We have endured much, my moviegoing friends—we have met our challenges, we have stood strong, we have survived. Of all the assaults we’ve faced, perhaps none were so brutal as last spring’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a bewildering, interminable slurry of fascism and digital violence. Batman v Superman made $900 million, but its astonishing badness cost Warner Bros. no small amount of goodwill: Sure, the film paved the way for more movies starring DC Comics characters. It also made no one want to see them.
And thus we come to Suicide Squad. On paper, Suicide Squad is just an action movie about a bunch of supervillains. In practice, it’s been unfairly tasked with redeeming the entire DC movie universe. So Suicide Squad comes with two questions:
1. Is Suicide Squad good?
2. Will people like Suicide Squad enough to forget how fucking stupid Batman v. Superman was?
Time will tell on that second question! As for the first:
Suicide Squad is... fine. Totally fine. It’s a patched-together mess, and it’s more boring than any movie starring a crocodile man and someone named “Captain Boomerang” should be, but it’s got its charms.
Take the cast, for starters: As glowering hardass Amanda Waller, Viola Davis brings together Suicide Squad’s overstuffed ensemble. Following Batman v Superman and Man of Steel’s city-smashing catastrophes, Waller creates a team to combat extraordinary threats: A group of supervilliains under the command of soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Naturally, an extraordinary threat quickly emerges, so: Here’s cranky assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), leather-skinned Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje), Aussie thug Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), human torch El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and evil witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). But the squad’s star is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the former psychiatrist of the Joker (Jared Leto). Harley’s now insane, spending half her time chirping flirty quips and the other half bludgeoning anyone within range of her baseball bat. Funny, freakish, and surprisingly sympathetic, she’s by far the best character to emerge from DC’s attempts at blockbustering, and Robbie, as always, is fantastic.
(Less fantastic is Leto’s Joker, who flounces onto the screen entirely too often, his forehead tattooed with “Damaged” and his chest tattooed with “JOKER,” just in case you forget that he’s damaged or that he’s the Joker. Part Juggalo and part theater kid, this Joker mostly serves as a reminder: Jared Leto is a bad actor who should not be allowed to act.)
Suicide Squad leans hard on The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy as templates, but while Marvel’s movies generally zip along, Suicide Squad lurches: Its disjointed first chunk is awkwardly glued together by on-the-nose soundtrack choices, from AC/DC’S “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” to the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” to Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Thankfully—sometime around the suiting-up montage set to Eminem’s “Without Me”—the movie starts to jell. Introductions complete, this team of weirdos can stop expositing and do some stuff.
And there are great scenes of Quinn & Co. doing stuff, whether it’s annihilating a horde of bad(der) guys, or hitting a bar to shoot the shit. It’s in the bar that writer/director David Ayer seems to get these characters: a bunch of selfish, homicidal maniacs who don’t dislike each other nearly as much as they claim. When they’re throwing back shots, it’s hard not to think that if anyone can upend Hollywood’s boilerplate superhero clichés, it’ll be this motley crew.
Which makes it all the more disappointing when they don’t. Some goofy Stargate shit promptly threatens the planet, and soon enough, everybody’s gawping at a roaring vortex of CGI that’s either some kind of portal or some kind of monster. Does it matter which? It’s the same generic, airless spectacle that’s shown up in a dozen Marvel movies, in a couple of Transformers, in the new Ghostbusters, in however many X-Men we have now, in Pacific Rim, in (sorry) Batman v Superman. A few minutes previous, Suicide Squad’s characters seemed like they might shake up a genre that’s grown formulaic and predictable—but now here they are, green-screened into familiar cartoon chaos, as bored as we are. By the time the end credits roll, it barely even registers when the scrolling words are interrupted by Ben Affleck, swinging by to tease next fall’s Justice League.