Film review: Suicide Squad’s cast of characters fail to impress

Margot Robbie and Jared Leto are part of the all-star group of villains that battles a witch and saves the planet in Suicide Squad. Photo: Warner Bros. Margot Robbie and Jared Leto are part of the all-star group of villains that battles a witch and saves the planet in Suicide Squad. Photo: Warner Bros.

David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is DC’s first attempt at unshackling its Extended Universe from Zack Snyder’s hollow style and unrelenting gloom, with an eye to demonstrating that building a franchise around the Justice League is a worthwhile endeavor on its own and it’s not just piggybacking on Marvel’s formula for The Avengers. On both counts, Suicide Squad succeeds halfway; the action often clicks because Ayer, unlike Snyder, is a master of spatial relations in gunfights, using freneticism to heighten tension and excitement in the audience. For the DCEU franchise at large, the commitment and chemistry of Suicide Squad’s cast shows that the inhabitants of this universe can be engaging individuals with dramatic arcs capable of more than the seesawing rage and melancholy that defined Batman v Superman.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t make a lick of narrative sense. It veers uncomfortably between barely holding itself together and settling into well-trod tropes—and apart from its superior camerawork and occasional wisecrack does little to improve on the franchise’s inauspicious initial entries.

The story goes that after Superman’s death at the end of BvS, the government realizes how lucky it was that this particular metahuman was on its side, but has no guarantee the next one will be so friendly. Enter Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the creator of a program designed to harness the ability of imprisoned villains by implanting explosive devices in their necks that blow their heads off if they fail to cooperate. Included in this unseemly bunch are Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They’re led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who is cajoled into this insane task by Waller’s possession of the heart of his girlfriend, archaeologist June Moore (Cara Delevingne), who sometimes turns into an ancient, magical entity known as Enchantress, and who wastes no time starting the end of the world. This compels Waller to deploy the brand new, untested, unreliable crew to confront this literal witch. The Joker (Jared Leto) shows up sometimes, as does Batman (Ben Affleck), who conspicuously fails to appear for fights where he’d actually be useful in saving the world.

Yes, that’s the plot. Exhausting to read, perplexing to witness. First on the list of massive gaps in logic is the fact that most of the squad are not actual metahumans, just psychos; though talented fighters and certifiably insane, there’s no advantage over supernatural soldiers. You have to expect some contrivance to bring fan favorites together, but for anyone who didn’t let themselves get whipped into a frenzy for this movie in advance, it all just seems like a rapid succession of introductions followed by a big fight.

When Ayer does take a moment to develop the characters, Suicide Squad switches from aggressively stupid to outright insulting, from Harley’s backstory of being abused into her current mental state to El Diablo being little more than the most horrendous stereotype of a Latino gangbanger. “But it happened in the comic!” is not now nor has it ever been a worthwhile argument for film adaptations even if it were not used to mask such ugliness. Robbie and Hernandez are so talented and committed to the roles that these backstories, even if they’re rooted in the source material, are one-dimensional and they do the characters and audience a disservice.

On top of all that, Suicide Squad fails on its own terms while also doing nothing to positively differentiate itself from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ve already seen Guardians of the Galaxy, a charming movie that took a risk by asking what it would be like if the Avengers were all charming criminals and lovable dirtbags. Suicide Squad asks the same question of its own universe but the DCEU hasn’t even gotten to the Justice League yet, so the introspection is premature and confusing. All the forced grittiness, phoned-in comedy and cloying fanservice in the world can’t give Suicide Squad the thing it needs most: a reason to exist.

Suicide Squad PG-13, 121 minutes

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