Directed by David Ayer
Opens August 5
“In a world of flying men and monsters, this is the only way to protect ourselves,” says Amanda Waller, a steely intelligence officer played by Viola Davis, near the beginning of the muddled comic-book spectacle Suicide Squad. With these ominous words—which might not have seemed so out of place last month at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena—she’s trying to sell her superiors on the last-ditch necessity of assembling a team of mercenary supervillains and coercing them into fighting for the public good. The blockbuster that follows is an action fantasy that seems uneasy about just how brash—and just how sympathetic—those reputedly rotten characters are supposed to be.
Here, writer-director David Ayer (who’s made a career out of exploring hypermasculine military and law-enforcement subcultures in films such as End of Watch and Fury) makes sure to acquaint the audience with Waller as well as a few of the sociopaths she’s sprung from supermax. Expert sniper and devoted father Deadshot (Will Smith), psychotic former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and troubled metahuman flamethrower Diablo (Jay Hernandez) emerge as the hardened principals, somehow managing all the while to have fewer squabbles than heart-to-hearts among one another. The movie is otherwise overcrowded with a fan-service parade of minor figures who have very little to do with the main action. That goes even for Jared Leto’s Joker, the movie’s one truly menacing creation, who’s nonetheless relevant only as a figment of Harley Quinn’s backstory. (As for precisely why a successful professional would so easily succumb to such a hideous maniac, Ayer is in far too much of a rush to explain.)
If we’re told again and again that the fate of the world hangs in the balance, the stakes in Suicide Squad nonetheless feel fairly low, probably because the antiheroes, led by the dour Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), merely wind up fighting to contain another of Waller’s recruits. A witch known as Enchantress, who’s taken possession of the anthropologist June Moone (Cara Delevingne), escapes the government’s clutches, and in short order starts turning the residents of a smoldering Midway City into zombies and constructing some sort of doomsday device that looks like a toilet flushing into the sky. For a long while, Flag and Waller try to hide the nature of the threat from their loose-cannon underlings, but it remains nebulous even after the higher-ups come clean. Ringleader Deadshot himself more or less acknowledges this at one point, appearing to comment on the movie’s often rather abstract CGI as he cheekily proposes that everyone proceed toward that “swirling ring of trash in the sky.” By keeping the main squad goal so hazily defined for so long, Ayer—whose films have heretofore been fiercely moral—seems to want to look away for as long as possible from what this movie is really saying: that sometimes it does indeed take disordered personalities to restore law and order.