It’s no secret that Warner Bros. was hoping that Suicide Squad, the latest entry in their DC Comics Extended Universe, would turn into a diamond from pure pressure alone. Fan and industry expectations have been weighing down on this joint since its teaser trailer made it look like a step up from the abysmal Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice from earlier this year. It had a colorful cast of characters, loads of action, world-building continuity, and enough jokes and irreverence to make Deadpool look up from his chimichanga. But they went and squandered whatever good will they built up on the dark-colored trainwreck that Suicide Squad turned out to be. We can’t blame behind-the-scenes clashes between WB and writer-director David Ayer, an imaginary cabal of Marvel Studios agents paying critics like me off to write targeted hit pieces, Rotten Tomatoes, or the cruel jaws of fate. Suicide Squad really is just a bland, cluttered, and manufactured excuse for a movie – superhero or otherwise; Guardians of the Galaxy as written by your local Hot Topic. And I don’t mean a manager, but the actual store.
Hot Topic gets a bad rap for being a home to a special kind of fake “edgy” no matter how extensive their inventory of band T-shirts and studded neon pants is, but this is every bad stereotype you’ve heard spread on top of old ripped pages from the Marvel Studios playbook. The opening is Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) literally reading character bios of captured villains Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) plastered with Snapchat stickers. They’re forced to work as covert ops by Waller and the government, who implant chips in their brains that will explode if they try to escape during their mission to take out Dr. June Moone aka Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a super powerful witch and former member of the squad gone rogue. Squad is all too eager to ape the formula of better established superhero franchises, so it’s top-heavy with characters, each with their own cheesy music cue and hollow origin story.
All scorn aside, the cast is actually trying to pull this off. Smith and Robbie are the obvious standouts, chewing scenery wherever they can, but Jay Hernandez wrings sorrow out of the fiery Diablo, a man who went pacifist to quell his fire; and it’s great seeing Davis rip into a role that lets her play a vicious counter to Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder. But try as they might, Ayer’s screenplay forces them to mug their way through unfunny jokes and blatant prejudice. How else would we know that Killer Croc was Black if he didn’t ask for BET in his jail cell? How else would we know that Captain Boomerang was a Quirky Dude© if he didn’t carry a stuffed unicorn in his coat pocket? How else would the assassin literally named Katana (Karen Fukuhara) embody the tortured ninja stereotype other than *being* a tortured ninja stereotype?
The movie’s juvenile brand of edge even compromises Jared Leto’s much-hyped turn as The Joker, a generic mob boss who got lost in the Halloween costume store who’s mostly relegated to flashbacks. Harley Quinn’s mental break and transition to her trademark unhealthy relationship with Joker feels like little more than an excuse for just about every male character in the movie to oggle her before calling her crazy; which the film joins in on, since Robbie’s ass gets more screentime than 80% of the supporting cast.
Even if the humor and story is your bag, the PG-13 action leads to blurry, fast-cutting cinematography that doesn’t match the grand knuckle bruisers of Dawn Of Justice or even Man Of Steel. It’s hard to fight off Power Rangers comparisons when the Squad is taking it to hordes of faceless minions and Playstation 1 level special effects. It means a lot less when half the people onscreen haven’t even been properly introduced yet, and that’s where this movie, like DC’s two before it, falls hard. All the fancy stars, talented directors, and peer pressure in the world can’t hide a clear lack of identity, and The DC Extended Universe’s identity crisis is alive and well three movies in with Suicide Squad, still unable to disappear into that thrifted Star-Lord jacket.