‘Suicide Squad’ falls short of heroic DC comeback

"Suicide Squad" | Warner Bros. Grade: B-
Warner Bros. Pictures/Courtesy
"Suicide Squad" | Warner Bros.
Grade: B-

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Since “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. have been looking for their franchise starter to rival the yearly additions of well-oiled, if safe, comic book blockbusters from Marvel. Yet, both DC films underwhelmed with the critical and commercial populaces because of their overly grim settings, muddled plots and weighty pretension devoid of humor.

“Suicide Squad” is here to right most of the wrongs of what came before it, focusing more on humor than the prior DC films, if still leaving massive plot holes that even a few fan-pleasing cameos from the Dark Knight (Ben Affleck) can’t save.

“Suicide Squad” wants to be the quick-paced, pulpy, pop music-oriented take within the world of Superman and Batman. Aiming to be the “Guardians of the Galaxy” for DC, it focuses on a ragtag of Batman-imprisoned misfits that must come together against their free will.

Starring Will Smith as Deadshot (a ruthless assassin with a soft spot for his daughter and her education), Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (a former psychiatrist whose love for the Joker turned her crazy), Jared Leto as the Joker (just a deranged criminal) and a bunch of respected actors (Jay Hernandez, Viola Davis), the film takes place immediately after the (spoiler alert) death of Superman in “BvS.”

Because of the death of America’s most powerful ally, high-ranking intelligence official Amanda Waller (Davis) comes up with the radical idea to group together the very worst murderers, thieves and “meta-humans” the world has seen to replace the now six feet under Superman.

Called Task Force X (“we’re a Suicide Squad,” says one of the villains), the group is initially denied formation because of thoughts that these deviant people would turn against the government. To counter this, the film tacks on a rather illogical story crutch that gives the government no choice but to allow the Suicide Squad to team up to defeat an ancient, otherworldly villain hell-bent on destroying the world.

Cara Delevingne plays a doctor who just happens to get possessed by a 7,000 year old witch known as Enchantress, who after initially being controlled by Davis’ character, finds a way to break free and wreak havoc. But how she breaks free, how she was at one point part of the Suicide Squad and how her oddly placed love interest for special forces Captain Flag (Joel Kinnaman) fits into it all seems out of place.

Because of this, the film ends up feeling like stitched together set pieces accompanied by entertaining musical cues such as Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The result is something not far off from what made “Guardians” such a loveable comic book classic; it’s just that Suicide Squad lacks that movie’s wit and perfect combination of humor and heart.

Yet, it’s quite a diverse cast for a major Hollywood film. Featuring an African American man with deadly aim (Deadshot), a Japanese sword wielder whose weapon consumes souls (Katana), a Mexican gang member with fiery powers (El Diablo), a Native American with unrivaled climbing abilities (Slipknot) and an African American woman taking over the head of the task force division (Waller), the film gives many races, ethnicities and genders a chance to be badass.

Directed by David Ayer (“Fury,” “End of Watch”), the film does its best to be the “The Dirty Dozen” of comic book movies. The characters are appropriately despicable, but it’s impossible not to care about where their character arcs go. From the first 20 minutes of the film, dedicated to the backstories of these odd balls, the members of the Suicide Squad are firmly cemented as people the audience will root for, despite their inherent villainry.

Then again, thanks to the PG-13 rating, the film never truly sells how psychotic these killers are. Had the film injected just a tad more of Deadpool’s raunchy, violently uncontrolled willingness to take comic book movies to adult places, “Suicide Squad” could have risen to the universal success DC needs more than ever.

Furthermore, for a film that features only a few well-known characters, “Suicide Squad” leans on the established identities more than letting Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) or Boomerang (Jai Courtney) get their time to lead the film. For example, “Suicide Squad” focuses too much on Leto’s jarringly out of place Joker. Leto gives a convincing take on the character but inevitably pales in comparison to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal. Altogether, the Joker really has no place in the film other than to get all the comic book fans hyped.

“Suicide Squad” is not likely to be the critical hit DC needs to recover from its thrashing earlier this year from “BvS,” but it represents another step in the right direction for a still unstabilized franchise.

It’s not a suicidal disaster — just not the squad to compete with the rival supergroups.

Levi Hill covers film. Contact him at [email protected].