Here's the dealio with Suicide Squad, the new DCU movie from writer-director David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch). Is it better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Yes. Does it expand the DC Cinematic Universe? Yes, indeedy. Can you bring your kids to watch? It's PG-13 so that's a no. Is it the Pieta, the Rachmaninoff 3rd of the DCU movies? Not a chance, not with Justice League coming up. But it does serve a purpose.
Colorful, funny and a wee bit messy, Suicide Squad may be the antidote to the DC Universe's grim and gritty comic book movies.
A Day-Glo nightmare with a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe, Suicide Squad detonates the dark tone of Zack Snyder's two previous movies and injects the story with an extra helping of fun. Add to that four of the more interesting characters in the DC movies and you've got yourself a movie that could entice you back for seconds.
It wasn't always like this. Zack Snyder, he of Watchmen and 300 fame, was supposed to provide the template for the future DC comicbook movie-verse, until Rotten Tomatoes and a 27% rotten rating brought this universe into early crisis. It was time for a course correction.
Suicide Squad is that correction. Gone are the washed out colors, the dour dialogue, the sonic overkill, the brutality. Here, we've got a surfeit of needle drops - one for each of the major characters; neon and blacklight color schemes, one-liners and (gasp) characters who actually smile! Suicide borrows at least one song (Spirit In the Sky) and one line from Guardians but it is its own beast. It's got a messy third act and a B plot that's total nonsense but story-wise, it's not suicidal.
Suicide Squad gathers a murderer's row of B and C-list villains - Deadshot (Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) - and puts them together, Mission Impossible-style, on an adventure that's akin to signing their death warrants. It's a concept straight from the 80s comic book by John Ostrander: force the bad guys to do black ops work in exchange for shortened prison sentences. With Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) as the leader and extra help from assassin-bodyguard Katana, the squad takes on an otherworldly threat that should be the problem of a certain Amazon, Kryptonian, Speedster, etc except that group of superfriends isn't due till next year.
The movie examines the motivations on why these characters agree to work together against their better (worse?) judgments, and brings out a mixed bag.
Will Smith as Deadshot, the world's greatest assassin, is the real deal here. In a universe where Superman is a mopey murderer and Batman brands his victims, it's interesting to see that a guy like Deadshot would be the anti-hero that actually works, motivations and all, and deserves a follow-up movie. Deadshot's first intro - a complicated kill using ricochets - shows his superpower but it is his relationship with his daughter that shows his humanity. It's easy to dismiss Smith as a has-been after his recent films gave him less showy roles but here, he proves he's still got superstar wattage.
Marketing may have centered on Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn but it is Will Smith's perfectly-timed wit that freshens up the dank and dour DCU. When he mows down an army of CGI blob people and everybody just stands and watches, you know - he's the real MVP of this squad.
The second big name in the movie, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, does not fare as well as Smith. Quinn, a creation from the Batman Animated Series, is supposed to come off as sassy and fun but several flashbacks show she's got the darkest side of the group. She's a psychologist with an obsession for the Joker (played by a surprisingly bland Jared Leto) and she is robbed of agency when the Clown Prince of Crime is in the picture. Suicide Squad earns its PG-13 rating on the Joker-Quinn sequences and flashbacks, which imply torture, sexual overtones and even a near-suicide. Director Ayer pushes the envelope here but still fails to show why we should care for Quinn or the Joker. There's a whole B-plot where Joker works to save Quinn but you can excise that whole side story and not affect the main plot.
Ironically, the biggest baddie of all is the one whose only power is sheer ruthlessness. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is the head of ARGUS and it is her idea to gather a task force of meta-humans from Belle Reve prison to do America's dirty work after the death of (spoiler!) Superman in the last movie. Waller is merciless to a degree that may even shock her cadre of bad guys. As Waller, Davis very rarely shows fear or uncertainty even when she's recruiting superhumans who may be more interested in destroying the world than saving it.
Also worthy of note: Jay Hernandez as the pyrokinetic Diablo. This should have been a throwaway role in a movie that spends more time setting up the main characters while setting the stage for possible sequels. Diablo's reticence to use his powers because of a tragic backstory actually sets him apart from the other Suiciders: he's an unwilling participant that only cuts loose when the situation finally requires it.
The other squad members don't fare as well: Boomerang, he with the Aussie accent and fetish for pink unicorns, never actually uses his razor sharp boomerangs in a way that counts as a superpower. Ditto with Harley Quinn and her baseball bat and giant hammer, or Flag with his guns. Croc gets one funny line and professes a love for BET but is otherwise unremarkable as the squad's amphibious muscleman. Delevingne's Enchantress is a scary character more fit for a horror movie; her turn as Flag's love interest actually feels like a tacked-on studio note. And Katana? She talks to her sword while crying. In the rain.
Suicide Squad's first half plays excellently; it's the ending that Ayer fails to stick. Bottomline though, keep the moving parts, put a real story in the engine and this thing is good to go for another ride. Suicide Squad may be the "worst heroes ever" but their adventure may be the best thing that's happened for the flagging DC Universe.