Directed by David Ayer.
2016. Rated PG-13, 123 minutes.
In a post-Superman world, the rules have drastically changed. Amanda Waller (Davis) is a government big-wig who knows we were lucky the last son of Krypton shared our values (kinda-sorta). She poses the question what if 'the next Superman' is a bad guy? Who will protect us. She believes the answer is employing some 'meta-humans' for the job. The only ones she has access to are all bad guys Batman (Affleck) has busted, plus Enchantress, an ancient witch who has possessed the body of archaeologist June Moone (Delevingne). Waller is in control of heart, literally. Despite the inherent risks of trusting these people, Waller convinces her boss this is a good idea. She gets the troops out of their various jail cells and puts them in action when Enchantress escapes and brings her just as evil and powerful big brother back to life. To control the crazies she's using for the job she implants a tiny bomb in each of their necks and lets them know it will be detonated immediately if they try any funny business.
As in any team-up movie, there are a couple characters more important than the rest. In this case, that would be Deadshot (Smith) and Harley Quinn (Robbie). Deadshot is a hit man for hire who never misses a shot. Despite how many people he's killed he's just trying to be a good dad to his pre-teen daughter. Harley is a pure nutjob, through and through. She also happens to be the love of Joker's (Leto). Joker is not part of the squad, but dammit, he's coming to get his lady and she can hardly wait. The rest of the group is made up of El Diablo (Hernandez) who can control fire, master thief Captain Boomerang (Courtney), Slipknot (Beach) who is an expert in grappling and scaling, and finally Killer Croc (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who looks like and has the abilities of a crocodile. Their actual mission is ran by Rick Flag (Kinnaman) and his team of Navy SEALs. Flag is personally invested because the witch, er Dr. Moone, is his girlfriend. Also having Flag's back is Katana (Fukuhara), an expert martial artist who's sword traps the souls of its victims. Nice. Away we go.
Taking a page from Marvel's playbook, Suicide Squad focuses heavily on the eponymous team. Their conflicts build camaraderie as the movie progresses. They debate the merits of working for Waller, plot to escape, and there is some humor along the way. Most impressively, we get into the backstories of these people and root for them despite their inescapable badness. We become invested in a number of its characters, especially Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and El Diablo. In the case of the two guys, they are conflicted men. As mentioned, Deadshot just wants to be a good father. He is great at killing people, even enjoys it, but he doesn't want that for his little girl. Like any other parent, he wants the best for her. Smith gives us an excellent performance handling the role in a way that manages to fall in line with his good guy persona, yet doesn't undermine the character. Hernandez plays his role in a similar fashion. His El Diablo is one who actually refuses to take part in any fighting because of the destruction his power has caused in his own life. Though saddled with more stereotypes than any other role, Hernandez manages to rise above this to create a character we can get behind.
Harley Quinn is not at all conflicted. However, much time is devoted to developing her relationship to Joker. As twisted as it is, we see her as a woman hopelessly in love. Though we know her and her beau are bad people and do lots of bad things, there is a part of us that wants them to be together. Their devotion to each other is nothing short of romantic, in the craziest sense of the word mind you, but romantic nonetheless. Who knew two people jumping into a vat of acid could be an effectively tender moment? The key to this working are the performances of our lovers. Margot Robbie delivers a memorable turn as a girl who's not all there, capable of heinous things, and yet still fragile. She fully embodies the character as Batfans have envisioned her for a couple decades, now. It's a fantastic performance with one small, but noticeable problem. As portrayed on Batman: The Animated Series, where the character originated, Harley Quinn has a very distinct accent. Robbie only attempts to use it sporadically. She should have either used it all the time or not at all. Doing one or the other would make her work here would be undeniably great. As it stands, it's a really enjoyable turn with an unnecessary flaw. The other component, Leto's Joker, has no such physical shortcoming. Much has been made of the actor's maniacal preparation and execution of the role. Without question, he completely disappears into the character. The problem here is there isn't enough of him. After painstakingly setting up their relationship early on, he is absent for large chunks of the film. When he is on screen, it is as a bizarre Prince Charming trying to save his princess. This serves the film well from the standpoint of getting us to care about the characters, but leaves a void in the conflict department. If it were filled by something else, we wouldn't bat an eye. It is not.
That void is the gaping hole where the villain should be. In this case, it's the plural villains, and I don't mean the Suicide Squad, either. Enchantress and her brother Incubus (Chanoine) make what should be a memorable pair. They have seemingly infinite magical abilities and an Ultron-esque kill all humans plot. Unfortunately, they too are strangely absent for long stretches. In their place are the hordes of disposable minions they dispatch to face the squad. When the main baddies are around they have nothing to do other than build whatever contraption they're going to use to wipe us all out. By build I mean stand around and shout Latin (I guess) while CGI swirls about the screen. Speaking of which, Incubus himself is an entirely CGI creation, but that's neither here nor there. The issue isn't how the character is created, but that he makes so little an impression. It doesn't help that they should have been defeated before they even got started. Their existence as a problem lies squarely at the feet of Amanda Waller. She is a wonderfully portrayed by Viola Davis as a sadistic (and more interesting) version of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, and is more interesting than she has been in the numerous DC Animated flicks in which she appears. Still, it's her easily avoidable error that causes the problem. Even after making it, she could have cured half the problem at any point during the first hour and half of the movie but never took the opportunity.
Without having read a single review of this film before writing this, I suspect the paragraph prior to this is a major reason there has been so much negativity towards it. It's currently tracking at just 26% on rottentomatoes.com. Generally, I find myself in line with what the critics are saying, but not this time. While I recognize the issue of not having a compelling villain in a movie full of villains, and the inherent problem of trying to make some of them sympathetic characters, I don't think either was enough to sink the film. Forgettable bad guys is something the Marvel Cinematic Universe has thrived mostly without. As far as turning bad guys into good guys, Suicide Squad handles it quite well. Characters who would seem to be unlikable become sympathetic figures. The action, of which there is plenty even though I haven't even mentioned it, is brutal. The overall tone is fairly dark, but still light enough to keep it from being oppressive. For all of those reasons I'm siding with the audiences who are almost exactly opposite of the critics, sitting at 73%. Maybe it really is that good. I think so. Then again, maybe my expectations were just really low after Bruce v Clark: Dawn of Martha.