2.5 stars (out of 4)
Those square-jawed caped crusaders had their chance at domination this year, and they didn’t exactly kill it. We might as well break some villains out of the big house.
Just don’t throw away the key. The baddies in Suicide Squad (opening Friday, August 5) may be bold and brash — but they can’t save this summer of cinematic mediocrity.
The Suicide Squad, if you can’t tell from the striking cast photos, is a motley crew of badass Gotham City–area criminals. They range from Deadshot (Will Smith), a growling sniper extraordinaire, to Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, totally fab), a maniacal sexpot madly in love with the Joker (Jared Leto). Emphasis on madly. Rounding out the crew: crater-faced Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Aussie Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), witchy woman Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and tortured fire-starter Diablo (Jay Rodriguez).
(The Joker, by the way, is not a member of the squad and only has about 15 minutes of screen time, if that. More on him in a sec.)
In a typical comic book adaptation, these villains would be supporting players, popping up just to shoot off a wisecrack and a gun. Here they get to shine. Well, sneer is more accurate. A U.S. intelligence officer (Viola Davis) releases the inmates and supplies them with weapons, insisting to the government that she can manipulate them into defeating ever-powerful “metahumans” such as Superman. If the gang succeed in their missions, she agrees to knock 10 years off their respective jail sentences; if they falter or go rogue, they’re DOA. Deadshot himself snipes, “So that’s it, huh? We’re the patsies. We’re some kind of suicide squad.”
That set-up seems straightforward enough, no? It isn’t. Writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury), seemingly unsatisfied with his own play-by-play, feels the need to splice his film into a whirl of flash-and-dash montages. Too often, you’ll feel like you’re watching a music video marathon instead of a cohesive feature film. (Hope you like a throwback soundtrack: “You Don’t Own Me,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “All Right Now” and “Spirit in the Sky” are featured, among others.) That hyperkinetic directing style suits these renegades to an extent — nobody expects this bunch to frolic in the sunshine for two hours and fret over headlines in the Daily Planet. But the heroes-on-acid narrative makes it a challenge to follow the story, not to mention a chore to process the onslaught of violence.
The exhaustive character introductions add to the confusion. Let’s see … there’s the Squad. They’re joined by Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a fighter that sees the soul of her dead husband in her sword. The witch has a brother who’s up to no good, and a former Navy SEAL love (Joel Kinnaman) in charge of the convicts. Ayer also gives fans glimpses of a few familiar faces to tee up next year’s Justice League. Only Deadshot and Harley are fleshed-out, probably because Smith and Robbie are incapable of containing their own star power.
And the Joker, the most tantalizing character of all, slips in and out of the movie with barely more than a menacing smile. Given all the press Leto has done for this movie — the guy shaved his eyebrows for the role, for crying out loud! — his extended cameo may come as a disappointment. At least the Oscar winner makes the most of it, as his take on the infamous Batman nemesis falls somewhere between Jack Nicholson’s comical freak and Heath Ledger’s sinister mastermind. It’s frustrating Ayer couldn’t figure out a way to beef up the part. A spinoff movie featuring Leto and Robbie would be a worthy consolation prize.
The saddest joke of all: Once the powder-faced villain disappears, Delevingne’s witch takes over as the villain No. 1. This is a mistake. The former model fails to convince as a woman with ancient origins who can finagle people’s brains and longs to be worshipped. Looking the part of a psychotic spirit animal is not enough. Intensity is required, and she doesn’t have the gravitas to pull it off. Of course she is no match for Deadshot and his cohorts.
Indeed, despite the mayhem, the Suicide Squad does manage to unite and help. Anarchy is fun, but, deep down, good old-fashioned superheroism still flies.