“Suicide Squad” hits theaters as the most hotly-anticipated popcorn pic in what has been a fairly disappointing cinema summer.
Hyped as this year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and positioned in that coveted early-August “Guardians” release window, a darkly-comic comic book movie about “bad guys who do some good,” it’s franchising friendly, a way for Warners to recapture the mojo that their darker-than-dark “Batman v. Superman” took away.
But they made that movie by fanboy request, to fanboy-dictated parameters. Keep it dark, because, you know, this is a comic book — serious stuff. This one? They at least tried to lighten things up. “Tried” is the operative word.
“Suicide Squad” is part of that whole dystopian DC comic universe, where Superman’s dead and The Joker (Jared Leto, more dentistry than performance) isn’t. And Batman is Ben Affleck. So the studio was hemmed in there, as well.
And what they’ve given us is a formulaic, blood and bullet-riddled David Ayer (“Training Day/Fury”) superhero thriller starring a high-mileage Will Smith and Margot Robbie‘s butt-cheeks.
There’s a big laugh, about 25 minutes in. Will Smith lands a couple more, and Ike Barnholz adds levity to a corrupt comic relief prison guard. But otherwise, this is a joyless exercise in paint-by-numbers mayhem. Bad guys are rounded up and flung against demons who have taken over some city we won’t call New York and who — like aliens and ghosts and others we’ve seen in too many recent movies — are dismantling the center city and spinning the debris into the clouds on an arc of psychotronic light.
Who ya gonna call? Yeah, that.
Viola Davis is Amanda Waller, the murderously unethical government bigwig who rounds up these “meta-humans” just in case there’s a situation caused by someone with Superman’s powers and without his scruples. So the ultimate sniper, Deadshot (Will Smith), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), guilt-ridden fire-flinger Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Harley Quinn (Robbie), Joker’s shrink whom he’s made over into his demented darling of a girlfriend, become “Task Force X.”
And they’re needed right away because Waller’s already lost one recruit. The archaeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) was consumed by an evil witch spirit (Enchantress), and she goes rogue, the first chance she gets. The rest of the self-named “Suicide Squad” seems likely to do the same.
Joel Kinnaman is Col. Rick Flag, the Navy SEAL who has to ride herd over this mob. He’s given a meta-human ninja (Karen Fukuhara) whose sword absorbs the soul of every one she slays as a sidekick.
And there’s a LOT of slaying going on in here. Deadshot litters the streets with the bodies of people turned into zombie soldiers. Harley Quinn wields a bat, but picks up a custom pistol when the need for killing speed arises. SEALS and demon soldiers shoot it out on subways, in high-rises and on the streets.
The one-liners must have played better on the comic book page. “Nice ta’meetcha,” Robbie’s psycho-Fran Drescher burbles. “Love your perfume. What IS that? The stench’a death?”
Deadshot negotiates with the Feds for his daughter’s future, his price for becoming a good guy. Private education, all the way to the Ivy League. And if she’s not sharp enough to get in on her own?
“I need you to ‘white people’ that thing.”
Ayer is a good, gritty action director, and absolutely the wrong choice to adapt this. The action beats are taut, but the story arc crumbles under the weight of all the movies it steals from. The casting fails to pop, in most instances. The heavily-hyped Robbie doesn’t dazzle, which explains why she’s photographed from behind, more often than not.
Delevingne fails to register at all. But Kinnaman stands out as the weakest link.
Giving every character a classic rock theme song — a touch swiped from Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” — doesn’t lighten the load. It feels like a desperate retro-fit –more pandering.
“‘Normal’ is just a setting on a dryer,” Harley Quinn declares. But the “normal” the movies in this new comic universe are pushing is bleak and not much fun. “Dark” does not equal “deep,” and even if it did, you have to wonder if all this pandering will actually be embraced by the audience it is pandering to.
If not, mental health counseling for the studio execs who bet the bank on the Dead Superman DC universe is in order. They’re worrisome candidates to become the real “Suicide Squad.”
MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Joel Kinnaman, Karen Fukuhara
Credits: Written and directed by David Ayer. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:00