“Let’s just say I put him in a hole and threw away the hole”

I feel for David Ayer. He seems super jazzed about his work on Suicide Squad with good reason and I’m ecstatic Warner Bros. chose him to lead this ragtag bunch of miscreants with some great outside the box hiring, but the film can’t help feeling like a commodity rather than art. Sadly I think most of DC’s early installments will have their hands tied in much the same way because they’re being asked to do way too much without the necessary time or resources to do it effectively. They’re so desperate to compete with Marvel’s already established system—one slowly showing wear and tear as it plateaus into chapters devoid of stakes for its heroes—that they aren’t able to introduce characters first and let them collide later.

On one hand this is great because it throws us into the fire. This is why I enjoyed Batman v Superman—it sought out being different and its flaws never overshadowed its successes to me. The way it glimpsed the Justice League to come was hardly deft, but it didn’t have to be since it was a miniscule part of the movie and wholly irrelevant for anything other than the future (and fan service). It whetted our appetite for more without over-explaining because it couldn’t. If Bruce Wayne only knows them by what’s on the dossier he steals, so do we. But what happens when your entire movie centers on a similar portfolio? What happens when you’re literally asked to supply three-dimensionality to ten characters all at once?

Talk about a daunting task—an impossible task. Ayer does a commendable job in doing his damnedest to bring these disparate people together much like he did on what I believe is his finest work to-date, Fury. He infuses some fun with his dossier, each potential member of the team arriving with an embellished rap sheet and rock soundtrack to mimic Marvel’s own playful line-up of rogues in Guardians of the Galaxy. We receive some background information, a few goofy fonts to superimpose above the imagery, and a couple “heroic” vigilantes capturing them to remind us what world we currently inhabit. The opening drives Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) down our throats as de facto leads, but they’re just intriguing enough to warrant extra attention.

This is where Suicide Squad shines at a breakneck speed of carnage and psychopathy under the thumb of Viola Davis‘ Amanda Waller, a government agent relishing the opportunity to share her coveted Task Force X’s dastardly deeds before ending the lesson by telling her A.R.G.U.S. superiors she wants them released from maximum-security prison to save the world. This woman is the baddest ass of them all—refusing help when faced with monsters, willing to kill in cold blood to protect her interests, and in full control of everything while also being two steps ahead of anyone thinking about spoiling her fun. Waller’s a dictator, not a general. She’s even coerced her best soldier (Joel Kinnaman‘s Rick Flag) to lead this team, manipulating his love life to her advantage.

Her recruitment list is as follows: Deadshot, the best marksman alive and most coveted assassin; Harley Quinn, former psychiatrist for the criminally insane turned crazy-in-love sexpot for infamously high profile patient The Joker (Jared Leto); Boomerang (Jai Courtney), an Australian murdering thief; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a meta-human who can conjure fire at will; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), man turned monster with inhuman strength and scaly skin perfectly-suited for the sewers; and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an ancient witch/goddess possessing the body of June Moone, an archaeologist and current girlfriend of Flag. Add Katana (Karen Fukuhara)—a samurai fighting for the good guys with a sword that captures the souls of its vanquished foes—and the team is complete. Did I forget Adam Beach‘s Slipknot? Well so did the film.

They’re egotistical jerks threatening those who wish to control them with GPS trackers in their necks that will explode on command if they step out of line. They want to be free but not under these circumstances, not to fight a superhuman entity trying to wipe out mankind. Luckily for Waller, however, they have purpose and skillsets to get the job done. Some have nothing better to do and some have a tragic backstory making them ripe for a crisis of conscience able to provide reasons to help. Hernandez and Smith (it was a coup getting someone of his caliber in here) handle the drama best, supplying an emotional core to Quinn and Boomerang’s wild card instability. They add necessary drama that the familiar plot simply cannot sustain.

I like that the main drive is to reclaim an asset trapped within the magical chaos swirling around Mid-City. It would have been cool if they didn’t even deal with the actual fight—a rehashed war-machine from Man of Steel that bores the film enough to forget it for two-thirds of the runtime. Let Batman (Ben Affleck) or The Flash (Ezra Miller) deal with that so we can spend more time building complicated relationships within the group. To have this giant, uncontrollable hurricane a few yards away while pretending an extraction is more important is only a mistake if you eventually make it the most important thing by the end. The effects are cool and action okay, but when the climactic fight’s an afterthought, so is the film.

We’re only three entries into this universe and already we’ve had two bridge episodes setting up cooler things than they possess themselves. We get a taste of The Joker—Leto’s turn a stark contrast to Heath Ledger‘s to distance comparisons and accept/reject him as he is. We get a slightly bigger helping of Waller; Davis’ character the easy highlight. As for the rest: Smith stands out for his gravitas and complexity, Robbie her zany uncontrollability (Quinn proving nicely schizophrenic but a bit in-your-face overkill too), and Hernandez his memorable evolution even if it’s overwrought in the process. The rest are pawns (Delevingne) or comic relief (Courtney owning a role with the tone he was born to play) with Kinnaman trying his best to break free from the pack.

Many pieces are fantastic and yet wasted in a movie more interested in setting up an already ubiquitous villain (The Joker) on the periphery rather than the antiheroes in the spotlight. Centering on bad guys allows the freedom to kill some without worrying about losing your star, but there’s hardly enough time to invest in their deaths as something to feel deeper than the surface machinations they propel. Killer Croc, for example, literally helps out with one scene because he swims underwater and can chuck a bomb. We wouldn’t miss him otherwise. There’s nothing natural to anyone’s inclusion except Flag and Deadshot because they possess actual skills besides berserker intent. Suicide Squad‘s ultimately a two-hour tease introducing a few more players to a world that’s only just begun.

Score: 6/10

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 123 minutes | Release Date: August 5th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): David Ayer
Writer(s): David Ayer / John Ostrander (comic book)