For his entrance into a kitchen full of people, Jared Leto’s Joker opens the scene saying, “blah, blah, blah.”
Not exactly the right way to start a conversation, but that is the quintessential Mr. J. Also not right, and much less forgiving, is the film’s opening. There’s little logic in introducing characters A and B, when C will shortly do so. In its attempt to give some color into the born-bad tone—be it through snazzy graphics, quick cuts or lively music—”Suicide Squad,” in true villain fashion, greets audiences with falsity.
Lack of trust is an apparent theme in the film, and it goes beyond the relationship between government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and the task force full of undesirables she formed after Superman’s death. The precise Deadshot (Will Smith), unhinged Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Waller herself—characters who are special enough, dear director David Ayer, that their presence alone can liven the picture without constant on-the-nose song choices. The writing and direction do show that DC films know humor (I’m talking to you, ill-tempered Marvel fans)—cheesy, maybe, but at least attempts were made. When “Squad” could have been a delicious anomaly in the comics adaptation subgenre, and an anecdote about DC Extended Universe’s success, neither happened. No one throughout production seems to believe in the project’s potential.
But, like “Batman v Superman,” the final cut isn’t a completely unwatchable rag thanks to the cast. Viola Davis and Margot Robbie, in particular, show total commitment to their characters’ derangement as they energize every line. While Davis renders Waller’s coldness impeccably, Robbie shows her Quinn-like acrobatic chops as she weaves between girlish playfulness and rabid jokester.
Otherwise, only Smith’s Deadshot is worth noting, thanks to a relatable emotional anchor and a role that depends much on the performer’s ability. The hitman with a heart doesn’t possess visible gimmicks like his teammates, including the heavily accented Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), makeup job on Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), impressive pyrotechnics exclusive to El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), or the tragic-but-undercooked romance with Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) that drives Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).
As for Joker? It was a mistake to prominently market a character that equates to—or has been trimmed down to become—the film’s third cameo, but Leto shows he’s having a blast every second. His character is a time bomb, and Leto seems ready to embrace the explosion. Despite being a peripheral figure, as in the way Ayer smoothly integrate Joker into the plot spares of “Suicide Squad”, the film’s main narrative doesn’t have to grind to a halt when a universe-connecting character appears.
Except for the throwaway escape artist, Slipknot (Adam Beach), and afterthought assassin Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the cast shows convincing chemistry through the script’s natural banter. As a writer, Ayer knows the sentences to let camaraderie reveal itself, even through irksome plot conveniences. “Squad” has the interactions on point, too, but unlike “End of Watch” or “Fury,” it experiences more turbulence during final assembly.
The story, fortunately, isn’t hard to follow, but is told with a flow that either flies too fast to make an impact or sputters. Hard to ask for a consistent style or rhythm when four editors are on board, namely John Gilroy from “Pacific Rim,” who receives sole credit, and “Interstellar”‘s Lee Smith. In addition, “Green Hornet”‘s Michael Tronick and “The Man With the Iron Fists”‘s Robert Schlegel also worked on the film.
By now, most people should have read The Hollywood Reporter’s report on the film’s behind-the-scenes drama. They might have also found out the list of missing footage. A few of these deleted scenes would have meant more time to see the vibrant characters (and their equally eye-catching performers), but the project cut these and became shoddily lighter.
“Suicide Squad” should have gone there. It shouldn’t have surrendered to all the “not funny” or “drab-looking” arguments and forgotten that it is anything but both. Perhaps having the screw-it-all attitude would have gotten this reverse “Guardians of the Galaxy” the distinct coolness promised in the trailers.
For certain films, an extended cut will improve it. The better version of “Suicide Squad” will surface when it gets extended and rearranged. Ayer has said the theatrical cut is the also the director’s, but let’s look out for a reconsideration as right now this “woah” concept has been executed with a warbled “ha” and, thanks to its game performers, avoided being a complete “blah.”
Will Smith (Deadshot), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Jared Leto (Joker)
Directed and written by: David Ayer (“End of Watch”)
Cinematography by: Roman Vasyanov (“Fury”)
Music by: Steven Price (“Gravity”)
123 min., PG-13
Release date: Aug. 5
6.5 out of 10.