Warner Bros latest DC Comics adaptation takes us once again to the dark side, but what else would you expect from a movie called Suicide Squad? Actually, based on the studio’s rather bright, very colorful advertising campaign, I thought this might be more along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it doesn’t have that Marvel hit’s sense of fun. Which is fine.

deadline-review-badge-pete-hammond

As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this is more akin to the spirit of movies like The Dirty Dozen or The Magnificent Seven (which has its own update coming out next month). The humor here — and there are some laughs along the way — is more of the psychotic brand, predictable considering the characters involved.

I love the premise, and writer-director David Ayer’s tendency to go dark works pretty well, even if the story lacks gravitas and spark, particularly in comparison to the year’s best comic book movie, Deadpool. This is a super-serious director who has done some of my favorite films of the past few years including Fury and End of Watch. He also wrote 2001’s terrific Training Day, which won Denzel Washington an Oscar for going to the bad side. That film was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who happens to be behind the new version of The Magnificent Seven starring Washington. Ayer has beaten him to the punch with a similar premise, though in this case all of these recruits are supervillains straight out of the Belle Reve Federal Penitentiary, brought together to fight an even more villainous force, if that is possible. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a U.S. intelligence officer who concocts a deadly mission against evil forces triggered by some sort of ancient witch we learn is called the Enchantress. But her heart is in the possession of Waller, or something like that. Complicating matters, she invades the soul of June Moone (both parts are played by Cara Delevingne), the girlfriend — or is it girlfiend? — of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who reluctantly takes charge of Waller’s mission.

SUICIDE SQUAD
Warner Bros.

All of this is just gravy for the real center of this film, which is the badass crew set back on the streets to right a wrong. Putting a bunch of villainous figures out there is the secret sauce and what makes Suicide Squad fun on its own terms. These villains are bad, yes , but not inherently evil. Each is given a distinct backstory in the film’s first half as they are individually recruited (a la Magnificent Seven and its predecessor Seven Samurai). The titular head is Deadshot (Will Smith), but the real star attraction is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the unhinged girlfriend of the Joker (Jared Leto). She is the one who is consistently watchable throughout, a gonzo spirit that Australian Robbie runs with. Others include Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Slipknot (Adam Beach), Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). With such a lesser-known bunch of anti-heroes (the “Worst. Heroes. Ever.” as marketing materials suggest), it was smart to bring in the Joker, who disappointingly is underused. I’d be surprised if he has 20 minutes of total screen time, but Leto makes him tick even with the memories of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning later interpretation burning in our brain. He’s even more psychotic than what they did, and that makes him amusing to follow here. But he isn’t quite the menacing presence the film could use to separate the bad guys from the really bad guys.

Smith is fine, but Deadshot’s reason for cooperating with Waller’s suicide mission — for the sake of his daughter — give him too treacly a motivation. Apart from the marvelous Robbie, Davis is the strongest of this wild bunch of characters, a take-no-prisoners woman who does indeed take these prisoners and molds them into her own twisted machine. She has great onscreen rapport as well with Kinnaman’s Col. Flag, who would rather send in the Navy SEALs than deal with Waller. Oh, and right, one other immortal DC star is around: That would be Batman (Ben Affleck), who turns up fleetingly in the first half, reminding us all how super-serious Batman v Superman was. Some critics are likely to pounce on this film in the same way they did on that March release. The Flash supposedly is in here somewhere too, but apparently he went by in a flash, for me at least. A word of warning: Do not leave once the end credits start or you will miss a key scene.

Producers are Charles Roven and Richard Suckle. Zack Snyder is one of the executive producers, and you can see his influence all over Suicide Squad. Thankfully it is better than Sucker Punch. Warner Bros releases the film Friday, and it looks to be huge.

Do you plan to see Suicide Squad?  Let us know what you think.