Suicide Squad ★★½

Aside from Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad could well be the most talked about summer blockbuster of the year, and with good reason. The third entry into the formative DC Cinematic Universe, David Ayer's film had some major expectations in the wake of the polarising Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film which should have been a rousing, beloved modern superhero film yet was denounced by many, including myself, as a loud and soulless big budget experience. Over the subsequent months, the rumour mill has been in overdrive where Suicide Squad is concerned in how DC Films, in all their backstage changes and tweaks, may have tried to apply damage control to the next part in a franchise with as many detractors as supporters. Who knows the truth? It's not clear as of yet quite how much of this film is truly Ayer's, or a product of a jittery DC Films attempting to retrofit a film under enormous cinematic scrutiny, but regardless all that matters is this: they failed. On many different levels. Suicide Squad could well rank as this year's Fantastic Four; buoyed with promise yet when the day is done a massive missed opportunity.

Where to begin? Let's start with the fact Ayer, who wrote and directed this (although don't expect his sole credit to be entirely accurate here), doesn't seem to understand how to craft a cogent or interesting narrative. The plot of this film is, quite honestly, awful; how the team are assembled by Viola Davis' Amanda Waller crucially skips a great deal of interesting backstory that nominal Batman films of old especially would have allowed us to unfurl, yet Ayer casts them off as throwaway so he can put 'Taskforce X' into play as, at first, a reactionary standby force in case one day an evil Superman drops out of the sky, and then a very much needed immediate group of misfits to battle Cara Delevingne's wicked witch Enchantress. Frankly, throwing away the origin of Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn with Jared Leto's Joker is criminal, because that's a great story that's never been told on film (or TV), and given how Robbie steals the show with a turn as Harley filled with delightful mischief, and Leto turns in a much more interesting Joker than you might have expected (a hipster fusion of Jack Nicholson with Cesar Romero), you very quickly will rather be spending an entire film with the Crown Prince of Crime and his Queen than the quite dull second rate roster of Bat-villains Ayer attempts to prop up as cool, quirky anti-heroes. Almost always, the more interesting plot, characters and film are to the left of everything we're watching, just out of shot.

If rumours are to be believed, originally Suicide Squad was being crafted around Tom Hardy as Rick Flag, the special ops guy working for Waller who keeps the team in line, but when he had a 'scheduling conflict' (hmmm...), Joel Kinnnaman didn't quite seem as worthy to hold everyone's attention, so much of the picture was amped up to tool not just around rising star Robbie (a good decision), but also Will Smith as crack, cold assassin Deadshot. Now you must have wondered what attracted Smith to this, beyond the fact he hasn't made a decent film in 15 years - playing a bad guy in an ensemble within a big franchise doesn't seem Big Willie Style, but you quickly realise Deadshot is a tailor made Smith role, at least here; he's a bit ruthless but deep down he loves his daughter and yeah yeah yeah. Fine. Smith is engaging enough but he struggles to let his typical charm shine through Ayer's poor script & bland characterisation, and truly he only clicks on screen fully when he's alongside Robbie (re-teaming after last year's Focus). Everyone else? Shrug. They're so thinly characterised to the point you won't much care. You'll probably spend more time wondering why this team a) have been created to fight a Superman when most of them wouldn't stand a chance against him and b) why they're not even remotely as twisted or evil as they should be. We may have got that had this been 'R' rated as hoped but no - the closest we get to proper interesting wacky mania is when the Joker & Harley are together, when it feels like a twisted update of the 60's Batman show. That's the film this should have been and almost always isn't.

Rather, Suicide Squad is a loud, expensive mess of a picture, in which David Ayer seems more concerned with the oily, macho stylistics which complement a great deal of explosive action, rather than delivering a truly cogent, interesting and exciting plot. It wants its cake and eat it; it wants to be filled with character moments with depth, it wants to be funny and quirky and strange, and it also wants to be epic and thrilling and full of spectacle. Oh and it massively massively wants to be a darker, grungier version of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy but, frankly, it's not fit to lick that film's spittle. There are decent components, with some of the actors (Margot Robbie & Jared Leto in particular) playing well known comic book characters well, but for the most part it's a plotless, aimless, leaden comic book movie far more in love with itself than it has any right to be. It's the comic book movie equivalent of the uncool uncle at the family party who thinks he's swinging. DC Films, just give us a solo Joker/Harley Quinn movie next time, and save yourself a whole lot of vexation.

A. J. liked these reviews