Dark but hopelessly convoluted, ‘Squad’ is half a good movie


The ‘Se7en’-like mania of Jared Leto as the Joker, matched with Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, are reason enough to see ‘Suicide Squad.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

As much as we (properly) complain that Hollywood has turned into a factory of pre-sold cartoon-based blockbusters without any original stories, you have to say: If that’s what you’re gonna do, then do it up right. And frankly, the summer of 2016 has been a disappointment. Last summer produced 10 films with grosses over $150 mil; 2014 managed 11. So far this year? Four, and two are about fish and domesticated animals. (Worse: Few have deserved their riches. Last year gave us Fury Road; this year we get Independence Day 2.) Wither the worthy blockbuster?

For about the first half of Suicide Squad, it looked as if the Hollywood Hit Machine had finally caught its second wind. DC might finally begin to catch up with Marvel in creating a cinematic universe meriting brand loyalty. We’re introduced to a rogues gallery of bad guys, recruited as a kind of superhuman SWAT team: Can’t-miss assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), mentally unstable coquette Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), human flame-thrower El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and a few more whose backstories we rush through.

There’s also a scientist possessed by an ancient witch known as the Enchantress, whose split personality comes out whenever bad-ass black ops queen Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) taunts her. When the Enchantress goes commando, and threatens the world with her magic, the Suicide Squad gets enlisted to tamp her down. And trust me: That is the most cogent description you’ll get of this plot.

It’s a shame, because the movie has a lot of energy and style until it goes off the reservation. I could spend an hour exploring the Enchantress and her eerie abilities alone, but writer-director David Ayer (who tends toward bombast when a few quiet moments of exposition might suffice) dives much too quickly into the action. There’s no time to absorb the arc of the plot because we’re constantly flashing back and forth, providing character history and motivation. And when it comes down to it, why, exactly, were these villains tapped for this task force? Frankly, El Diablo looks like he could handle the threats from meta-humans single-handedly. (“What exactly does Harley Quinn do?” I overheard someone say as we filed out.)

But despite spatial, plot and pacing problems, I wouldn’t discourage people from watching Suicide Squad. Robbie’s bat-shit crazy sex appeal meshes well with Jared Leto’s insane, Se7en-like mania as the Joker. If only we got more screen time with him. But that’s certainly what the inevitable sequels are for. That’s where we are in film these days: Always hoping that the next one will be better.

Now playing in wide release.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2016.