After Superman’s apparent demise, intelligence official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) makes preparations to thwart future superhuman threats. To that end, she organizes Task Force X, a group of notorious felons that will operate covertly under special ops Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his bodyguard Tatsu “Katana” Yamashiro (Karen Fukuhara), thus buying the government plausible deniability should things go awry. The titular squad consists of Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton (Will Smith), a high-priced assassin with remarkable accuracy; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) a former psychiatrist who was transformed into the Joker’s (Jared Leto) deranged accomplice; Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), an ancient sorceress who periodically inhabits the body of Flag’s lover, Dr. June Moone; Digger “Captain Boomering” Harkness (Jai Courtney), an unruly Australian thief; Chato “El Diablo” Santana (Jay Hernandez), a remorseful ex-gangbanger with the ability to summon flames; Waylon “Killer Croc” Jones (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man with a reptilian appearance and abilities; and Christopher “Slipknot” Weiss (Adam Beach), a master of ropes. Waller initially believes that she can control the team (via explosive implants that she will detonate if they go rogue), but it isn’t long before Enchantress proves her wrong, putting the whole world at risk.
For better or for worse, DC is not afraid to take risks. After whiffing on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the next film in the comic publisher’s growing cinematic universe has as its director and writer a man best known for gritty police dramas (David Ayer) and as its protagonists a motley crew of lesser-known villains. It’s an audacious move and though ultimately not a successful one, it at least makes for more memorable entertainment than other cinematic failures.
The prime culprit, as was the case in Dawn of Justice, is the plot. Action films can be forgiven for being thinly or implausibly plotted, but Suicide Squad is inane to the point of insulting. First, the choice of Enchantress as the main antagonist is a perplexing one as many of the squad’s abilities would seemingly be ineffective against a magical being. As if that isn’t bad enough, she then spends the majority of the movie powering up, complete with a clichéd CG lightning storm. Aside from the squad’s mission, no attempt is made to deal with her either, because why call in an airstrike or look for some actual heroes when we must focus on the villains’ expository flashbacks and sociopathic hijinks? This isn’t a movie that asks “What were they thinking?” inasmuch as it answers with “They weren’t.”
That said, if you can look past the poor plotting and muddled motivations – and that is a big if – Suicide Squad is not a film without virtues. For one thing, it’s both funnier and more fun than previous DC outings. Deadshot, Harley, Boomerang, and even Croc get some great quips. There is also a lively soundtrack featuring a respectable cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and though Ayer’s direction on the whole is unimpressive, the squad’s first fight is well-choreographed and satisfying to watch.
Performances varied, but there were several bright spots. Davis made for an appropriately determined and ruthless Waller, Smith added a vulgar and cynical edge to his usual affability, Delevigne exuded both creepiness (as Enchantress) and vulnerability (as Moone) despite the mishandling of her character, and Hernandez was convincingly contrite. While Robbie was both physically and metaphorically overexposed, she embodied Harley Quinn quite well and was true to the spirit of the character.
On the other hand, some of the secondary characters weren’t written with nearly enough depth for the actors to work with. Flag comes across as a gung-ho stereotype for much of the film, and Croc seems misused as comic relief (a role that he shares with the more expectedly clownish Boomerang). And then there’s the Joker. Despite being heavily hyped in promotional materials, the character doesn’t get a lot of screen time. Leto plays him as a flamboyant, jittery, gropey, giggling psychopath. His interpretation lacks the gravitas of Heath Ledger’s take, but he still comes across fairly well as an agent of chaos, albeit one with a goofiness that undermines his menace. Batman shows up as well, by the way, but Ben Affleck isn’t given enough time to steal the screen.
For all its faults, Suicide Squad does accomplish two things: it shows that DC isn’t averse to mixing things up, and it further sets the stage for 2017’s Justice League. But if that film is as ineptly plotted and inexpertly crafted as these past two outings have been, DC’s cinematic universe may collapse before Darkseid even has a chance to attack.