2016 has been quite the year for DC. Following the relentless dourness of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, fans were on the lookout for some shred of evidence that Warner Bros. and DC could bring some damned fun to their movies. As we saw with BvS, grimdark + poor reviews might not be a barrier to a record opening weekend haul, but—look at that 70% drop for BvS’s second weekend and its subsequent sub-billion dollar take—“let Zack Snyder jizz sadness all over everything” isn’t exactly the most sustainable strategy in the long term.
A neon light in the darkness was Suicide Squad, which, with its Lisa Frankified posters and trailers chock full of upbeat musical cues, looked like it might finally give the DC Universe the jolt it needed. Jai Courtney pops out of a bag and just straightaway punches somebody in the face. Who doesn’t want to see that? It’s the best possible use of Jai Courtney.
So what the hell happened? Why is Suicide Squad so… unfunny?
Last week, The Hollywood Reporter published an illuminating and highly-circulated post on some of the film’s behind-the-scenes drama, including the allegation that the company that put together the first trailer was brought on by Warner Bros. brass to help with an alternate version, which was screened for test audiences alongside director David Ayer’s “more somber” version. “Once feedback on the two versions was analyzed,” writes THR, it became clear it was possible to get to ‘a very common-ground place,’” if one that required millions of dollars in reshoots. This meshes with earlier rumors that Suicide Squad had fallen prey to the “Deadpool Effect.” I.e., after the “Merc with a Mouth” earned 20th Century Fox $782.6 million against a $58 million production budget earlier this year, Warner Bros. realized, shit, guys, people want jokes.
(Ayer, for his part, says that “there’s no sort of parallel universe version of the movie, the released movie is my cut.”)
Combine studio meddling, a director not exactly known for his comedy chops (Fury was a riot, y’all), a mere six weeks to write the script, the pressure to copy the tone of Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy (“You like recognizable musical cues? Here, have a dozen of ‘em. Have some Eminem, we don’t care.”), and, again, drafting a company that makes trailers to make the whole movie (not the same skill set, really!), and you have…. well… the tonal clusterfuck that is Suicide Squad.
Now, I should clarify that I don’t think Suicide Squad is completely awful; it’s not as bad as Batman v Superman, and it doesn’t even come close to the terribleness that is Fantastic Four. That’s mostly due to the talented group of actors Suicide Squad was able to assemble, even if they’re saddled with a completely nonsensical plot. Will Smith brings movie star gravitas to Deadshot, Margot Robbie is as good as we all knew she would be as Harley Quinn, Jay Hernandez as Diablo was one of the movie’s most compelling, three-dimensional characters, and Viola Davis just killed it as Amanda Waller. She’s an exponentially more terrifying villain than Jared Leto, and she didn’t have to behave like a raging douchenozzle to get there. She’s all steely class. Hell, even Jai Courtney was good, even if his Boomerang is one of like five characters who could have been cut with zero impact on the story. (Why are you even here, Scott Eastwood? And David Harbour, I love you in Stranger Things, but we don’t really need two separate sequences of Amanda Waller explaining the Suicide Squad to two different groups of people, one right after the other, so GTFO.)
But, for all that, there were like five moments in my screening of Suicide Squad (both critics and fans were in attendance) where people laughed, and one of those was when Batman punched Harley Quinn in the face. (?!?!?!) Forget “every joke in the movie is in that trailer“—even some of the moments that were funny in the trailer weren’t funny in the movie itself! Forget the punkish, high-energy aesthetic that the marketing promised us; instead, we get the same grey, dimly lit cityscapes that we got in Batman v Superman. It’s straight-up bewildering how unfunny this movie is.
And you can definitely tell that they tried to Deadpool and Guardians it up, is the thing. They knew there should be comedy. Those intro screens explaining facts about our main characters—though they went by so quickly you couldn’t really see anything (something about Harley being an accomplice to Robin’s murder?)—are straight out of Guardians’ prison lineup sequence. And the part where Jai Courtney likes to fuck pink unicorns? (Fine, it’s “Boomerang has a fetish for pink unicorns,” but my way is much more fun.) It’s very “HAHA, PEOPLE LIKE SEX HUMOR, JUST LIKE THE DEADPOOL INTERNATIONAL WOMAN’S DAY SCENE, AMIRITE?”
And yeah, Suicide Squad, people do like fun tidbits like that, but you can’t just pop them in a movie that’s as grimdark as anything DC’s done post-Nolan and expect it to work. If you want to make a funny movie, write a funny movie. Otherwise, you’re just the movie equivalent of an early ’00s scene kid barreling into a Hot Topic to scream “I MADE YOU A COOKIE, BUT I EATED IT. ZOMG I’M SO RANDOM XD XD XD” at the top of their lungs.
I thought Suicide Squad couldn't get any more Hot Topic, and then Harley Quinn LITERALLY says "normal is just a setting on a dryer."— Rebecca Pahle (@RebeccaPahle) August 3, 2016