We've been talking about Suicide Squad since the dawn of time. From debates about the appearance of Jared Leto's Joker to rumors swirling around the expensive reshoots, a loud buzz is surrounding the film. Unfortunately, the comic book extravaganza falls flat on the big screen, landing not with a bang but a whimper.
The film has a promising set-up. A shady government agent named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) takes a handful of supervillains out of prison and sends them on a dangerous black-ops mission to save the world. To keep them from escaping, she injects them with microchips connected to a tracking device that can kill them with the push of a button. This scenario smacks of John Carpenter's 1981 classic, Escape from New York, which also revolves around a hardened criminal forced into being humanity's last hope. But while that film pulsates with a palpable sense of urgency, Suicide Squad trudges through dull doom and destruction.
The titular group consists of some mighty colorful characters: There's Deadshot (Will Smith), a sassy assassin who never misses his targets; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a hyper, Aussie thief; Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a fire-wielding street thug; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a sewer-dwelling monster; and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the real star of the show.
With her thick New York accent, spunky sense of humor and smeared, ghostly makeup, Quinn commands the screen. And Robbie's performance exudes pure, wild energy — like a comic book panel springing to life. In fact, she's the only member of the ensemble who seems to be having fun with her role — or at least the only one whose enthusiasm rubs off on the audience.
Of course, we've all heard about Leto's commitment to his role as Quinn's lover, the Joker. By now, it's no secret that he stayed in character and gave his co-stars sinister gifts (a live rat for Robbie; a handful of bullets for Smith). When he was absent from the set one day, he sent the cast a dead hog along with a video message as the Clown Prince of Crime.
All the hype and stories surrounding his villainous turn are somewhat embarrassing given how little screen time he has. Leto is in maybe six minutes of the film, and he doesn't leave a lasting impression. If you've seen the trailers, you've seen most of his performance. Beyond a menacing purr he makes when circling his prey, Leto doesn't do anything terribly memorable with the role.
The film is just as forgettable. Like so many action movies of late, Suicide Squad devolves into a blandly chaotic mess, which is disappointing considering it's written and directed by David Ayer, who delivered far more vivid, intense action in Fury and End of Watch. Those films never lose sight of the drama amid the destruction. And they feel more like labors of love.
Even after years in development hell, Suicide Squad feels half-hearted and unfinished — like a comic book sketch that hasn't been inked or colored.