Movie Review: “Suicide Squad”

Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
David Ayer

With the exception of “Star Wars: Rogue One,” David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” has been my most anticipated movie of 2016 since the first footage was released at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Though there was certainly reason to be concerned following the disaster of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and rumors of production troubles, the consistently excellent trailers – which promised a fun, irreverent comic book film in the same vein as “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” – helped quell those fears. Unfortunately, you can’t judge a movie based solely on its trailer, and that could not be any truer as far as “Suicide Squad” is concerned. Although it’s not as problematic as Zack Snyder’s superhero face-off, it’s just as disappointing, if only because it had the potential to be better.

Following the death of Superman, A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has created a contingency plan to deal with future metahuman threats in his absence: a covert team comprised of the world’s most dangerous criminals to carry out black ops missions for the government in exchange for reduced prison sentences. Led by no-nonsense soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and implanted with explosive devices in their necks to keep them in line, the codenamed Task Force X – which includes sharpshooter assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), Joker’s deranged sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Australian jewel thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and reptilian-skinned cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) – is sent to rescue a high-value target who’s stranded in Midway City after it’s turned into a warzone by a powerful witch called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Throwing a wrench in Waller’s plans is the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker (Jared Leto), who sets out to save his beloved Harley amid the ensuing chaos.

There’s a lot to like about the basic setup, but it’s too often hindered by the film’s many flaws and surprising conventionality. “Suicide Squad” is yet another messy addition to the DC Extended Universe that reeks of the kind of studio tampering that befell “Batman v Superman,” from the jumbled plot to the choppy editing. It pivots from one idea to the next so quickly that you’re left to wonder just how much control Ayer had over his own movie. The opening 20 minutes in particular is a necessary but nonetheless exhausting piece of exposition that introduces every Squad member (save for Adam Beach’s disposable Slipknot) as part of a lengthy presentation by Waller to her bosses. It’s essentially a glorified clip show, and it’s almost as painful to watch as that awful surveillance video montage from “Batman v Superman.” There’s no real flow to the sequence, grinding the film to a halt before it can even begin.

This is a problem that occurs throughout “Suicide Squad.” It’s not that the movie doesn’t know how to have fun, but there’s a major disconnect between the zany, anarchic spirit that was so prominent in the trailers and the slavish barrage of generic superhero tropes (complete with a world-destroying MacGuffin) that ultimately drives the story. Fortunately, “Suicide Squad” has a few aces up its sleeves in the form of its excellent cast. Robbie is the clear standout as Harley Quinn, practically leaping off the screen with the same energy and dark humor that has made her comic book counterpart a favorite among fans, while Smith, Davis and Leto all deliver great work in their roles. Though Leto doesn’t get a whole lot to do as the Joker – in fact, he feels like an afterthought, relegated to flashbacks and an inconsequential subplot when he would have been better utilized as the main villain – the actor brings a completely different flavor to the iconic baddie that, if given the opportunity to continue the role beyond his extended cameo here, could become just as memorable as Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s portrayals.

“Suicide Squad” doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its colorful roster (even if the lesser-known members are vastly underserved), but while the film is packed with some great character moments, they’re spoiled by the lame plot and even lamer villain. This is the type of off-kilter premise that required a more low-key approach, and though it may start small, the movie eventually succumbs to the typical blockbuster trappings with its CGI-fueled finale, betraying the nature of its characters in the process. There was a much better story to be told, or at the very least, a better way to tell it, but “Suicide Squad” gets so caught up in trying to compete with DC’s bigger properties that the film loses sight of what made it such a unique and exciting idea from the outset. Although it’s not quite the post-“Batman v Superman” pick-me-up that many people were expecting, there’s enough good to be salvaged from Ayer’s original vision that it’s not a total failure, either.