“Suicide Squad” once seemed to offer Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment a shot at redemption after the creatively botched “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Yet this bad-guys-enlisted-to-do-good tale hits its own snags, generating only sporadic moments of fun amid near-relentless chaos.
From afar, “Suicide Squad” had a chance to become Warner Bros.’ answer to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” in which Marvel scored a major hit with relatively unknown, third-tier characters. And all the advance buzz will likely ensure a big opening. The movie itself doesn’t deliver, though; writer-director David Ayer (“Fury”) was simply never able to wrangle this project – teeming with obscure evildoers – into a consistently coherent narrative.
There’s some irony, in fact, in the assembled bad guys being led by a never-miss assassin named Deadshot (Will Smith), since so much of the movie feels aimless. Even credible efforts by Smith and especially Margot Robbie – vamping it up as the apple of the Joker’s eye, the sadistic Harley Quinn – don’t breathe life into the film frequently enough to give it much of a pulse.
Exhibiting fidelity to the comic-book origins, the movie races through introductions to the various villains, who are being held at a top-secret facility that vaguely resembles the place where we first met Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Enter Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a federal security operative who has a plan to set up Task Force X, an elite team consisting of “the worst of the worst” – a necessary precaution, she argues, “if the next Superman becomes a terrorist.”
It’s a concept with roots in “The Dirty Dozen” (down to the promise of shortened or commuted sentences), although to be honest, this Hellacious Half-Dozen wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the Man of Steel. Frankly, they look mismatched even against the underwhelming threat they face in the movie, the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an ancient sorceress with a hazily defined scheme to destroy the world.
Beyond the aforementioned Deadshot and Harley, the group’s more visually colorful members include the sword-wielding Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a scaly-skinned meta-human. But there’s too much going on to grow particularly attached to any of them.
Waller’s reluctant charges are left under the stewardship of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who engages in a lot of macho posturing with Deadshot. Meanwhile, the Joker (Jared Leto) operates on the fringes, plotting Harley’s escape.
As Batman’s primary nemesis, the Joker has produced a veritable buffet of scenery-chewing performances. In that pantheon, Leto’s isn’t particularly memorable. He weds Cesar Romero’s cackle with Jack Nicholson’s casual brutality, but is unlikely to make anyone forget either, much less the indelible stamp that Heath Ledger left on the character. (For that matter, even the version voiced by Mark Hamill in Warner Bros.’ just-released animated DVD, “Batman: The Killing Joke,” tops Leto’s.)
“Suicide Squad” does yield moments of irreverence, though. Many come from Robbie, who brings Harley to life in a spirit fitting the animated medium for which she was created – part calendar pin-up, part the aforementioned Dr. Lecter.
Too often, though, the whole movie feels as if it’s trying to pound the audience into submission, nowhere more so than in Steven Price’s unremitting score.
Marvel-DC comparisons are perhaps unfair, but also inevitable, especially because the latter looks determined to create its own cinematic universe of interlocking characters. (Like CNN, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are divisions of Time Warner.)
But Marvel assiduously laid the groundwork for that. (A bit too assiduously, some tiring of the way the Marvel movies are constantly setting up the next installment might argue.) By contrast, “Batman v Superman” and now “Suicide Squad” have leapfrogged steps – and in the process, stumbled – in their palpable eagerness to get there.
“Suicide Squad” opens Aug. 5 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13.