Margot Robbie is a hell of an actress, and Will Smith can animate practically any role. Other than that, everything connected with Suicide Squad not only sucks, but seems to be a willful attack on the concept of quality.
The latest addition to the burgeoning superhero shelf at your DVD store (in an alternate universe that still has those), Suicide Squad is meant to be an irreverent, bring-on-the-bad-guys take that flies under the radar of the big-deal Technicolor kevlar flix like Batman V Superman or Iron Man or The Avengers Take Manhattan. Like this spring’s surprisingly entertaining Deadpool. But Deadpool had a solid story and characters you could care about (despite being unconventional, damaged, and/or homicidal). Suicide Squad has none of that, and I cannot imagine a worse script by either count.
Writer/director David Ayer doesn’t do anything right, especially in terms of the script. He spends too long on inorganic introductions of most of his cast of villains, and gets very little bang out of them. In his take on ruthless bad-ass Amanda Waller, who assembles the squad (“Task Force X” in-story) he creates a character so reprehensible that when she’s in deadly jeopardy at the end of the movie, we can only hope the entire cast joins in to see her killed. (Spoiler: They don’t, because Ayer apparently has no recognition that she’s an irredeemable, sociopathic villain rather than a tainted agent of good.)
And then there’s the plot, which at the high level is this: Waller (gamely played by Viola Davis) talks the Pentagon into drafting super-crooks to be an expendable team of cannon-fodder in case, say, the next Superman turns out to be a bad guy. Then, their first mission is to deal with a threat entirely (unintentionally) caused by Waller’s manipulations, and their main mission is not to stop the threat, but make a rescue of a VIP of high importance to the team. The film literally crawls up its own ass and stays there for two excruciating hours.
Visually, the direction is underwhelming and uneven. Every cast member looks so grimy, smeared in oily dirt, grotesque tattoos and smeared makeup, skulking in shadows and sewers, that there’s never a moment that can be called fun.
A far better movie would not only have rewritten Waller and jettisoned the entire main plot, but would have focused only on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Will Smith’s Deadshot. Smith’s character, a never-miss assassin with a soft spot for his young daughter, is neither original nor very well-written here, but Smith does justice to what the script gives him, and could’ve done so much more. Robbie, on the other hand, steals the film with both an infectious energy and genuine acting chops that, like Amy Adams’ brief turn in Man of Steel, actually defies the script by rising above the page.
Harley Quinn is a troubling character. A psychiatrist driven mad by the Joker and locked, essentially, in an abusive relationship with him, she’s gone from the harlequin costume of her original Batman: The Animated Series incarnation to dressing like a glitter-punk stripper who got caught in the rain. And who’s crazy. Robbie gets to show us the sane shrink, the joyously amoral threat to society, and the conflicted, abused girlfriend. And occasionally, through just a facial expression or hesitation, she mixes these facets of the character in a way that reveals a whole person—something that cannot be said about any other character (though Jay Hernandez’s Diablo comes close, having the only real character arc in the film).
Then there’s Jared Leto’s Joker. Leto does a decent job of playing the role as written, but it’s a boring kind of Joker. He’s a big personality, as the Joker must be, but his madness is boring, consisting of a lot of gun-waving and erratic behavior. I could get that at a Trump rally—the Joker should have a flair of insane genius, a real driving spirit or joie de la mort, y’know? This Joker’s just a loud, unhinged asshole (repeat Trump joke here).
The ostensible villain in the piece is pretty lousy, too. Cara Delevingne seems perfectly cast as mousy civilian June Moon, and vanishes under the grave-dirt makeup as The Enchantress, but as a deified Enchantress that basically amounts to her overwhelming eyebrows and a bad glittering gown, she’s revealed as an actress who in no way has the skill set to play this kind of larger-than-human creature. The rest of the cast are either terrible or barely there (or both).
There’s the requisite violence and mayhem, and there is a percentage of any audience who will, out of artlessness and jaded need for sensation, vote for the sheer joy of seeing things fall apart (third Trump joke here). But the violence here isn’t interesting or well-executed. There’s very little real humor in the film, despite Robbie’s zany charm. Deadpool excelled at both those things, and piled a coherent story and unexpectedly relatable characters on top.
This movie is like the sports news montage video that cuts together all the day’s crashes at the speedway. If all you care about in racing is the senseless spectacle of disaster, that’s all you need. And if all you want from a movie is two hours of ugly people doing ugly things for ugly (or no) reasons, just two hours of not-even-cathartic violence so you can escape, sublimate, whatever, then here, have this half-full cup of tepid sewer water.