‘Suicide Squad’ fails to save DC franchise

Charles Liu

After a series of missteps right out the gate, the DC Extended Universe is already in trouble. Ironically, it’s now up to a band of comic book villains to save the fledgling superhero series with “Suicide Squad.”

Too bad all “Suicide Squad” does is further drive this franchise of misfires into the soil. While the cleverly designed advertising may have you thinking otherwise, this isn’t some darkly comic “Guardians of the Galaxy” — it’s an undercooked mess that constantly disservices its brilliant cast and squanders the potential of their characters. Like the so-so “Man of Steel” and the awful “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” this DC picture won’t even dent the Marvel empire.

But it doesn’t seem like a failure from the start. In fact, “Suicide Squad” ably introduces us to the titular team with infectious verve. It gives each of the villains a stylized introduction card and shows them excelling at what they do best, drawing laughs and making any comic fan giddy.

There’s Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin we first meet calmly threatening a prison guard. Next is the psychotic-yet-cute Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the girlfriend of the Joker (Jared Leto). Following them are Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), whose name indicates his gimmick, and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), who has fire-based superpowers. Then there’s Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a mutant more beast than man.

The villains are brought together during the first half of the movie by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a government official who wants the team to defend Earth in the stead of the late Superman. During this section, the filmmakers shove in as many hit songs as they can, from “Black Skinhead” to “Sympathy from the Devil,” without any concern for how they support the events onscreen. Newsflash: “Guardians” did it tastefully. “Suicide Squad” doesn’t.

With the team assembled, Waller tasks Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) with leading them into a city attacked by the evil witch Enchantress (Cara Delevigne). Of course, the Squad isn’t willing to play ball.

Nonetheless, they battle wave after wave of the Enchantress’ zombies. There’s little variation in how the action beats play out — people shoot and punch stuff over and over with effortless, mind-numbing precision. There’s no drama because the heroes never really find themselves on the ropes, and there is never a big moment for the team to come together as one — something usually necessary in a team-up film.

The worst threat to the Squad isn’t the end of the world, though — it’s the lousy script and the messy editing. The film’s choppy, cobbled-together nature may be the result of clashes between writer and director David Ayer and the studio. Missing many scenes that were shown in the trailers, the film rarely gives the Squad time to develop a camaraderie that justifies their affection for each other during the climax. Instead, it relies on jarringly-inserted flashbacks as shortcuts to give just a few of the team members some emotional depth. But these flashbacks, such as Deadshot’s night out Christmas shopping with his daughter or Harley’s arrest by the Batman (Ben Affleck), are so brief that they hardly register.

The actors do their best, with Will Smith and Margot Robbie doing a lot of heavy lifting in their lovable lead roles. Viola Davis oozes menace as the ice-cold Waller and manages to come across as the most dangerous character in the film. Also notable is Jai Courtney, who imbues Boomerang with quirky charm. These wonderful performers go a long way giving the film much-needed moments of humor and fun. For many viewers, they will salvage the picture.

Strangely enough, the film’s most anticipated presence, Jared Leto’s Joker, is not that impactful. Throughout “Suicide Squad,” the Joker is on a mission to rescue Harley, but the entire subplot is delivered in short spurts and leads nowhere. Leto gives a good, deranged performance, but among the likes of Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill and the late Heath Ledger, he is remarkably unremarkable.

The same saying goes for much of “Suicide Squad,” which aims to be an irreverent delight and ends up being obnoxiously rote. Come to think of it, the film’s title is an apt name for the DCEU’s latest cyanide pill.

  • “Suicide Squad”
  • Running Time: 123 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Score: 2.5/5 stars