This review is based on the extended cut of the film.
DC Entertainment has this superhero movie business all backwards. They’ve jumped straight to the orgy without taking time to acquaint us more intimately with the individuals. It didn’t work all that well in “Batman vs. Superman,” but we held out hope that a team- up of lesser-known supervillains under the direction of David Ayer (“End of Watch,” “Fury”) could get the DC universe on track. Instead, “Suicide Squad” is a mess.
No one should be surprised that a movie that juggles at least a dozen characters is messy. What’s surprising is that Ayer was the lone screenwriter, which means DC and Warner Bros. liked the script so much they didn’t bother to hire anyone to clean it up. Something must’ve gotten lost in translation from page to screen because the whole thing is scatter-brained and illogical. Given the beats for laughs or “hell yeah” action moments, Ayer thinks he has us hooked, but his movie rarely takes hold of anything.
“Suicide Squad” begins with U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) seeking approval for a project that would assemble a team of “meta-humans” that could defend humanity if a threat of Superman’s magnitude should ever arise again, and how she has these villains under her thumb. They include hit-man Deadshot (Will Smith), former psychiatrist turned unpredictable criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a scientific explorer possessed by an evil Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) fire-starting gangster Diablo (Jay Hernandez), assassin Slipknot (Adam Beach) and man-beast Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). To keep them in line, Waller has military man Captain Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) in charge.
Each has a backstory, of course, but not everyone’s gets equal attention. Still, countless flashbacks invade the narrative, particularly for Quinn, who has a complicated history with the Joker (Jared Leto), with whom she hopes to be reunited. As integral as The Joker is to Quinn’s story, he plays an ancillary role to the main plot, meaning Leto had to don the mantle of one of the most iconic supervillains of all time and endure unending scrutiny for the sake of a sub-plot. Leto’s erratic performance is far from the most problematic part of this movie.
A weak plot, on the other hand, drags “Suicide Squad” down. In essence, Enchantress causes a big supernatural problem and Waller gives the green light to round up her dangerous dream team to extract a VIP in danger from a “terrorist threat.” There’s a disconnect between these threads despite the audience being the wiser.
Every part of the story feels disconnected from the other components, and the main conflict has no mystery, energy or momentum at the onset to create any semblance of tension — or entertainment, to be honest. The script settles for verbal jabs between characters over any kind of interesting discord; Ayer is too preoccupied with establishing each of the anti-heroes’ personal battles that together they all just scoff at each other and act out their personalities in the form of one-liners. Too few jokes land despite how clear it is that the studio wanted this movie to be funny.
Smith and Robbie give the most interesting performances of the bunch, though the script does devote the most time to their motivations and inner-conflicts. Smith relishes the opportunity to play the badass who isn’t the hero, even though he becomes the group cheerleader at times. Robbie is the spitting image of Quinn from the the cartoons and comics, and while she’s not always funny or effective, she keeps Quinn interesting.
Nearly every attempt “Suicide Squad” makes to be cool or clever backfires and it’s kind of baffling. The only legitimate culprit can be how busy the story gets just trying to give all these characters screen time that it never finds anything compelling enough for them to do. Even the action sequences leave a lot to be desired, primarily because the stakes aren’t clear enough. Things start to come together more toward the end when all the sub- plots have converged and we’ve gotten more acquainted with each character, but it’s not enough to provide any redemption.
As for the Extended Cut, nothing improves the film or hurts it compared to theatrical version. The bar scene, despite totally deflating any story momentum, has some nice character-building touches. The problem is that when none of the scenes feel essential in a movie, adding more doesn’t help.
“Suicide Squad” plays like a series of trailers that are semi-stylish in their own right and set to cool rock music but don’t amount to anything on the whole. Scenes don’t establish themselves and they lack identity and a role in the greater plot. The movie bounces everywhere and anything that does capture our interest is fleeting as a result. That’s the real danger of such a large ensemble movie — it’s not that they’re always so poorly realized, they just never give enough time to let what works succeed. For as bad as this final product turned out to be, I wouldn’t mind a little one-on-one time with any of its characters and their individual stories.
Written and Directed by David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman