2016 has been an exceptionally tumultuous year: A high number of celebrity deaths, world politics that are more of a circus than they’ve been in recent memory, and civil unrest dominate the public discourse. This is hardly, it seems, a time for straight-forward superheroes, even in our fiction, though of course their iron grip on the box office will not let up any time soon. That’s why Suicide Squad is the only summer tentpole this year could have possibly produced.
The film’s tagline is “worst heroes ever,” because it would be too much of a stretch to believe in actual heroes, even in our escapism. When our cops are shooting innocents and our would-be politicians are publicly insulting war heroes, it makes sense that the so-called “good” government official in the movie — Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller — holds open contempt for her soldiers, her co-workers, and seemingly, all of humanity.
The film’s color saturation mixes Zack Snyder’s “we’re fucking spelunking without flashlights, that’s how hardcore this is” approach with Baz Luhrmann’s “I just ate a snowcone and then rode the Tilt-A-Whirl and threw up” aesthetic, which mirrors the real-world whiplash of the news cycle. Its soundtrack piles up the classic rock (“Sympathy for the Devil”, “Spirit in the Sky”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”) like a political rally that’s just waiting for an offended artist to protest.
The film’s two most developed characters are Will Smith’s Deadshot — whom we meet in the midst of assassinating someone — and Harley Quinn’s Margot Robbie, whom we meet in the midst of a queasy relationship with her psychiatric patient. This “romance” between Harley and the Joker is hardly Hallmark material. Everything about the plot and characters evoke a sense of nihilism, and it doesn’t translate into fun.
It’s 2016, and Suicide Squad is the only summer tentpole this insane, unbelievable year could have warranted. But hey, with the umpteenth Transformers movie, a third Bad Boys movie, a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean, a Mummy reboot, a third Despicable Me, and another Spider-Man movie, next summer should be fresher, no?