Written and directed by David Ayer. Starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukuhara, Cara Delevingne, Adam Beach, Ben Affleck, Jim Parrack, Common, Alex Meraz, David Harbour, Corina Calderon, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Mark Quigley, Amos Stern, Brianna Goldie, Justin Moses.
One of the most anticipated movies of the summer is (mostly) an unfortunate dud: Suicide Squad is lighter, funnier, and fresher than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but lacks Zack Snyder’s visual flair and deft directorial hand, and continues a worrying struggle with basic storytelling craft. The DC cinematic universe, which this film continues to push via cameos and flashbacks and mid-credits winks, is standing on shaky ground.
Were Suicide Squad judged on the strength of its grotesquely colorful characters and appealingly over-the-top performances, however, it would be a runaway success: no less than a dozen major characters from the DC Comics universe show up during the course of the film, and most of them light up the screen when they’re around.
In the forefront is Will Smith as Deadshot, a hotshot hitman who is deadly with any handgun but has one weakness: his daughter. The kid prevents her father from going up against Batman (briefly played by Ben Affleck) and Dad gets sent to the hole.
Deadshot is the one character with any kind of arc here, and Smith reminds us that’s he’s still a real-deal movie star: even though this guy, like the rest of the characters here, is a bad-dude villain who murders people for a living, he earns our sympathies anyway.
Then there’s Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, the Joker’s just-as-loony sidekick who was invented by Bruce Timm for the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series. Robbie steals the whole show just by existing amidst the carnage; she’s a spirited, note-perfect re-creation of the original cartoon character, complete with faux New Yawk accent, and while her costume design seems ripped from producer Snyder’s Sucker Punch, it certainly doesn’t detract from the film.
Jared Leto’s interpretation of The Joker, meanwhile, was one of the most anticipated aspects of Suicide Squad, coming off two iconic takes on the role over the past few decades (Jack Nicholson in Burton’s Batman and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight) and perhaps the definitive version of the character, Mark Hamill’s voice work in most of the animated Batman incarnations over that time.
And Leto’s Joker is almost a total wipeout, although he has so little screen time (mostly confined to flashbacks, though he shows up late to come to Harley’s aid) it would be unfair to dismiss what the actor might someday do with the role. Here, he’s all Hot Topic style with no substance, complete with a phony “ha… ha… ha…” laugh; while almost every other incarnation of the character commits to his over-the-top madness, Leto instead seems to be going for a quiet, brooding Batmanesque menace under the guise of a punk David Bowie look.
But the rest of the cast makes up for it. Jai Courtney entertainingly apes Tom Hardy’s mad dog performance in Bronson as the Aussie bank robber Captain Boomerang; Jay Hernandez gives the movie some unexpected gravitas as the fireball Diablo; and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gets a few choice quips as the walking reptile Killer Croc, though he’s otherwise underutilized.
What do all these colorful characters get to do? Well, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes to band these these supervillain convicts together as some kind of rogue task force to do some good in case the next Superman doesn’t happen to share good ol’ American values.
And when Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) starts destroying downtown Midway City (actually Toronto) – for the usual ho-hum reasons – the ‘Suicide Squad’ is called into action under the leadership of military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) with a bomb planted in their necks and martial artist Katana (Karen Fukuhara) on hand to make sure they stay in line.
And that’s it. After a brisk, guns-blazing 45-minute setup, what should have been a fun Dirty Dozen actioner with training montages and carefully coordinated plans of attack instead devolves into mindless video game action, with the gang instantly battling endless waves of faceless humanoids before finally reaching their target at the end. The second half of the movie is a near-total flatline, with characters simply walking from point A to B (literally and figuratively) in-between the mindless action scenes.
Writer-director David Ayer was an interesting choice to lead this project, coming off the excellent WWII tank movie Fury and the Schwarzenegger dud Sabotage. He perfected the protagonist villain-we-love-to-hate (and love to watch) in films like Training Day and the underrated Harsh Times, and does some similar work with all the evildoers here. His script, however, could have used a lot of work.
Worth mentioning: a soundtrack full of hits from Bohemian Rhapsody and Fortunate Son to Eminem’s Without Me and a new single from Skrillex & Rick Ross. It frequently convinces us we’re having a better time than we really are, until a bland original score overtakes the action scenes in the second half of the movie.
Suicide Squad is fun, at times, and closer in spirit to the irreverent (and wildly successful) Deadpool than to its predecessor, Batman v Superman. Taken apart into mini music video-style sequences, as evidenced in the film’s excellent trailers and marketing material, it can be a blast.
But while the overall package may qualify as a guilty pleasure, it really shouldn’t be anyone’s idea of a good movie.