When you go see a film with terrible reviews, the bar isn’t set that high. As I watched the beginning of Suicide Squad, I thought it wasn’t too bad, better than Batman vs. Superman, at any rate. Then, about halfway through, whatever the film has going for it rapidly evaporates, and it becomes ugly, nasty, and brutish (sorry, Thomas Hobbes).
The premise of the film is that a goverment official (Viola Davis), with Superman being dead and all, wants to collect a group of supervillains as a team to fight crime. We are quickly introduced to them, one by one, and to start with the team isn’t very impressive. There’s a trick-shot hit man (Will Smith); a guy who can throw a boomerang (Jai Courtney), who is of course Australian–talk about cultural stereotypes; a kind of hybrid of a human and a crocodile (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who desperately needs skin moisturizer; and a pyschotic former psychiatrist, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who seems to have no other talent than carrying around a baseball bat and a pistol, and has some pretty good martial arts chops.
The only guy I’d want on my team is Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a cholo who can shoot fire like a flamethrower. But he feels guilty about incinerating his wife and children, so he doesn’t want to use his power. For this we’re supposed to feel sorry for him. Later, they add a character called Slipknot, who’s good at…climbing. They immediately kill him off, maybe for his lame ability or bearing the name of a terrible rock band.
The government agrees with Davis’ plan, just in time for a crisis–a 6,000 year old witch has inhabited an archaeologist (Cara Delevignge). Somehow she releases her ancient brother, who inhabits some poor slob on the subway and starts creating havoc. So this motley crew goes in and tries to defeat him.
There’s all sorts of side plots. Batman (Ben Affleck) appears now and then, as he put away most of the criminals. Robbie is the Joker’s (Jared Leto) girlfriend. He sealed the deal by giving her a lobotomy, which is an excellent way to find love. Leto, unlike Jokers of the past, isn’t remotely terrifying, looking instead like some downtown performance artist. Cesar Romero was scarier. Look for Leto to win a Razzie.
Suicide Squad was written and directed by David Ayer, who made a decent World War II film in Fury. But there in the credits, like a boil on a bubonic plague victim, is the name Zack Snyder, as Executive Producer, and Ayer has followed his playbook, with a foul, dark mood and very little of the fun that makes people like comic books.
I will give credit to Smith and Robbie for trying hard, though. Smith, even though his character can only shoot straight, is given some depth by loving his daughther. Robbie brings a certain mania to the part that makes us want to see more of her, and the ending implies that we will. Whether a character that dresses like a streetwalker, wearing a shirt that says “Daddy’s Little Monster,” is a blow for feminism, I’ll leave to academics, but if I had daughter I wouldn’t want her to see this character in action. What was wrong with her harlequin outfit? That might get a kid interested in the Commedia dell’ Arte.
I think the central problem of this film is that the audience is never comfortable rooting for anyone. All of these characters are despicable psychopaths (or sociopaths) and the only redemption they are allowed is to become friends with each other. None of them ever mentions saving humanity as something rewarding. Smith has that daughter, but he also says he is incapable of love, and that he kills people and sleeps like a kitten.
Suicide Squad, like most of the films based on D.C. Comics in this latest universe, is a wasted opportunity.