Suicide Squad (PG-13) ★★

Jai Courtney, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Joel Kinnaman and Jay Hernandez star in Suicide Squad. Photo credit: Clay Enos/ Warner Bros
Jai Courtney, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Joel Kinnaman and Jay Hernandez star in Suicide Squad. Photo credit: Clay Enos/Warner Bros

Suicide Squad makes very little sense.

When I was at Comic-Con a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe there were hundreds of people—many of whom were in full Joker or Harley Quinn costumes and makeup—standing in the sweltering San Diego sun for hours, waiting to get into the Suicide Squad virtual reality experience. “People are really that into Suicide Squad?” I asked my friends. (Never mind that we were across the street in a five-hour line for the Game of Thrones exhibit, because that’s totally different.)

And then like some sort of Forrest Gump, cluelessly trying to make my way around the massive Comic-Con Exhibit Hall a few days later, I wandered smack dab into Will Smith, Margot Robbie and the rest of the Suicide Squad cast as they arrived at the DC booth for autograph signings. I have to admit, that got me a little pumped. (See photos at the very end of this review.)

But I still went into the film with hardly any expectations, and I had only watched its trailer once, more than a year ago. I am aware there are DC vs. Marvel fandom wars going on right now and that the angriest of DC diehards want to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because of the film’s negative reviews. Quite frankly, I just don’t care about any of that. All I was hoping for is pretty much what I’m always hoping for when the lights go down in the theater: to totally forget about reality for a few hours.

Suicide Squad failed in this mission, because about every 20 minutes I had to lean over and ask a fellow critic if I’d missed something. (Sorry, Dave!) I’d been mostly digging the opening act, which shows how and why Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) brings together a group of “bad guys”/“metahumans”—Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)—to act on the U.S. government’s behalf, should there ever be another Superman-like figure who isn’t so friendly. I’m a sucker for flashbacks and origin stories, so to learn the background of each member in the self-named Suicide Squad was fun. The soundtrack was a fairly nonstop playlist of catchy songs, and there were some inventive pops of animation here and there. I was enjoying myself. Who cares if the flashbacks that were supposed to explain things like the ride-or-die romance between Quinn and the Joker (Jared Leto) seemed full of holes? Surely this stuff would become clearer later in the movie. I just had to be patient.

We’re also introduced to Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the no-nonsense military commander of the group, and learn about his star-crossed relationship. But before there’s really time to make sense of any of that, Rick and the Squad are off on their first mission . . . and then two more new and supposedly important characters are randomly thrown into the mix just as everyone’s loading into a van together. HUH?

At first I thought it was the film’s fairly fast pace that was throwing me. But no. The longer it went on, the more I realized how incomprehensible things were. One character goes rogue and then randomly finds a sibling (!?!), gives a weird lecture about humans worshipping their cell phones, and then decides to build “a machine” to destroy the world. There’s some Ghostbusters-like stuff going down with all of that, and then an army of strange alien-looking creatures comes out of nowhere and I was like, “WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!?”

So one of the biggest problems is that David Ayer, who wrote and directed, really screwed up with the main conflict. It was confusing and not in the least bit compelling. I didn’t care about who the villain was in the slightest, nor was I given much (if anything) to care about with any of the characters who were supposed to be antiheroes. Take El Diablo, for example. At first I thought, “OK, he’s ‘the good guy of the bad guys’ because he doesn’t want to use his flame-throwing powers anymore. I can respect that.” And then we learn that he’d killed his wife and kids, and so, um, there became NO way I was ever going to root for this guy no matter how much Ayer tried to write him as “redeemable.”

What about all the hype surrounding Jared Leto’s version of the Joker? you may ask. And my answer would be: I am at a loss, because he was barely in the movie. !?! Again I say, HUH? Why wasn’t THE JOKER the main villain? (Sorry, I’m working myself up into ALL CAPS territory.)

I don’t care (nor do I know) what happened in the comics. I feel strongly that Ayer should’ve had the Joker play a more prominent role because his character is the one that most moviegoers have some previous knowledge of (and is the most interesting overall), and it would’ve helped to ground the story more.

By the final act, I was over it. I was over all of the slo-mo shots of automatic rifles shooting and shells dropping and characters trying to look badass. I was over the clichéd dialogue. I was over trying to figure out what was happening. And truth be told, I felt a little icky about the whole thing.

Suicide Squad isn’t a complete mess from start to finish. I enjoyed its quieter moments when we got a chance to learn something about its characters, and—at the start—its flashy visuals and soundtrack drew me in. But its central conflict lost me, its countless shoot-outs bored me, and by the end I was just annoyed and frustrated by what could have been.

The Bottom-Line? If you want to see lots and lots and lots of gunfights—or Margot Robbie in teeny-tiny shorts (let’s be real)—and don’t care at all about a movie’s story or characters making any sense, then you might enjoy Suicide Squad. You may also enjoy it if you are familiar with the comics and therefore don’t need the context that would normally be required. But for the rest of us, it’s one of the biggest disappointments in a year already full of cinematic letdowns.

Cast: Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Will Smith (Deadshot), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag), Jared Leto (Joker), Cara Delevingne (Enchantress), Jay Hernandez (El Diablo), Jai Courtney (Boomerang), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc)

Credits: Directed by David Ayer; written by David Ayer

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Erika Olson © August 5, 2016


The Suicide Squad cast at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Photo credit: Erika Olson
The Suicide Squad cast at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Will Smith in the middle, Jared Leto at the top of the stairs. Photo credit: Erika Olson


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The Suicide Squad cast at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje taking selfies in the middle, Jared Leto at the top of the stairs. Photo credit: Erika Olson


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The Suicide Squad cast at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Photo credit: Erika Olson