Toward the end of Suicide Squad, the titular team of villains comes together out of loyalty to one another to face down a seemingly unbeatable foe with one of them going so far as to call the rest his “family.” The audience is left to wonder when exactly this bond was formed. The team, comprised of villains Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje); and relatively good guys Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), do not know each other at the film’s beginning and other than a brief interlude at an abandoned bar, are not shown socializing. Given what has come before it, the fact that these characters are suddenly prepared to die for one another makes no sense. Little in Suicide Squad does.
Suicide Squad has a catchy hook: a team of DC supervillains are assembled by the government to carry out apparently un-survivable missions and to have any knowledge of their actions disavowed when they fail; a Dirty Dozen set in the world of Batman and Superman. The premise is potentially strong enough to make up for any slightness of plot and the plot is slight, bordering on lazy. With more similarities to Ghostbusters (1984) than Ghostbusters (2016); the ostensibly charismatic team of misfits must save the world from a powerful force that makes the skies go dark and the clouds swirl over a skyscraper. Unfortunately the premise is abandoned almost immediately, as most of these “bad-guys” are made to look very much like “good guys,” given tragic backstories to make them more sympathetic. This is especially true of Smith’s Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, who is a hired assassin who does it all for his elementary school age daughter. Lawton is easily the least interesting of these heels but is afforded more screen time and backstory than any of them, almost certainly because he is played by Will Smith, one-time biggest movie star in the world, which would also explain how far the film backs away from making him an actual villain.
More successful is Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie is a, :”Capital M,” Movie Star, and the best thing about Suicide Squad. Her Harley has a great unhinged energy and brings some real, legitimately interesting, pathos to a character who, as the lover of Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker (Jared Leto), could have been just a typically offensive “crazy hot girl” but turns out to be the film’s most compelling character. As Harley’s paramour, Leto is only okay and, for a guy who made such a show of creating an original version of the character, his Joker sounds and acts an awful lot like Heath Ledger’s. The rest of the cast is just fine (for what it’s worth, Jai Courtney does career-best work), the most notably strong work turned in by Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the morally dubious government official who assembles the team. Walker offers the collected villains questionable deals and is continually clad in red and, in case you didn’t get it, at one point another character asks her “are you the devil?”
Familiarity with the work of writer-director David Ayer explains both why Ayer was selected for Suicide Squad and why he was the wrong choice. The writer of Training Day (2001) and director of Harsh Times (2005), Street Kings (2008), End of Watch (2012), Sabotage (2014) and Fury (2014) specializes in grimy movies about male bonding in violent settings; however, Ayer’s movies are not exactly a barrel of laughs, nor do they possess anything resembling a light touch, which is generally called for when directing a good superhero film. Under Ayer, Suicide Squad is a hodgepodge of different tones and aesthetics, the filmmaker and the subject matter do not fit together well.
In total, Suicide Squad is an unholy mess. Really, the whole thing plays out like a series of scenes that could be used in a trailer. The film itself plays like a two hour trailer for a much longer movie that makes more sense. One gets the sense that each of the collected scenes was important to Ayer, but not they way those scenes fit together. Like the squad itself, more unity is needed.
Suicide Squad (Warner Bros.)
Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Cinematographer: Roman Vasyanov
Editor: John Gilroy, Michael Tronick
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delivinge, Karen Fukuhara
English/ PG-13/ 123 min.