As Matt pointed out in his review, Suicide Squad feels like two movies clumsily stitched together. One movie (the better movie) is a grim Dirty Dozen/Wild Bunch homage about bad guys fighting even worse guys. That sounds right up David Ayer’s alley. The other movie is a rollicking misfit adventure that has the telltale signs of reshoots and studio involvement.
While watching the movie, it was clear that the misfit adventure aspect of Suicide Squad desperately wanted to be like Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Directed and co-written by James Gunn, the 2014 sci-fi/superhero movie was kind of like The Goonies in space. (And Footloose.) It had unlikely heroes saving the day, and a kooky soundtrack that helped punctuate certain scenes.
Superficially, Suicide Squad has the same elements in place as Guardians, but when you compare the soundtracks of the two films, the many problems of Suicide Squad become obvious. To put it another way, Guardians‘ Awesome Mix Vol 1 is way better than Squad‘s Basic Bastich Playlist.
Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is an actual artifact that exists in Guardians of the Galaxy. The Suicide Squad soundtrack is just a soundtrack. This difference cannot be emphasized enough. The Awesome Mix is a mix tape from Peter Quill/Star-Lord’s dead mother made just for him. A mix tape means curation, careful consideration, that time was taken to make something, and that something personal is trying to be communicated to someone else through an arrangement of songs. In short, mix tapes show someone you care.
It’s also important that the Awesome Mix is era-specific, with songs from the ’70s and ’80s, mixing a bit of AM radio kitsch–“Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” “Hooked on a Feeling”–with some Top 40/punk/glam favs–“Moonage Daydream,” “Come and Get Your Love,” “Cherry Bomb.” This marks a time that Star-Lord will never know, lived by a parent he’ll never see again, from a planet he was taken from. Sure, the songs are loads of fun, but there’s an underlying sadness to a simple little cassette tape: Quill’s last connection to his home planet is an antiquated bit of technology and (since few people make physical mixes these days) a dead cultural practice.
By contrast, there’s nothing curated about the Suicide Squad soundtrack (aka The Basic Bastich Playlist). It doesn’t exist in-story and there’s a general willy-nilly-ness to all of it. Looking at the tracklist, it doesn’t feel like a mix tape made for anyone but rather for everyone and in the blandest way possible. The soundtrack feels like a bunch of songs some Warner Bros. studio exec downloaded on Napster when he was in college, plus three new ones.
Those three new songs are relegated to the closing credits, by the way. That’s probably where Skrillex & Rick Ross belong, but a shame to waste a Grimes track.
The choices are so obvious, from “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “The House of the Rising Sun” to “Super Freak” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” I couldn’t help but think of better movies that made better use of these songs (e.g., Wayne’s World, Casino, Little Miss Sunshine, Interview with the Vampire). On that note, The Basic Bastich Playlist even has a song from Awesome Mix Vol 1 (“Spirit in the Sky”). That may explain the general been-there-done-that quality to much of Suicide Squad. The movie does things that other movies have done, but it fails to distinguish itself or excel at anything uniquely on its own.
The pop songs come frequently in Suicide Squad. The film’s turgid, repetitive prologue feels like three different intro scenes in 20 minutes, with a new pop song creeping up every two minutes. Rather than carefully doling out the needle drops to punctuate a scene or create a character leitmotif, Ayer and his editors feel like cheap wedding DJs looking for a quick reaction from the crowd. “Want some tension and attitude in a scene lacking both? Here’s ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Without Me.’ Now get ready for the dollar dance.” I’m surprised they didn’t play “We Are Family,” “I Will Survive,” and “The Macarena” at some point.
The overuse of licensed music is probably the result of the reshoots and subsequent re-edits of the film prior to release. Warner Bros. suits felt like audiences wanted a movie like the first Suicide Squad trailer, so they added more comedy and hired a company that specializes in editing trailers to rework the movie. Consequently, Suicide Squad feels more like a series of trailers than an actual cinematic story.
Coming back to the Awesome Mix, I think it just emphasizes the main problem with Suicide Squad, and perhaps even WB/DC as they try to rush their own cinematic universe. The Awesome Mix is a compelling component of a story in which lonely characters join to form a surrogate family. The Basic Bastich Playlist is something a studio used to distract audiences from a story that barely even holds together.