Despite the utter nonsense that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and reportedly frantic last-minute reshoots, fan hopes for Suicide Squad, the newest effort from the DC Comics expanded universe, remained high. It looked soooo cool, right? Right. Too bad, then, that the much-ballyhooed story of government-sanctioned bad guys forced to operate as good guys is so very disappointing.
When a pair of mind-bogglingly powerful meta-humans (DC’s version of mutants … or gods) appears to wreak havoc on the fictional Midway City because they hate computers and cellphones and stuff, Argus agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) steps in with the just-plain-preposterous plan to sic a mess (or squad, if you will) of super-villains on them and save the day. It’s an exciting premise that unravels slowly and painfully due to editing issues, unclear timelines, subpar writing and mostly run-of-the-mill performances.
Suicide Squad fosters a brief glimmer of hope in its opening act as we’re introduced to a rogues gallery of villainous DC who’s-who. For longtime comics fans, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for; granted, it’s a mite odd that so much exposition is spent on Harley Quinn (a fantastic Margot Robbie, who represents the very best of the cast and whom we hope will get a standalone film at some point because, let’s face it, she was pretty awesome) and Deadshot (Will Smith, who shows up and plays Will Smith as he always does) while everyone else gets a two-second “they’re bad!” backstory. But Harley and Deadshot are definitely the brand names, so what’re you gonna do?
The squad also boasts various other baddies who serve very little purpose, such as Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Diablo (Jay Hernandez), as well as lesser-known (to the mainstream, anyway) jerks like Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Enchantress (Cara Delevingne, who plays a very important part that we won’t spoil here) and Slipknot (whose presence is so fleeting and pointless that actor Adam Beach is probably somewhere feeling sad about it right now). The cast is rounded out with good guy/soldier Rick Flag (RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman), who leads the squad (kind of), cameo appearances from Batman (Ben Affleck) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) and, the greatest disappointment of all, The Joker (a dimensionless Jared Leto).
Now, maybe it’s just because we’ve got visions of Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning take on the clown prince of crime dancing in our heads. Leto is not only completely underused, but his psychoses—which we’re supposed to believe are so damn charming that they transformed upstanding psychologist Harleen Quinzell into the bloodthirsty Harley Quinn—are distilled into a baffling combination of bling-wearing, nightclub-hanging douchey-sports-car-enthusiasm. Here we have a role so rich with opportunity for acting methodology and vicious fun squandered with bro-ey tattoos and unfortunate edits. Never is The Joker’s presence frightening or ominous or even essential to the story, and though newcomers will learn the bulk of Harley’s motivations come from her unhealthy obsession with him, it’s pretty damn hard to care.
So much time is spent catching us up with everyone’s backstory that, by the time we’re given an actual villain, it’s practically too late, and the goodwill that was initially generated is squandered. There’s a valuable lesson here: DC Comics films really seem to suffer without Christopher Nolan.
Directed by David Ayer
With Robbie, Smith, Kinnaman and Davis
Violet Crown, Regal, Jean Cocteau