Suicide Squad opens with the introduction of a secret prison for supervillains. Present among the inmates is hitman Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a psychopath completely devoted to The Joker (Jared Leto). Government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sticks a bomb into their necks and forces them to work for her in a secret team of bad guys meant to deal with metahuman threats. The team is then put into action for the very first time when a supernatural entity wreaks havoc in Midway City. These villains, under threat of death, are forced to play the part of the heroes.
Within the first ten minutes, the film manages to create a jarring clash of tones. It wants to be dark and fun and conventionally dramatic all at once, the first succession of scenes introducing a plethora of elements that don't quite fit together. Deadshot's first scene could come out of any other prison movie. Harley Quinn's introduction feels a lot more comic book-y. And Amanda Waller comes in, starting out with a voiceover that never returns, and then a series of flashbacks that quickly and broadly run a gamut of tones.
And then there’s the pop music. As if the shifts in tone weren’t jarring enough, the first three sequences are each scored with a distinct, recognizable pop song. And this is all just in the preamble. The film only gets messier as it starts to introduce its plot, which involves even more characters with their own backstories. The film gives off the impression of being really eager to please, throwing everything at the audience hoping that something will stick. It tries to funny and cool and dark and affecting, and it ends up being none of those things. It is a flashy piece of emptiness that seems painfully unsure of what it wants the audience to feel.
The film just needed to choose something, really. The film approaches every character differently. It doesn’t really feel like they’re all coming together to tell one story. They’re telling separate that just happen to be happening in proximity to each other. Deadshot’s uncomfortably dark quasi-redemption story clashes with Diablo’s genuine redemption story. Harley Quinn’s thrown-off mania doesn’t really mesh with anything else. She may as well be in a different movie with The Joker, one that might have the time to explore the relationship that it doesn’t just feel like it’s romanticizing abuse. And then there’s Amanda Waller, whose nefarious government workings don’t get the attention and the exploration that they really warrant.
The film needed a focus, and its barebones plot doesn’t cut it. It’s just a bunch of contrivances that hinges on the supposedly competent Waller being too stupid and callous to put an end to things before they really got out of hand. The production is all style and no substance. There are a couple of neat touches here and there, like a creepy transformation for one of the characters early on. But the action is murky and lacks impact. Its biggest moments feature the clunkiest VFX. The cast is hit-or-miss. Among the hits: Viola Davis’ Machiavellian Amanda Waller, Will Smith bringing his old swagger, and Margot Robbie making the best out of a thankless role. The misses: a horribly miscast Cara Delevingne, and Jared Leto getting off a little too much on playing The Joker.
Suicide Squad feels like it was designed to be DC’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy. It is a pop music-scored story of misfits basically forced into doing some good. At one point, it even uses one of the same songs in its soundtrack. But it’s a poor imitation. The pieces just don’t fit. The movie is trying so hard to be everything to everyone; to be an explosion of fanservice and mainstream market researched appeal and outsider cool. And it’s just none of those things. It’s just a mess.