Will Smith and Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad (Photo: Warner & DC)
★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY David Ayers
STARS Will Smith, Jared Leto
After the death knell sounded on the advance screening for the heavily hyped and heavily hopeless Suicide Squad, an elderly woman gently tapped my arm with her cane and asked, “What did you think of the movie?” Wary that she might have adored the film and would service me with a harder walking-stick whack if I trashed it too harshly, I merely answered, “I didn’t care for it.” She moved in closer and, with acid dripping from her voice — perhaps even acid siphoned from the vat prominently featured in the picture — she stated, “I think someone should drop an atom bomb on Hollywood for making a movie like this!”
While I’m reluctant to obliterate any industry that on occasion can still give us something as provocative as Spotlight or as charming as Zootopia, her fury was understandable. Suicide Squad is its own kind of bomb, the sort of destructive force whose repercussions will be felt for years. While it stands to make a fortune at the box office, it’s unlikely to make much of a dent in the hearts of even its most ardent supporters, the sort who insist that critics are being handsomely paid off by Marvel to trash DC adaptations (chuckle over that one as I step away to fuel my private jet) or who start petitions to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because they don’t like seeing an abundance of poor reviews (OK, that’s kinda cute, in a dorky, puppy-barking-at-itself-in-the-mirror kind of way). Keep in mind that I didn’t hate Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was treated by most critics as the celluloid equivalent of End of Days but which earned a mixed review from me. But there’s no doubt that with Suicide Squad, Batman v Superman and the wretched Man of Steel, DC is futilely trying to play catch-up with Marvel, which spent many years and multiple movies building up its brand. But if the Marvel Cinematic Universe is like a savory pot roast that’s been allowed to marinate for hours, then the DC version is like a pack of low-grade instant mashed potatoes: Just add water and attempt to enjoy the lumpy result.
Suicide Squad gets off to a decent start, as a government suit named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) talks her superiors into allowing her to assemble a team of miscreants and madmen (and one madwoman) in order to protect the world in case the next Superman turns out to be an evil entity bent on destroying it. Via flashbacks, we’re then treated to a roll call of the assembled: the expert marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), the psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the obnoxious Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the human torch Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the misshapen Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and the centuries-old Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). In a bad scripting call, we do not receive a similar introduction to Slipknot (Adam Beach), so there’s no suspense surrounding his fate (or screen time) when he suddenly pops up on the scene as part of the gang.
All are placed under the watchful eye of super-soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), whose girlfriend, June Moone, is also the poor woman housing Enchantress within her mortal frame (Delevingne plays both sides of the two-faced coin). To control Enchantress, Waller keeps her tell-tale heart in a box, but once the organ is freed from its prison, Enchantress is then able to resurrect her brother as some CGI giant (presumably pilfered from the Gods of Egypt demo reel), turn humans into creatures whose innards resemble those British Aero bubble chocolate bars, and threaten the planet with lots of electrical bolts. Who you gonna call? Not the Ghostbusters, despite the similar-looking mise-en-scenes.
There are other players crammed into the picture, including Katana (Karen Fukuhara), so nondescript a character that her sword, stuffed with souls the same way a flounder might be stuffed with crab, exhibits more personality than the person wielding it, and Batman (Ben Affleck), who only drops by to cash a paycheck. And then there’s The Joker, played by Jared Leto in what was touted by the p.r. machine as a Method-style performance. There might indeed be Method to his madness, but it’s of little consequence, since his interpretation of the part turns out to be even less frightening than Cesar Romero’s portrayal on the campy 60s TV show. And while the prerelease buzz made it seem as if Leto would rack up as much screen time as Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, he’s actually in the film a lot less than expected, basically only around to brutalize Harley Quinn.
Speaking of HQ, she’s at the center of the film’s casual misogyny, an ugly stance that’s weirdly amplified by writer-director David Ayers (whose last picture was the underrated Brad Pitt WWII yarn Fury). Robbie does what she can, but the part doesn’t provide her with much — even most of her wisecracks land like bricks. In fact, the greatest failing of Suicide Squad might be its roster of misfits. They’re intriguingly billed as the “worst of the worst,” but most end up being sweethearts (Deadshot has a daughter, Harley Quinn dreams of a suburban life, Boomerang loves pink unicorns, and so on) and, worst of the worst, most are one-note dullards. Smith adds some personality to Deadshot — ditto Hernandez with Diablo — but Courtney is simply annoying, Kinnaman is a human vacuum, and Delevingne has the ancient Enchantress strutting around like a 21st century super-model (no shock, since the actress is a super-model).
At least the soundtrack is good. As far as nabbing audience interest, the killer rock trumps Killer Croc, with such gems as The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and Eminem’s “Without Me” blaring over the auditorium speakers. But it makes sense that no one thought to include Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution,” since Suicide Squad isn’t the answer to anyone’s prayers.