REVIEW WRITTEN BY MARK MESZOROS
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Another swing and another relative miss for Warner Bros. and DC Comics.
After rampant criticism that March’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was too doomy and gloomy, Warner/DC seemed to be promising more fun — if dark fun — with “Suicide Squad.”
Sure, “Suicide Squad,” which brings together a group of villains to save the day, is more fun than “Batman v Superman” — but really, how could it not be?
There certainly are laughs to be had, but not enough. What it needed to be was Warner/DC’s answer to “Deadpool,” the R-rated blast featuring a foul-mouthed and incredibly violent anti hero from Marvel Comics. Instead, “Suicide Squad” is another sign Warner/DC’s efforts to create an interconnected superhero world hasn’t yet caught up to Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe. (And, yes, “Deadpool” isn’t from Marvel Studios or part of that universe — it’s a 20th Century Fox property and is loosely tied to that company’s “X-Men” franchise — but the point remains.)
“Suicide Squad” has so much promise. Along with its solid premise, the film from writer-director David Ayer (“Fury,” “End of Watch”) boasts a very appealing cast that includes Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman and Jared Leto.
It starts out well enough, first introducing us to the two villains who will be carrying much of the load.
We meet Smith’s Deadshot — a master marksman who takes huge sums of money to carry out assassinations but won’t harm women or children — locked in a cell and working a heavy bag. He’s served a plate of “loaf,” which he’s told is a mix of spaghetti, toenails and a few other things, by a taunting guard in this top-secret prison in Louisiana.
At the same facility, we meet Robbie’s mentally unstable Harley Quinn, who sits in a barred cell approachable on all sides. When she’s reminded not to touch the bars — by a guard to refers to her as “Hotness” — she licks one of them. He then has the bars electrofied, causing her to fling away from them. You get the distinct impression this isn’t the first time she’s received that particular shock.
“That’s just a whole lotta pretty and a whole lotta crazy,” the guard remarks.
We learn from Davis’ Amanda Waller — a ruthless and manipulative U.S. intelligence officer who wants to put these and other villains together in an off-the-books task force to battle the growing danger posed by the world’s supernaturally gifted “metahumans” — that Harley once was Dr. Harleen Quinzel. However, the Arkham Asylum psychiatrist fell victim to the mindgames of Leto’s Joker and fell in love with him. She now boasts tattoos that show her devotion to “Puddin’,” as she calls him, as well as similarly unnaturally white skin. Theirs is “a workplace romance” gone wrong, Waller remarks.
Waller gets the go-ahead for her risky task force, adding to the mix the monstrous Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the fire-conjuring Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Slipknot (Adam Beach), Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and others. They are to be led by the highly decorated Colonel Rick Flag (Kinnaman, of “Run All Night” and AMC’s/Netflix’s “The Killing”), who has romantic ties to the woman who becomes the movie’s big baddie — Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne of “Paper Towns”), who is possessed by the powerful witch Enchantress.
Unfortunately, “Suicide Squad” is at its best during its lengthy introductory phase. After its story is set up, it’s fairly poorly told. Ayer’s script attempts a delicate dance in which this team of villains goes from being coerced into doing good to more or less wanting to save the day, but it doesn’t really work.
Nor does Ayer, the writer of “Training Day,” justify the presence of Harley from a story perspective. Sure, she can handle herself in a fight, but so can a soldier. She clearly is along for the ride because A) Robbie (“The Legend of Tarzan,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”) is incredibly beautiful and also talented; B) writing for the character clearly is fun, Harley keeping the party light with oddball but welcome lines; and C) without her there’d be no reason to involve the Joker, who is intent on freeing his lady love.
Speaking of the Clown Prince of Gotham, Leto’s Joker is … OK, at best. Look, it’s a comically tall order to follow the big-screen portrayals of the character by Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger, and, if nothing else, Leto’s lean frame recalls some memorable comic-book takes on Batman’s arch nemesis. The real problem, however, is Ayer mishandles the character’s involvement in “Suicide Squad”; there isn’t enough of The Joker to make a real impression on the movie, but there’s too much of him to build suspense for a future appearance. (Leto says he wants to appear in a planned Ben Affleck-directed Batman movie, and that seems like a logical thing.)
While on the topic of misused resources, let’s talk about Smith (“Concussion,” “Focus”). The movie’s biggest star and charismatic box-office draw, he is relegated to a relatively one-note character. Instead of harnessing the fun, engaging Smith we get in a lot of movies, “Suicide Squad” relegates him to moping around because he is disappointing to his young daughter, who doesn’t want him to kill. You can understand Smith’s desire to play a darker character, but Deadshot just isn’t that memorable of one, sadly.
Similarly, the notable talents of Davis (“The Help,” ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder”) aren’t utilized as the driven Waller. Still, it’s nice to see a black woman cast in the kind of role filled over the years by any number of white male actors.
As for Ayer’s directing, it’s lackluster. The action scenes are a combination of boring and disorganized, the movie’s momentum stalls too often.
“Suicide Squad” isn’t dead on arrival, but it is ultimately a huge missed opportunity.
Sorry, Harley, that’s no joke.