Last summer, Warner Bros. released the first trailer for Suicide Squad, driven by a creepy cover of the Bee Gees song “I Started a Joke.” With the would-be savior of the DCU blasting into theaters a line from the song is all too appropriate: “Oh if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.”
Arriving amid a flurry of Sno-cone-colored hype — much of it mistakenly centered around Jared Leto’s cranked-to-11 performance as the Joker — Suicide Squad follows “the worst of the worst.”
Unfortunately, that term applies more to director David Ayer’s appalling screenplay than its motley crew of semi-charming antiheroes.
Leading the way are Will Smith’s hitman-with-a-conscience Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s demented ex-shrink Harley Quinn, both of whom are doing hard time at Belle Reve, a beyond-maximum security prison facility containing a handful of metahuman criminals including the fiery-yet-remorseful El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and a BET-loving cannibalistic creature named Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
This fearsome foursome, along with poster-boy soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), his soul-sucking sword-wielding bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Australian thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and “a man who can climb anything” named Slipknot (Adam Beach), are called upon by den mother/bad mutha Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to stop a terrorist threat that has laid siege to Midway City in exchange for the half-hearted promise of freedom.
If it sounds like Escape From New York, that’s because it is, but with a star-studded ensemble filling Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken boots. That dastardly threat is the evil Enchantress, an ancient witchy woman who possesses the body of young archaeologist June Moone (Cara Delevingne) and sets out to create an army of what appear to be ashy rock zombies so she can build a machine that will destroy all of mankind — which, in her expert opinion, must pay the ultimate price for coming to worship machines more than gods.
Waller keeps the Enchantress' heart in a briefcase (because she’s bad-ass like that!) and stabs it whenever she wants Enchantress to stop enchanting and just be June, who happens to be sleeping with Flag. Oh, and Enchantress has a bad-CGI brother named Incubus (I only know his name thanks to Twitter) who has lava-like tentacles.
Are you sensing how ridiculous all of this sounds?
At least things are rough from the start, so it doesn’t feel like Ayer pulls the rug out from under you with a lousy third act — though make no mistake, the third act is lousy. The director uses the film’s first few minutes to introduce his main characters with a barrage of on-the-nose music cues that are apparently supposed to double as character development.
There are more than 20 songs on the soundtrack and the first half of the film plays like a medley of music videos. At one point, Waller sends the Squad on a mission to save a HVT — a high value target, because Ayer loves military-speak — and it turns out to be Waller herself. As soon as she's saved, she promptly kills a bunch of co-workers (the same average, innocent citizens she's trying to protect in the first place) because they aren't "cleared" to know the Squad even exists.
Ayer wants to have his cake and eat it too, but this action makes little sense within the context of the movie. If Ayer gets anything right here, it’s the casting: Smith makes it out of Suicide Squad alive, delivering a fairly strong and sympathetic portrait of a father who will do whatever it takes to see his little girl.
Robbie doesn’t fare quite as well, for as transfixing as she is as the ever-unpredictable Harley Quinn, her performance rings hollow at times and her exaggerated Brooklyn accent grows irksome. That brings us to Jared Leto’s turn as the Joker, which amounts to an extended cameo that barely gives the Oscar-winner a chance to put his stamp on the character.
The performance he does give is dialed way up, though Leto excels during the Joker’s quieter moments. It’s actually laughable how Leto has been front-and-center throughout this year-long publicity campaign, but kudos to the Warners team for realizing early on that they had little else to sell.
Hernandez gets the closest thing to an arc in the movie as El Diablo, who is cursed with more than just a hot temper. He almost steals the picture — but he's not an A-list actor, so his character isn’t given enough time to pull off the heist.
The generally under-appreciated Akinnuoye-Agbaje stands out as the well-designed Killer Croc, though you can expect to hear plenty about his “BET” line near the end of the film.
Delevingne does herself no favors whether she’s playing an archaeologist (ha!) trapped in a ho-hum romance with Flag, or Enchantress, the god-awful “villain” of this movie. How ironic that a movie about a group of villains suffers from the very lack of a good villain.
Courtney barely makes an impression in his latest disappointing studio film, though he can take solace in the fact that he isn’t disposable like Slipknot, who doesn’t even merit his own introduction before Waller and Flag wring his selfish neck. But hey, someone had to take the fall to prove that the threat was real.
Meanwhile, Common and Scott Eastwood are treated like walking, talking props — and let’s not forget Fukuhara, whose character isn’t given much to do and whose face is mostly obscured by a completely unnecessary mask. Ben Affleck returns for a cameo as Batman, seemingly only to have an excuse to kiss Harley Quinn ... errr, save her life with CPR (after punching her in the face underwater).
The elephant in the room is Ayer, who's the right guy at the wrong place at the wrong time. He seemed like a good choice on paper despite the fact that his resume never exactly screamed Comic Book Movie. Suicide Squad works overtime to have a sense of humor, but Ayer has a dark sensibility and can’t have it both ways. The film wants to be gritty, but instead it's just goofy.
Suicide Squad is hamstrung by its PG-13 rating, a noticeable limitation that Marvel’s Deadpool didn’t have, and not only is the film poorly structured (too many flashbacks, montages and whiplashing twists) and edited, but the storytelling itself is inept. You can bet that Ayer will no doubt be hyping a Director’s Cut version of this in the coming months, because you can practically see the editing room battles on the screen.
It’s well known that the film underwent extensive reshoots, but you can see studio executives’ fingerprints all over this movie. Everyone at Warners is under pressure for the film to deliver, and while it is poised to open huge this weekend, there’s no telling what the true cost of the movie is. Not only was “Suicide Squad” supposed to save a DCU in utter free-fall, but it was supposed to save the summer for Hollywood, which has apparently forgotten how to make blockbusters.
This year has been particularly insulting between Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Independence Day: Resurgence, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, The Legend of Tarzan and now Suicide Squad, all of which boast a Rotten Tomatoes score below 36.
It's clear that the made-by-committee approach to tentpoles just isn't working as well as it used to, if it ever worked in the first place.
To call Suicide Squad a disappointment would be an affront to your intelligence. It may in fact be the most disappointing movie of all time. It could go down as The Disappointment. I don’t know if WB’s marketing and publicity executives deserve a raise or if its DCU brain trust should be fed to Killer Croc.
Who is going to step up and take responsibility for this CGI nonsense? It was supposed to be the movie that signaled WB/DC could do something outside of their typical comic book movie formula, but instead it falls victim to that very formula, robbing the unique premise of any originality. Even the mid-credits tag is poorly conceived.
Not since the first Star Wars prequel has a film hit theaters with such high expectations and failed to deliver on even a fraction of that potential. At this point, the future of the DCU remains unclear, but what is clear is that this one isn’t on Zack Snyder.
It appears that saving the DCU is a job that calls for Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League, because Suicide Squad simply puts the “bad” in “bad-ass.”