Decades from now, when we look back on all of these superhero movies, the tale of the DC Universe will likely make for the most fascinating story. With an incredible library of characters all under one roof, there is infinite potential. Potential to make films that go beyond the normal tropes of the genre. Movies take us under the sea, along with the speed force, or into the mind of its eclectic rogues gallery. Before Suicide Squad, that potential was still very much alive. Sure, Zack Snyder wildly struck out with Man Of Steel, only to return with a fascinating if utterly messy follow-up, Batman V Superman. However, the addition of Fury director David Ayer brought some hope back. Perhaps his psychologically taxing cast bonding methods and talent for intense action sequences could save the day.
Suicide Squad centers on a group of imprisoned criminals from all over the DC Universe assembled to save the world. See, archeologist June Moone (Cara Delevingne) has stumbled upon a horrible curse. A witch by the name of Enchantress has taken over her soul, using it to awaken her brother Incubus. As mean monster people do, they want to create an army and take over the world. To stop them, ruthless government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) turns to the worst of the worst. Listing all of the team members is an exercise in futility, so here are the only two that matter. Most prominently, Deadshot (Will Smith) is an assassin trying to create a life for his daughter. Meanwhile, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), eternal love of The Joker (Jared Leto), plans to reunite with her puddin’ and sabotage the mission.
David Ayer has made such a mess of this movie that you might hear “cleanup on aisle DC” over the credits. From the get-go, the storytelling is fundamentally broken. There are so, so, so (there aren’t enough sos in the world), many characters that their introductions have to be done at lightning speed. In the first act, all of the important characters have an avalanche of footage scrunched into short montages. By the time characters like Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Boomerang (Jai Courtney) come in we’ve run out of time for even a montage. All they get is a seconds long introduction, often with a tacky music cue. Sure, we learn ‘what’ all these characters are, but we never learn ‘who’ they are. There’s no time for that, they have a mission to complete.
…and what a boring mission it is. Despite marketing itself as a story of “bad vs evil,” the film is terrified of letting these characters be themselves. After all, that just might get them an R-Rating. Instead, this flash mob of colorful characters is thrown into a generic TNT Original movie. They walk into a room, shoot and punch a bunch of Enchantress’ zombies, and then repeat. There’s very little problem solving, or teamwork involved. These characters are basically just doing their thing, but they’re all in the same room. It doesn’t help that Ayer, who gave his previous battle scenes such weight and consequence, seems utterly bored. Since human beings are only involved on one side, the enemies might as well be video game minions.
By the time the film decides to chill out and lets the characters have one scene to chat, it’s moot. Sure, there have been small interactions peppered throughout, but they haven’t meant a thing. They’re small barb fests, in which the jokes feel completely forced. It is hard to even recall one scene where they don’t remind the audience that they’re the bad guys. Why? Because if certain audience members don’t read comics, they might just forget. It’s a film that tries to stylize itself in every way that doesn’t matter. All the tunes, flashy action, and comic book imagery in the world doesn’t matter if there isn’t any camaraderie.
Fortunately, anchoring this terrible material are a couple of good performances. Smith can’t help but bring charisma to Deadshot, even when given some horrible lines to read. He lands a couple of those jokes while selling us on the character’s drive to return to his family. Viola Davis lends an icy cool to Waller’s ruthless behavior. Even Jai Courtney turns out to have something to offer after all in his limited role. Sure, he’s playing a cartoon character, but he admirably throws himself into it. However, the gal who runs away with the movie is Margot Robbie. Her Harley Quinn is a bit more pulled back than classic versions but is utterly intoxicating. Sure, she’s a tragic figure, but she’s also intelligent, brutal, and venomously sexy. Hopefully, her solo movie comes to fruition so she can stop pulling dead weight.
Speaking of dead weight, there is no load more beyond this earth than Jared Leto as The Joker. It’s certainly hard to imagine Leto ever living up to the late Heath Ledger’s masterful version clown prince of crime. That said, whatever he’s come up with here certainly isn’t the way to go. Despite his atrocious on-set behavior, his take feels completely half-assed. It’s a combination of a lame impression of Ledger with a cartoon mob boss. He’s never the least bit funny, or scary. Fortunately, he’s not in the movie very much. In fact, many people aren’t in the movie very much. You’ve got folks like Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag and Jay Hernandez’s El Diablo who simply lack screen presence. While others such as Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc and Karen Fukuhara’s Katana simply have no time to do much of anything.
Beholding the Hindenburgian disaster that is Suicide Squad is hard to even process. It’s a film that hits the ground sprinting, without a story to tell. It’s a movie about a team, in which the characters hardly get to interact. However, above all, it’s just plain laborious. A generic action movie with DC villains peppered in. Insult to injury, the third act is one of the most baffling final battles ever put in a comic book film. In fact, this is the kind of film that is going to kill comic book movies.
DC has just begun.
But now you’ve gone and thrown it all away.