Suicide Squad ★★

At some point in the near future, Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Entertainment are going to have to accept the fact that their tiresome blood feud with Marvel Studios is getting them absolutely nowhere. The constant bickering and one-upmanship on the former's part has placed enough strain to level the commercial expectations of an entire studio – let alone an entire multimillion dollar franchise title – and the rushed production schedules, hazy sense of vision and contempt being held against the adapted materials is bringing to light one of the greatest cumulative blockbuster train wrecks in recent history.

Suicide Squad is the studio’s biggest shot yet at proving to audiences that it really can better itself with a range of more colourful characters and twisted material at hand in an attempt to salvage the tarnished DC cinematic title; a theoretically interesting concept that sees C and D list villains from the DC Universe thrown together as the antiheroes of a bigger narrative that allows them to question both their subservience and their own moral centres. But what it turns out to be is definitive proof (if nothing more) that the DC Extended Universe is irreparably broken at its very core. It’s difficult to distil to a single case in point as to exactly why the film is as genuinely terrible as it is, when there are so many fascinatingly infuriating reasons for why the movie doesn’t work.

For starters, the film's troubled production history doesn’t do it any favours and appears to be the film’s biggest crippling blow. Reshoots scheduled and cornered into the editing room at the last minute in an effort to get the film to suddenly emulate the tone and energy of its own marketing material prove to be an utterly disgusting development that leaves the entire film literally feeling like a trailer. It gives the entire moody venture a saccharine stench of studio interference as out of place pop music blares at every opportunity to trick the audience into believing that they’re having a good time.

There is nothing actually occurring on screen at any moment that gives off the sense of anarchic fun that the marketing has been trying to sell. Very few of the jokes land as intended and the movie is overstuffed with characters of varying degrees of importance battling for prominence around the edges of its barely functioning plot and screenplay. It feels like an initial pitch taken to preparation stages before anyone thought about how any of the characters would actually relate to one another in any given situation. It borrows so much from better films in its own sub-genre that nothing feels remotely fresh or interesting in its execution.

Speaking of which, the hatchet job that has been done to the film by the studio is an utter mess that dismembers the structure of the film through some of the worst editing of the year. Scenes are cut before they appear to run their course, and information of importance to the plot is repeated numerous times to different characters that haven’t yet caught up. The entire first act is a textbook example of ‘tell, not show’ as Squad takes an eternity setting up its characters through forced flashback sequences instead of allowing character growth naturally through interaction. And then the second two acts blur into a single prolonged and poorly executed battle sequence in which the team dispatch wave after wave of faceless minions of the enemy. And as a final insult, the villain(s) of the piece – who will not be named for spoiler’s sake – are an underwhelming hodgepodge of evil tropes and incredibly poor CGI that leave no lasting impact of any kind beyond serving as an archetypal final boss fight.

For all of its inherent technical flaws and narrative incompetence mostly courtesy of David Ayer’s shockingly drab direction and characterisation, there are some elements that allow it to keep its head above the drowning pit that consumed Batman v Superman, namely its performers. Margot Robbie is the most charismatic presence in the entire film, channelling a pitch-perfect rendition of fan favourite Harley Quinn who really deserves to be in a better movie of her own (we shall see). Will Smith seems to be enjoying himself here more than in recent years as the emotionally conflicted Deadshot, while Viola Davis insidiously undercuts everyone in the form of their warden Amanda Waller – possibly the film’s most dangerous character altogether.

Jay Hernandez is quietly decent as the conscience of the group as the pyrokinetic El Diablo, and (brace yourselves) charisma vacuum Jai Courtney has finally found a decent role in ‘Aussie’ wild card Captain Boomerang. Pretty much everyone else is wasted in their roles and thinly written characters, in particular, Cara Delevingne who just feels completely misplaced as the Enchantress, and Joel Kinnaman who leaves no impression as field leader Rick Flag.

You may be wondering at this point why there is no mention to be found of Jared Leto’s new incarnation of the Joker, but considering his general lack of involvement in the film’s plot itself he barely seems like kicking up a fuss about. Dancing around the edges of the plot to no great effect, Leto registers with barely any presence as the worst version of the Joker yet put to screen. Theoretically an interesting reinvention of the infamous character as a modern-day vision of his gangster roots – a violent criminal with a penchant for bad jokes - he instead becomes characterless and flat, offered no real introduction beyond the fact that he simply had to be included. Leto appears lost and directionless, desperately clambering to whatever works in any given scene and playing it so loudly that you can’t really tell if you’re meant to be laughing intentionally or otherwise whenever he starts chewing the set dressing.

Suicide Squad is a total garbage fire; a neutered, hastily constructed and barely functioning mess left behind in the wake of the equally misfiring travesty that was Batman v Superman. It’s as safe as safe can get as the film celebrates its own apparently wacky antics while it sluggishly pushes forward its place-holding plot to continue setting up the pieces for Justice League next year. In a desolate summer for quality summer blockbusters not seen since the notorious summer of 2009, this was a final shot at redemption on many fronts that is every bit as kaput as it sounds.

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