Movie Review: ‘Suicide Squad’

Remember when “Batman V. Superman” came out and we all complained about how dark it was, and got excited when Warner Brothers’ next DC film, “Suicide Squad,” promised to be a lot more light-hearted and fun? Yeah, well, it’s not. And while “Batman V. Superman” did have its good parts, “Suicide Squad” is, through and through, a terrible movie.

Written and directed by David Ayer and based on the DC comics series about an antihero team of individuals with unique skills, “Suicide Squad” is set in the aftermath of “Batman V. Superman.” Intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wonders who would protect them if an individual with powers like Superman decided to use those powers for evil instead of good, and forms a team to combat that sort of threat. Initially called Task Force X, the squad is formed of dangerous inmates from Belle Reve Prison (but don’t worry, Waller has explosive chips implanted in them in case they try anything funny). There’s sharpshooter Deadshot (Will Smith), the insane Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the pyrokinetic El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the skilled boomerang-thrower/thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje), and the mercenary Slipknot (Adam Beach). They work directly under Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a swordswoman whose blade can trap the souls of its victims.

There’s supposed to be another recruit as well: archaeologist June Moore (Cara Delevingne), Flag’s girlfriend who is possessed by a witch known as Enchantress. Waller thinks that she can control Enchantress to do her bidding, but she can’t. Enchantress escapes and decides to destroy humankind, beginning to turn to the people of Midway City into monsters. Task Force X is sent to stop her. So yes, for all her whining about Superman possibly turning on the people, Waller ends up creating a much more dangerous threat herself. And sends the team she created to stop such threats to clean up her mistake. Yes, it is that stupid. Meanwhile, Harley’s lover the Joker (Jared Leto) pops in and out tthroughout the movie as he attempts to break her out of prison. If the presence of one of DC’s most iconic villains was supposed to contribute to this film in any possible way, it isn’t apparent here.

The first hour of “Suicide Squad” tries very hard to live up to the expectation that it would be a fun, fairly light-hearted action movie — too hard. So many songs are awkwardly crammed into each scene that the movie could double for an infomercial for a classic rock compilation album. The story relies on the fact that these are bad guys forced to be good guys, and that’s supposedly inherently funny for some reason. It especially cashes in on Harley Quinn’s bubbly personality as a source of humor, acknowledging but not fully exploring her abusive relationship with the Joker that led to her current state.

The rest of the film gets dark — literally and figuratively. Visually, “Suicide Squad” is unremarkable. It is devoid any of the color and brightness you’d expect from a comic book, and goes so overboard on bad CGI that it is overwhelming to watch at times, particularly during the climactic final battle with Enchantress. The plot — or what little of one there was to begin with — quickly becomes muddled after the team is established and moves out of Belle Rive. As was one of the problems with “Batman V. Superman,” “Suicide Squad” has more going on than it can keep up with. We actually get a decent amount of backstory for most of the characters, but it isn’t enough to make them feel fully fleshed out. This movie is supposed to convince us that even though these are bad guys, we should like them. It doesn’t.

The performances are hit-and-miss, but for the most part the talented cast does their best with what they’re given. Standouts include Davis, whose cold-hearted Waller is a sort of villain herself, Courtney (who finally turns in a decent performance in a film that’s a piece of garbage), and of course, Robbie. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Harley Quinn in a live-action movie after seeing her in the role. She not only looks the part (horrible costuming decisions aside), but she nails the voice and mannerisms. As mentioned before, a bit of the backstory of her relationship with the Joker (Leto’s interpretation, by the way, tries too hard to be both flamboyant and menacing and fails) is fed to the viewer throughout the film. It’s a complicated relationship that needs and deserves more exploration than just a cursory glance in an ensemble film, and some of the changes from the source material don’t do either character any favors. But there is a wonderful moment when Harley shows that she seems to realize that the Joker doesn’t truly love her, that he just uses her to do what he wants her to; it’s probably the one time in the movie where her expression changes and we see the real Harley, before the rest of the squad catches up to her and she hastily puts on a big smile and greets them enthusiastically. It’s a wonderful bit — let’s just hope that Harley’s standalone film expands on that further.

I could go on about what a mess this film is, but I think you all get the drift by now. Suffice it to say that one of the most unbelievable aspects of “Suicide Squad” is that this group of cold-blooded villains would suddenly find themselves working together and referring to each other as “family” after spending, what, one day reluctantly thrown together? The formation of a superhero team is supposed to feel triumphant. “Suicide Squad” never has that moment.

1 out of 5 stars. Runtime: 123 minutes. Rated PG-13.