s Scientologist beliefs, but he is only getting better with age and Suicide Squad is about 1000x better when he was on the screen.

Seeing how audiences reacted to the humor of Suicide Squad‘s first trailer inspired a litany of reshoots on the project. The result is a mishmash of tone. Christopher Nolan’s efforts in this world were almost never funny at all. Sure Christian Bale popped off a one liner using his Patrick Bateman voice from time to time, but the essential core of the movie was completely overserious, the complete opposite of what Marvel attempted to counteract the franchise’s critical success.

Ayer’s secret weapon of seriousness is a villain so completely absurd that they cast a fashion model to play her. About forty minutes in Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) causes some chaos in a sequence so completely dull Ayer can’t wait to play another seventies rock song over it. The atonal music in Suicide Squad is a mess, so clearly is it attempting to steal from the general vibe of Guardians of the Galaxy. This is like copying a plot twist from Fifty Shades of Grey.

Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) spends a lot of time flirting with Will Smith, and the palpable sexual tension explodes while Ayer layers Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” over it. (Just the amount of songs here is mind-numbing.) Before President Obama went onstage to deliver his address to the Democratic National Convention, he also listened to Eminem, and the similarities between that speech and Suicide Squad are quite numerous. Both proclaim the essential fact of self-importance as a basic human right. I think Obama mentioned himself like a billion times.

Given that these characters do not really have a lot in common with another and don’t form much in the way of relationships over the course of Suicide Squad, Ayer smartly makes the movie an all action-shootbang. Honestly, Suicide Squad probably should have been about Harley Quinn realizing that Jared Leto is an asshole and settling down with Deadshot in the Gotham City suburbs.

Instead, the sheer amount of guns in this shitshow is almost breathtaking. Ayer isn’t exactly Stanley Kubrick, but he does create some memorable visuals here — the astonishing flight of a helicopter radiating light, the iridescence of one character’s signature flame — when he isn’t worried about the audience getting too bored with the utter lack of depth. Overall, though, he seems genuinely unhappy to be working on a project this cynical.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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