Back in olden times (more specifically, the early ’80s and ’90s), even big-name blockbusters often had to muddle through with soundtracks recorded specifically for the film. Unsurprisingly, the results of these studio-produced soundtracks ranged from varying degrees of questionable to downright lackluster—if you don’t believe me, take a couple of hours to re-watch Pretty Woman and let me know if “Fallen” by Lauren Wood is going to make it onto your next party playlist.
More contemporary movies—especially crowd-pleasing super hero movies that have become so popular in recent years—rely heavily on their soundtracks to make an impact on screen and financial gain for the studio in the movie’s name off-screen. Studios like Marvel and…well, let’s be real, Marvel cranks out such lucrative meta-human flicks that they concocted a clever strategy for soundtrack gold. Movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Man use nostalgic pop and rock hits from the ’60s and ’70s to inject light-hearted fun into films often centered around violence and narrow margins of doomsday avoidance.
It is a model that has been imitated by other super hero-centric studios–most recently and least successfully by Marvel’s dejected, moody cousin, DC. If you haven’t seen Suicide Squad yet, I won’t spoil it for you, except to advise you not to go in with high expectations. The long and short of it all is that Squad rivals The Purge: Election Year and Warcraft for the coveted title of “Movies that Made Me Feel Petty Enough to Contemplate Asking for A Refund 2016.” But I’ll let you skim the internet for negative feedback on Suicide Squad and its soundtrack (there is plenty to be had) and take a look at what the film’s soundtrack reveals instead: an interesting reversal of the days when soundtracks were made as an afterthought to their associated films.
What stands out most about Suicide Squad—and contributes heavily to its own demise—is the soundtrack. Not because it was in any way earth shattering in its aspirational selection of vanilla hits from (surprise) the ’60s and ’70s like Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC sandwiched next to more recent nostalgia hits like Eminem’s “Without Me.” Suicide Squad goes one step further in its attempt to draw the kids and their parents in off its soundtrack alone by including not just the nostalgic musical elements of any self-respecting super hero movie, but by adding a whole series of numbers crafted exclusively for the film. In fact, the name-dropping lyrics and immersive music videos for original soundtrack singles like “Sucker for Pain” and “Purple Lamborghini” are painstakingly crafted to look and sound as though they take place within the saturated universe of the film itself.
Unfortunately, what really stands out about the soundtrack to Suicide Squad is how desperate it feels. Within the first ten minutes of the movie, at least four songs are squeezed together, a new selection for each character introduction—and on a squad this large there are a lot of those, trust me—which are linked together in a manner about as sophisticated as the infamous screen-wipes of second generation Star Wars films. The sheer number of songs that are played, faded out, and gracelessly segued into yet another selection gives you the feeling that the movie has very little to say—so little in fact that the majority of its character and plot development is left to the soundtrack to extrapolate on. Historically, not a great way to direct a compelling movie. In short, the soundtrack to Suicide Squad is well paired with the film itself in that it feels bloated, rushed, and like it is trying desperately to be something that DC has proved time and time again it is not—fun, that is.
What Marvel movies and imitators like Suicide Squad reveal in their at times overzealous desire to include the “Best Of” a particular musical era in soundtrack listings is a clever attempt to connect nostalgic comic book characters with nostalgic music—because as we all know, nostalgia sells like nothing else.