“Suicide Squad” assembles some of the lesser known super baddies from the DC Comics universe to create a fighting force for good, following the age-old movie ploy that it takes a bad guy to take down a very bad guy.
The producers then brought aboard one of Hollywood’s better makers of gritty action, David Ayer (“Fury,” “End of Watch”), to write and direct the movie. He in turn did off-beat casting such as nice guy Will Smith as the ultimate hit man Deadshot, alluring Margot Robbie as the psycho punk killer Harley Quinn and that colorful oddball Jared Leto as DC Comics’ biggest, baddest villain, the Joker.
It should’ve worked. For one thing, comic book characters barely above the radar for non-geeks often make for better movies (think “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Deadpool”) than well-known dudes that come with so much baggage (think “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”).
Certainly the teaser trailers are so good fans will jam theaters opening weekend. Warner Bros. execs further fueled expectations by shrugging off the disappointing “Batman v. Superman” by insisting “Suicide Squad” would save the day for the studio’s all-important DC franchise.
The movie is not the inchoate mess you might expect from some of the more vociferous reviews that hit this week. But it’s a mess nonetheless.
Ayers runs into two fundamental problems. One is that he must kick off a potential franchise so he needs to shoehorn introductions of a large cast of characters (over 10) into a chaotic although somewhat enjoyable first act. Unless you’re an inveterate DC Comics fan, your head will spin sorting out all the backstories.
At least the characters are distinctly if not grotesquely varied so there’s no problem telling who’s who. Still it’s worth remembering that Marvel Comics gave many of its superheroes a movie of their own before launching the mashup that was “The Avengers.”
A second problem is that as good as Ayer is, he is of the realist school of action filmmaking. This doesn’t jibe well with the fantastical fights and outrageous cartoon characters that are fodder for comic-book movies.
He gives it a valiant try and you sense his passion for these crazed misfits and genetically aberrant creatures. Yet sometimes comic-book movies must let the accent fall on the “comic” part of the equation, which is what this “Squad” begs for.
Alas, Ayer has never been one to insert much humor in his actioners other than sardonic asides. Except for Robbie and occasionally Leto everyone takes the film’s absurd proceedings far too seriously.
The gravest error though belongs to the producers who, one assumes, established the narrative attack desired for a franchise launch. (It’s not even possible those overseeing the DC empire would not have final say-so in such a thing.)
Yet these supervillains, so meticulously curated by U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Voila Davis), get sent off to battle such a vague and ill-conceived evil that it turns the whole enterprise into a bad shooter video game.
Instead of an irreverent, wisecracking version of “The Dirty Dozen” or “The Magnificent Seven,” you get a chaotic CGI/special effects jamboree whose only aim is to take down (not unlike the equally disappointing “X-Men: Apocalypse”) two ancient underworld spirits pissed off they’re no longer considered gods by mankind.
Indeed one malevolent spirit has somehow insinuated her consciousness into the body of an archeologist (Chanel model Cara Delevingne), whose boyfriend happens to be the American colonel (Joel Kinnaman) tasked with leading this highly reluctant squad into urban combat. (Apparently, the DC universe is a much smaller world than anyone imagined.)
Shouldn’t you, at least in your first movie, let your protagonists battle a more easily defined and personified supervillain?
At one point these ancient forces create a kind of zombie army of blackened fighters who engage the suicide squad in a nighttime urban jungle for over ten minutes in what can only be described as a time-killing show piece of stunts and CG action.
Two actors emerge somewhat from the chaos. Smith gets the most screen time and a textured backstory involving his young daughter to establish the best defined character in the movie. Meanwhile Robbie, so impressive thus far in her young career in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Legend of Tarzan,” is clearly having a ball as the maniacal and lethal though fun-loving crazy girl killer.
Ayer has also given her all the best lines such as “We’re bad guys, it’s what we do!”, which she delivers with the enthusiasm of a Mickey Mouse Club “Mouseketeer.”
Surprisingly, neither the movie nor Leto get a handle on the Joker — and, more importantly, why he’s even in this movie. He pops up here and there, like a guest star putting in personal appearances, but never fits into the story.
(You suspect Warners and the DC folks felt added security in inserting the one easily recognized character into the pantheon of unknowns, even if he didn’t belong in the movie. For the same reason Ben Affleck’s Batman puts in a token P.A.)
Strangely, Viola’s head honcho is a puzzle. She seems to have unquestioned powers well beyond her pay level and seemingly goes rogue at one point. But she lacks the silky persuasiveness and insouciant aloofness of movie masterminds in previous sci-fi/comic-book adventures. Frankly, she seems unaware of the kind of movie she’s in.
Jay Hernandez’s pyromaniac El Diablo is backgrounded for much of the movie, being summoned from a movie-long sulk to throw devastating fireballs at villainous minions only twice. Characters such as the reptilian Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Aussie thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney) act like sidekicks in a different sort of movie.
One very good thing though: “Suicide Squad” has a fab soundtrack of rock golden oldies that propel the action unlike anything since Walter Hill’s long forgotten gangland rock ’n’ roll fable “Streets of Fire” (1984).
Opens: August 5, 2016 (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Production: Atlas Entertainment
Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach, Common, Karen Fukuhara, David Harbour, Jim Patrick, Alex Meraz, Corina Calderon
Director: David Ayer
Screenwriter: David Ayer
Based on characters by: DC Entertainment
Producers: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle
Executive producers: Zack Snyder, Colin Wilson, Geoff Johns, Steven Mnuchin
Director of photography: Roman Vasyanov
Production designer: Oliver Scholl
Music: Steven Price
Costume designer: Kate Hawley
Visual effects supervisor: Jerome Chen
Editor: John Gilroy
PG-13 rating, 123 minutes