“Suicide Squad” is the equivalent of a band releasing a “greatest hits” album that’s all new songs and covers, and not very good ones. The same cart-before-the-horse mentality that leads to Part Twos being announced before the Part Ones are finished has led to this: a rogue’s gallery of supervillains we’ve never heard of but whom the movie treats like household names.
Look out, everybody! It’s BOOMERANG! Yes, Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the nefarious Australian criminal who plagued, I don’t know, probably Gotham? Australian Gotham? He’s teamed up with hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), who of course you know from the time he infamously, uh, did some crimes in another story, which you didn’t read but which the movie assumes you loved.
One bad guy you are familiar with, the Joker (Jared Leto), is present. But he’s not part of the Suicide Squad, and he has maybe five minutes of screen time that feel like four minutes too many. You will wonder about — perhaps be actively angry at — the fact that Leto’s “Method acting” shenanigans have dominated the pre-release discussion of the film, even though he’s barely in it and has no scenes with any major characters except Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a psychologist who was treating the Joker before she became his disciple. (You won’t blame the movie for this, though. That’s the marketing. Not the movie’s fault. The movie being bad — that’s the movie’s fault.)
Anyway, it’s all the better to focus on the characters moviegoers have REALLY been clamoring to see! Characters like Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a tattoo-faced Los Angeles gangbanger who can make fire but doesn’t want to! Or Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), some kind of man-crocodile monster who asks for the BET Channel in his prison cell to remind us that the actor who plays him is black!
And don’t forget the ladies! We already mentioned Harley Quinn, whose major character traits are dressing like a creepy old man’s idea of jailbait and not having a convincing American accent. There’s also June Moone (Cara Delevingne), the archeologist who’s possessed by a witch named Enchantress and whose military boyfriend, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), wants to save her; and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), who has a sword that collects people’s souls after it kills them.
Most hilariously, don’t overlook Slipknot (Adam Beach), who is introduced after all the other villains, like maybe the movie forgot about him, only to be immediately (SPOILER ALERT) killed.
This thick, swampy mess was written and directed by hit-or-miss David Ayer (“End of Watch,” “Sabotage”), then evidently manhandled to within an inch of its life by studio notes and reshoots. The story is that a government agent named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, tolerating no shenanigans) wants to assemble a secret team of supervillains to be deployed in case a malevolent creature with Superman-like powers ever shows up. The villains, all guilty of multiple murders, are recruited from a secret prison, offered reduced sentences for their cooperation, and fitted with a device that will kill them if they go rogue.
It’s genuinely, though not intentionally, funny how certain Amanda Waller is that nothing will go wrong with this plan. It becomes funnier when the Suicide Squad’s first mission is to stop a rogue member of the Suicide Squad. Seems the Enchantress has freed her brother from a genie bottle and the two of them are wreaking havoc on Midway City (Gotham and Metropolis are presumably both still in ruins after “Batman v Superman”). Also, the Joker and his goons have taken over a science lab, possibly in conjunction with the Enchantress siblings’ plan, maybe separately — maybe in a different movie entirely — and now the Enchantress has an army of easily killed lumpy black soldier-monsters.
The Squad is assembled and given instructions (which must take several hours just in terms of transportation), all while the attack on Midway City is still happening. Neither the police nor the military seem to have responded; Midway City has put all its eggs in the Suicide Squad basket. So the bad guys half-heartedly work together to defeat the other bad guys, frequently pausing to have conversations about how bad they all are, and how doing bad things is just what they DO, man.
These cursory attempts at characterization and their accompanying brief flashbacks are supposed to compensate for all the backstory we missed by not seeing these people introduced in other films: since they couldn’t show us, they have to tell us. (Ayer also uses on-the-nose song cues as shorthand, including “Sympathy for the Devil,” “You Don’t Own Me,” “Super Freak,” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”) But the effect is to make us wish we could have seen THOSE stories, not this weak goulash of characters with interesting pasts and dull presents. Diablo and Katana both have tragic origins that mean nothing here; Rick Flag and June Moone’s love affair is said to be epic yet scarcely registers. (For what it’s worth, Will Smith and Margot Robbie do their best to infuse their shoddily written roles with personality.)
Now, this is the reaction of someone who hasn’t read the comic books that spawned the Suicide Squad and is unfamiliar with the dramatis personae. Someone more versed in the material — someone who is not me, in other words — will undoubtedly have a different experience, possibly better, maybe worse. For me, the filmmaker and studio’s inexplicable decision to construct a building without first laying a foundation was self-evidently a bad one.
D (2 hrs., 3 min.; )