Sitting through Suicide Squad is like looking forward to Christmas all year and then waking up on the big day to find Santa Claus sprawled out dead under your tree. The movie is a major disappointment, especially since we've been living with its insistent marketing since last summer, when the film's snappy trailer was unveiled at Comic-Con. As we now see, virtually every lively moment in the picture is in that trailer. The rest of the finished product is all let-down.
By this point, we shouldn't be surprised. With the listless Man of Steel and the dismal Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC Comics and its corporate overlords at Warner Bros. have been batting about zero (although not at the international box office) in their struggle to catch up with the booming Marvel franchise machine. Now there's this, and their coolness stats may be descending into negative numbers.
There's no point in over-analyzing this desperate studio product (rated PG-13 for maximum blandness), but the movie's deficiencies really are startling. Apart from its murky action and uber-cheesy CGI, there are far too many characters. The best of them—because they're given enough screen time to hold our interest—are Will Smith's Deadshot, a breezy hitman; Jay Hernandez's Diablo, a flame-throwing gangbanger ("I have the Devil's gift"); and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, nutjob girlfriend of the minimally present Joker (played by Jared Leto with a mannered feyness so annoying it suggests a talking mime).
Harley and Deadshot have been sprung from a black-site prison by a shadowy government functionary named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, classing up the joint a bit). In the absence of Superman (see Batman v Superman), Waller is assembling a team of inmates, both "meta-humans" and simple mayhem specialists, to battle a new supernatural threat—an "extra-dimensional entity" called the Enchantress, who's taken up residence inside a mild-mannered archeologist named June Moone (English runway model Cara Delevingne, way out of her depth).
The rest of the team is mainly clutter. The Aussie called Boomerang (Jai Courtney) throws a boomerang. The lizard-skinned Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) grunts a lot, does a bit of swimming, and generally Hulks around. Also loitering about are Japanese sword girl Katana (Karen Fukuhara), who deserves a better movie than this one; and team leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a simple soldier in search of even one good line. Ancillary appearances are made by The Flash (Ezra Miller) and the rope-flinging Slipknot (Adam Beach), who are on hand, for mere moments, to provide fan service. Most unfortunately, Ben Affleck's growly Batman also turns up, his sourball presence sucking the air out of the two brief scenes in which he figures.
Writer-director David Ayer is a talented man (he previously directed End of Watch and the Brad Pitt war movie Fury, and he once scripted Training Day). But rapier wit and big fantasy action aren't his strong points. Deadshot is given things to say like "That shit's crazy" and "I'm gonna rain down on you like the Holy Ghost." Harley, huffing up a long flight of stairs, says, "I gotta work on my cardio." Thud, thud, thud.
The movie is repeatedly derailed by time-outs to sketch in character backstories, and the action—much of it just fistfights and gunplay—is often obscured by the familiar dark-and-rainy environments in which it's staged. There are also problems of digital visualization. The swirly electro-mist in which the Enchantress operates might have been imported from the 1980s, and her zomboid minions aren't very scary—they look like towering stacks of charcoal briquettes, and they're easily dispatched with a bullet or two, or a swat of Harley's baseball bat. The movie is further plagued by a soundtrack filled with totally on-the-nose pop hits. Are we in New Orleans? Here's "House of the Rising Sun." Is something going on up above? Let's have a little "Spirit in the Sky." (A more pressing question: Can we please have a moratorium on all future cinematical uses of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil"?)
This movie will surely do business in a slow month. But like its two DC-universe predecessors, it may not be remembered fondly by fan folk. Or maybe remembered at all.