There’s a moment in Suicide Squad where Harley Quinn, a brilliant black-light of sunshine courtesy of actor Margot Robbie, gives one of her monologues about the nature of what it means to be a bad guy, and the expectations that comes with it (this happens a few times). She explains that no matter how pretty they are on the outside, they’re ugly on the inside. She then looks at Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and specifies that he was also ugly on the outside.
In one of his maybe six lines, Croc disagrees, saying that he was “beautiful.” Harley smiles and promptly agrees.
What we get there is three-quarters of a good dialogue exchange, one that’s missing something crucial just right the delivery to really sell it, which makes this moment a metaphor for Suicide Squad on a whole. All the elements are there, its heart seems to be in the right place, but something about it doesn’t work. A lot of things, actually. It’s not even that it falls apart at the end, it’s just that it never seems like it’s even really put together.
The concept is ripe for Snyder’s still-lingering vision of DC cinematic universe: a group of super villains get covertly assembled to handle an incredibly dangerous assignment, with the added catch that each of them have an explosive device implanted in their neck to keep them on task until they mission’s completed and they return to their cells. The execution, however, is frustratingly off the mark.
Despite a quirky, off-kilter approach, it’s the third DC film (out of three) to suffer from all the usual pitfalls. It’s way overstuffed, it’s grossly incoherent, and it’s just kind of a mess of a story held together by a couple tentpole scenes.
After the film spends close to an hour introducing each of the members of a special task force assembled by shadow government badass Amanda Waller (a pitch-perfect Viola Davis). They’re all behind bars now, but through wildly saturated flashbacks, we get to see what they’re capable of, and how they’re taken down. We’re even treated to some prolonged exchanges that both Harley and Will Smith’s Deadshot have with a sadistic prison guard, played to delightful perfection by Ike Barinholtz.
Then, the first time Waller presents her task force in any kind of official capacity, their pictures are up on a screen in the briefing room, minus one character, Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress — though she is there in the briefing room. In her place is the mugshot of a character we’ve heard nothing about. He’s not mentioned by name or discussed until he later shows up out of nowhere when they’re all given their grab-bag of costumes and weapons to take with them on their mission. After his brief introduction, (it’s Slipknot), he’s promptly killed by (you guessed it) the explosive device implanted in his neck.
Even better, Slipknot’s not the only character they don’t bother introducing in this movie. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) shows up just before the team takes off. Although she does get an abridged flashback where she avenges her dead husband, who we later find out has a soul trapped inside her sword, along with the souls of everyone else she kills. Which, honestly, seems like could get a little awkward.
Once the plot is in motion, it plays out exactly how you’d expect. The Suicide Squad, (coined by Deadshot, played by Will Smith showing all the range of a character played by Will Smith), make their way further into the heart of Midway City. Something big and destructive (and very, very vague) is going down, and step by step, they make their way through tidy little waves of anonymous bad guys with a video game-like repetition until the big showdown.
Oh, and The Joker shows up periodically. He has some sort of plan (it’s also vague) that involves him rescuing Harley after kidnapping a scientist to disarm the bomb in her neck. Given his limited screen time and what he does with it, Jared Leto’s “Method Acting” technique may go down as possibly the most underwhelming performance of 2016, failing even the most modest of expectations. That and he looks like Cesar Romero through a Juggalo Snapchat filter, and just doesn’t have the chops to escape the shadow of Ledger’s turn back in 2008’s The Dark Knight.
Right before the big showdown, they all culminate inside the bar just blocks from the… thing (portal? weapon?) They sit around drinking and waxing nostalgic about how “they almost did it.” Sitting there in the theater, you can’t help but wonder what movie they’d just been through where these characters have somehow earned one another’s respect and developed a sense of camaraderie. All of the sudden, these characters were patting themselves on the back for something that hadn’t happened. Just like the movie they were in.
That’s not to say that Suicide Squad is necessarily bad. Instead of Zach Snyder torturing his characters (and his audience) with a prepubescent understanding of existential angst, writer/director David Ayer comes at the whole thing with the enthusiasm of a kid on a serious Jolt Cola buzz, trying desperately to tell you this story but too excited to have it make any sense.
This same manic approach is heard through the soundtrack, which chokes nearly every scene in the movie, alternating between Eric Burden to Eminem to The White Stripes, all in place to try and to stoke up the audience for the next big slow-down, then speed-up, then slow-back-down action scene. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Snyderverse if there weren’t a few of those to go around.
Overstuffed and overtly manic, Suicide Squad doesn’t fails any and all comprehension tests in terms of plot, but it’s impossible not to be charmed by Ayer’s unbridled enthusiasm, even though its cost is a story that makes sense. Finally, I’m genuinely curious where my lukewarm response would land me on the scale of entitled fanboy rage that managed to get 15,000 signatures on this idiotic fucking petition (and counting).
Suicide Squad is opens everywhere tomorrow, August 5.