(USA) Action. Directed by David Ayer. Starring Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Cara Delevingne. Category IIA. 123 minutes. Opened Aug 4.
Expectations for “Suicide Squad” were sky high as soon as the early trailers were released at the beginning of the year. But if the trailers elicited a sense of hungry anticipation (can’t wait to see Jared Leto’s Joker! What crazy things is Harley Quinn going to do? Margot Robbie is super hot!), the feature itself doesn’t come close to sating that appetite.
Led by Viola Davis as hardass government intelligence officer Amanda Waller, the country’s most dangerous, most securely incarcerated supervillains are forced to work for a secret government agency to protect America against the threat of alien invasion—that is to say, if Superman goes rogue. If they refuse the mission or run, they are killed by a pill-sized explosive implanted in their necks.
In an overpopulated genre sprinkled with a few genuinely compelling films, you would think a movie about a band of deadly criminals who are forced to save the world would try to break the mold. But this is a pretty uneven attempt.
As the film rolls on, it becomes apparent that too little time has been spent building characters everyone knows and wants to see (such as The Joker and Harley Quinn), while too much effort has been devoted to minor characters that people only sorta kinda know (Killer Croc? Boomerang?).
The filmmakers did try: Harley Quinn’s character is wonderfully humanized by Margot Robbie, who demonstrates she’s much more than just legs and sass by showing what it really means to be crazy in love—and in love with The Joker, no less. It’s only a shame that the romantic backstory of these two is given such scant treatment. And while Jared Leto turns in a solid performance with his manic, playful, wise-yet-unhinged Joker, he’s assuredly no Heath Ledger.
Nowadays what separates a great superhero movie from the run-of-the-mill is a film’s ability (or lack thereof) to rationalize the characters’ existence: why, for example, are superheroes still flying around in capes in 2016? Some crucial plot points jar badly with the viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief, such as the introduction of the 1,000-year-old quasi-deity Enchantress, who ends up as the film’s baddest baddie by threatening to destroy the world (of course). But how can you set up some sort of god-like villain simply to have them (oh… spoilers!) destroyed by a mortal weapon?
Similarly, hiring a cast of entirely likeable actors for the eponymous squad makes it very difficult to accept that they’re supervillains. Case in point is Deadshot, played by Will Smith, a mercenary “papa with a cause” who we can’t believe harbors an iota of evil in his being.
Walking out of the cinema, we’re left entirely unconvinced, though not unentertained. “Suicide Squad” is drawn out, patchy, and dotted with unnecessary characters and events that barely add up. But at least it’s not as bad as “Fantastic Four.”