It takes almost 30 minutes to introduce most (somehow still not all) of the major characters in David Ayer’s DC Comics adaptation Suicide Squad. A couple even get introduced twice. Coming on the heels of tepid response (despite relatively massive box office) to like-it-or-not mega-franchise kickoff Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ayer’s effort bears all the hallmarks of not just ordinarily clunky studio filmmaking but a frantic attempt to retool a film nobody expected to have to bear the burden of both meeting its planned release date and course-correcting an upcoming slate of cinematically-universed blockbusters. Pinballing between the mini-origin stories of more than a half-dozen “meta-human” bad guys, pulled together by a hawkish government agent (Viola Davis, unsurprisingly a bright spot) to go on dangerous special missions, this opening chunk is crowded with on-screen text, jagged cuts, whip-pans, and on-the-nose needle drops. It’s exhausting, barely coherent, and probably the most exhilarating part of the movie, leaving you feel totally off-balance in spite of the relentless exposition. Sadly the rest of this beast settles into endless, generically bloodless, blandly-covered scenes of machine-gun fire—a real disappointment given that Suicide Squad‘s core “heroes” are people like an expert marksman, a psychotic lady clown, a crocodile man, a samurai woman whose sword “captures the souls of those she kills,” a 6,000-year-old witch, and so forth.
This future franchise’s needs neuter what might’ve worked a lot better had it been closer to David Ayer’s patented brand of mean-guy jerk-off material.
All of this is often agreeably weird (if never remotely coherent), but the marketing department’s mandate for both a series jumpstart and a PG-13 rating intervene; the whole film is constantly interrupted by jokes, lightning-fast action beats that come out of nowhere and end just as quickly, and shoehorned-in subplots (especially one featuring Jared Leto’s annoying Joker, which could be excised entirely without effecting the plot) meant to tie this to future DC installments. It’s as if the whole thing was put together based entirely on test-screening feedback cards, which probably wouldn’t surprise anyone if it had been. Individual scenes and performances stand out, especially when they feature Will Smith’s hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn (who gets all the good jokes), but the jumbled narrative ensures that those arcs (which also needlessly turn villains into troubled souls who aren’t so bad once you get to know them) never pay off. Ayer has a flair for ultraviolent ensemble action movies about repellent assholes (see the gleefully nasty Sabotage or the director’s diet-Sam Fuller WWII epic Fury), but this future franchise’s needs neuter what might’ve worked a lot better had it been closer to Ayer’s patented brand of mean-guy jerk-off material.