FILM REVIEW – SUICIDE SQUAD. With Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Common. Written and directed by David Ayer. Rated PG – 13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language. 123 minutes.
Okay DC fans, it’s time to finally admit that the Marvel Universe movies are kicking butt. This reviewer takes no pleasure in this, having grown up a DC fan who never read the Marvel comics and constantly has to ask what’s going on when new characters suddenly appear in the “X-Men” and “Avengers” movies. However there’s just no getting around it: unless simply seeing these characters on the big screen is entertainment enough for you, SUICIDE SQUAD is a disappointment.
It starts off with promise. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) gets permission to get the worst supervillians together to form a special defense squad, supposedly to tackle the jobs regular superheroes like Batman (Ben Affleck) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) can’t or won’t handle. (Since this is in the “Extended Universe” of DC characters, Superman is still dead as of this spring’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”) We then get the backstories for all these characters, including Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and Diablo (Jay Hernandez). If you’re new to these characters, it’s a lot to take in, especially when at least one is introduced just to be killed off and another is introduced who isn’t a supervillain at all.
So who is the bad guy here? Hard to say. It could be the Joker (Jared Leto), who we know from numerous Batman movies. Harley Quinn is his former psychiatrist turned insane girlfriend, such transformation apparently caused either by forced electroshock or diving into a vat of chemicals or both, but in either case it’s all a bit sick given that’s her character is essentially a sex doll. Or is it June Moone (Cara Delevingne), a mild mannered archeologist whose body has been taken over by the all-powerful Enchantress? In either case it’s not clear why the Suicide Squad is needed.
And the overwrought plot is just getting started. The Squad is under the command of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) who is romantically involved with June. Amanda is arguably sicker and more violent than any of them as we see when she kills a roomful of innocent people because their presence is inconvenient. And there are still other characters and their stories but we’re running out of space.
So what does writer/director David Ayer do with all this? He gives us extended fight scenes between the Squad and the Sorceress’s homunculi, and later, the Sorceress herself. Some characters die. Some who seem to have died come back to life. Others do not. What he does not do is give us any reason to care about the results. By the time Marvel did the first “Avengers” movie there had been separate movies introducing Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk, so we at least had a chance at following the proceedings. With this new crew, Ayer needed to greatly simplify the plot so we could get to know who these chraracters are instead of just dumping a lot of information on us and figuring his duty was discharged.
The result is a movie that is surprisingly unengaging. It’s not entirely without exciting moments but don’t be surprised if your mind starts to wander, even during the extended fights. As for the performances, Smith does what he can to make his character both dangerous and sympathetic, while Hernandez gives it his best shot with cheesier material. Poor Margot Robbie, who should have been the breakout star here, takes a giant step backwards. No doubt adolescent boys will enjoy her scanty outfit and character’s wicked ways, but no one will confuse what she’s allowed to do here with acting.
Sorry DC fans. “Suicide Squad” was supposed to turn it all around for you, just like “Batman v. Superman” was. Now you have to wait until next year for “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League.” Let’s hope they finally figure out what they’ve been doing wrong, or they’re never going to get it right.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.