In a word, “Suicide Squad” is trash. In two words, it’s ugly trash. Maybe no more words should be wasted on a movie that is, after all, only a movie, not a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.
As I hope I have made apparent, the storytelling that brings all these characters together so quickly is lazy to the point of professional negligence.
On paper, this could have been the antidote to an increasingly codified strain of comic-book movies, but in the end, it’s just another high-attitude version of the same.
So, the logic follows, how about a film in which even the good guys are bad? Surely a movie that is entirely populated by the most nefarious rogues from the grubbiest corners of the DC universe should be a riot. What could be more fun than watching bad people do bad things in the service of good? Unfortunately, even a film full of villains needs a credible antagonist, and this is one of the many problems with Suicide Squad.
Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and her brother, who can shoot metal lasers out of his arms, have baffling motives for world domination. And their method, which involves forming a humanoid army with heads that look like evil blackberries, is no less confusing. The film-makers forgot the golden rule: a comic book movie is only ever as good as its main villain.
The hiring of David Ayer to write and direct the first screen outing for the eponymous antihero task force, which tackles crime in exchange for commuted prison sentences, seemed like a promising move.
Ayer’s best work as a writer – Harsh Times, Training Day, End of Watch – kept the audience on side with characters whose moral ambivalence frequently tipped over into gleeful corruption and self-destruction. But the gift for dialogue that was so flashily evident between the bantering, badass cops in End of Watch is absent here. While the film is not intended to be an overt comedy in the style of Deadpool, some humour is essential to mitigate the sensory assault of the action.
A well-crafted wisecrack is one of the most efficient ways of giving a character depth. The lack of quotable lines here goes alongside the fact that only a handful of the characters have been developed into anything more than pencil sketches.
The most memorable, by no small margin, is Margot Robbie’s minxy troublemaker, Harley Quinn. Styled like a demon cheerleader crossed with a fairground sideshow, she pops out of the murky underworld colour palette, a flash of toxic neon perkiness. She’s a pressure cooker without a lid, a venomous injection of fun into every scene in which she appears. It’s Quinn, rather than her boyfriend, the Joker (Jared Leto, all metal teeth and method acting), who leaves the lasting impression, not least because the Joker turns out to be an unexpectedly minor character in this film.
Will Smith’s Deadshot is also reasonably well defined, though due to either Smith’s inherent likability or the script’s emphasis on Deadshot’s doting relationship with his daughter, it’s easier to accept the humane aspect of his personality than the sociopathic killer. Less well served is Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), who is more a list of Australian cultural cliches than a character. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) is little more than a samurai sword and a grudge. And Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) struggles to convey much in the way of personality from under the layers of distracting prosthetics.
You could argue that Akinnuoye-Agbaje doesn’t get enough lines to explore the nuances of his character. However, it’s worth remembering that Vin Diesel’s Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy had just one, repeated over and over, and he still managed to be the most sympathetic presence in the film. Ultimately, this overpopulated screenplay might have worked better if a few of the peripheral characters had been stripped away, allowing the more textured ones greater screen space.
The film is not without technical issues. The production design works rather well. Oliver Scholl (best known for Edge of Tomorrow) delivers a sleazy, stylish look, which is suitably brash and confrontational. But the special effects are unconvincing, and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov’s decision to shoot a pivotal battle with the characters silhouetted in thick smoke is as incomprehensible as the scene is indecipherable.
Suicide Squad is a decidedly different flavor than Batman v Superman. It goes for subversive, funny and stylish, and it succeeds wildly during the first act. But then the movie turns into something predictable and unexciting. It plods on, checking off boxes on a list of cliched moments and meaningless plot points, making you wonder where all the razzle-dazzle went.
The movie feels thin, and with such little meat on the bone, it almost makes you appreciate how overstuffed Batman v Superman was (despite that being its downfall). Amanda Waller and Deadshot nail their roles, and Harley Quinn makes a fine cinematic debut, but there’s not much to be said about the rest of the ensemble cast — and as disappointing as it is to say, that includes the Joker. Suicide Squad is more like writer-director David Ayer’s flat-footed Fury than his razor-sharp Training Day (which he wrote), making for another unsatisfying entry in the DCEU.