The latest entry in the comic-book sweepstakes, Suicide Squad has a lot to prove after the cheerless Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A sort of knock-off Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie strains so hard to be hip and edgy that it forgets to be good.
Picking up after the end of Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad finds ruthless government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembling a team of hardened criminals and “metahumans” who will function as a last-resort defense against future attacks.
Since Suicide Squad is an origins story, writer-director David Ayer (Fury) spends a lot of time—almost a full hour—introducing the characters. Many of the Squad are imprisoned in a black site at Belle Reve, thanks to Batman (Ben Affleck), last seen funding his own metahuman project as billionaire Bruce Wayne.
Befitting a major star, Will Smith’s character Deadshot gets an extended backstory that positions him as a conflicted hit man and sad-sack dad to eleven-year-old daughter Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon). Margot Robbie also has long flashbacks explaining her transition from love-struck psychiatrist to lunatic killer Harley Quinn. As the movie reminds everyone, she’s in thrall to The Joker (Jared Leto, second-billed but a decidedly minor figure in the movie).
Human flamethrower Diablo (Jay Hernandez), bank thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and swamp mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) are sketched in more quickly. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) plays a “normal” soldier in love with June Moone (Cara Delevingne), a scientist who is also the witch Enchantress.
To get the villains to fight for her, Waller has them injected with miniature bombs that Flag can detonate at will. When Enchantress teams up with a brother demon to open a portal into another world, it’s up to the Suicide Squad to stop her.
A few pauses aside, the rest of Suicide Squad is a pitched battle with a high body count. Demons rip apart subways and skyscrapers until they are clobbered by supervillains. A few characters have crises of conscience—notably not Waller, played by Viola Davis as an emotionless killer. The supervillains slowly learn that teamwork is better than going it alone.
Or something like that. Ayer’s script feels like a lazy rehash of The Avengers, just like the Squad itself looks like a knock-off of Marvel’s X-Men or, worse, Fantastic Four. That hole in the sky letting aliens in, that tough guy with the knobby skin, that top-secret program no one can trust, that smart-mouthed sharpshooter—how many times can viewers fall for the same old routines?
To his credit, Ayer juggles storylines adroitly. During one crisply staged battle, Deadshot finds himself fighting soldiers, demons, Waller and his fellow villains at the same time. And Suicide Squad leans more on humor than the grimly portentous Batman v Superman.
Warner Bros. has bet the ranch on its DC Extended Universe, even promising Harley Quinn her own feature. At least the characters in Suicide Squad don’t have the decades of baggage surrounding the more popular DC stars. That novelty may help the movie until word of mouth kicks in.