Superheroes are usually asked only to save the world. Suicide Squad is expected to rescue an entire universe, the DC Comics startup still seeking its Big Bang after Batman v. Superman fizzled.
These antiheroes are unlikely guardians of DC's stunted galaxy, their greatest power being the ability to offer something different. Suicide Squad is certainly that. It's the garish swarm of colorfully twisted action that Batman v. Superman needed, the anarchic approach such timeworn superheroes deserve.
Suicide Squad characters aren't nearly as familiar, so writer-director David Ayer's movie is also messy, not entirely by design. Ayer's screenplay is burdened with origins story duties, and explaining so many characters while giving them violent things to do interrupts both processes. We don't know who all these people are, but what they do is medium cool.
DC's grand scheme is fashioning a superhero universe like Marvel's, to be cut and pasted to form franchises and collabos. Marvel has the Avengers; DC is slated to have the Justice League next year. Suicide Squad includes Easter egg appearances by the Flash, Aquaman and the like, plus an end credits clue to where the plan is heading.
Suicide Squad offers a few interesting game pieces for DC to move around, chiefly Margot Robbie's blithely psychotic Harley Quinn and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, a national security bulldog assembling a dirty half-dozen criminals for a mission. Between these disparate characters and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman stealing the spotlight in Batman v, Superman, DC is developing a strong feminist signature, more so than Marvel.
Amanda's search for disposable soldiers leads to a pair of compelling back stories: Deadshot (Will Smith) is a marksman missing his daughter, while the flame throwing skills of Diablo (Jay Hernandez) led to unspeakable tragedy. Both actors bring an uncommon ache to their antihero arcs. Add Harley's unhealthy obsession with the Joker (Jared Leto), and the remaining squad members strain for attention.
Meanwhile, Ayer shoves an unimpressive villain at viewers with Cara Delevingne's Enchantress, an emo witch with an army of charcoal briquette goons. The energy level noticeably sags with Enchantress on screen, spouting subtitled fantasy world gibberish, turning up the CGI nonsense.
A better move for Ayer would be giving Leto's Joker more time for menace, although the performance wouldn't stand up to the additional scrutiny. The only Joker portrayal Leto clearly surpasses is Cesar Romero's; Jack Nicholson's and Heath Ledger's survivors have little to worry about. However, more Joker would mean more Harley, and Robbie's damaged sex kitten is a franchise (and a Halloween costume) waiting to happen.
Suicide Squad isn't a typical next step in universe building, but it's all DC has going for it right now. Ayer's movie will make a lot of money, but in the black hole of comic geekdom he won't make many friends.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.