Shortly after the first wave of Suicide Squad reviews were published, a report emerged describing the turmoil behind the scenes of the latest DC Comics blockbuster. It revealed that Warner Bros hired the same team that put together the trailer for David Ayer's supervillain team-up tale, to produce the final product. It shows.
There's nothing wrong with making a movie about (at best) B or C-tier comic book villains teaming up to defeat a greater threat, but it's a difficult proposition. There's certainly potential in a story about bad versus evil, but in it you're asking an audience to sympathise with characters designed in many ways to be irredeemable, and that's not easily done.
Suicide Squad does half-achieve this with three of its characters in the film's best scene, but it takes most of the film to get there and by then it's basically too late.
The story begins Viola Davis' black ops mastermind Amanda Waller introducing us to the 'Task Force X' she wants to assemble. Will Smith's Deadshot and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn get top billing here, fronting a diverse crew of misfits including Jay Hernandez's fire-spinning Diablo, Jai Courtney's self-explanatory Captain Boomerang and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's sewer-dwelling cannibal Killer Croc.
They're led by Joel Kinnaman's battle-hardened soldier Rick Flagg to stop a couple of ancient beings who, in the grand tradition of lazy superhero movie plotting, are creating a CGI portal in the sky with an ill-defined purpose that just causes a lot of destruction and looks dramatic.
One of those ancient beings is called Enchantress. She's possessed Cara Delevinge's archaeologist June Moone, who also happens to be the love of Flagg's life. Enchantress is described as a witch from another dimension, and she's here to resurrect her brother and claim back her heart, which Waller keeps in a briefcase.
So yeah, the plot is nonsense, but at least it manages to follow a straight forward path. Both villains are awful – Delevinge relegated to a gurning face on a CG body, booming supervillain clichés while her computer generated sibling stomps around looking unconvincing. They're a plain and boring threat.
Facing them is a rag-tag group of characters sure to inspire many a cosplayer at the next major nerd gathering. Individually they have potential as at least a functional part of the better movie that is certainly in here somewhere.
The first half of the film is an insufferable mess, with characters introduced and reintroduced several times over, the film cutting from scene to scene to scene allowing no establishment of any particular character except Davis' Waller, who's only there to spout expository dialogue – albeit it well.
As the team is assembled and set to task, you're left wondering who you're meant to be rooting for. Of course, it's meant to be the colourful team of recognisable characters, but at this point there's been no effort to have them connect with the audience in some way. Even Flagg, whose character could have been the most virtuous, is just plain unlikeable. Waller is an evil unto herself, pitched between the Suicide Squad and non-descript antagonists.
Then there's Jared Leto's Joker, but he barely factors into the film, only sharing screen time with Harley Quinn and impacting the story just once, in a scene with little consequence that depicts Batman's greatest foe as an inept Looney Toons villain. But at least that's in-keeping with Leto's performance, which essentially amounts to him doing an amalgamated Joker impression rather than creating an interpretation of the character he could define.
So until two-thirds of the way through you're wondering why you should care about anything happening on screen, then there's the bar scene. Here the characters interact, and finally seem halfway human. We get to learn more about Diablo and the evil acts of his tragic past; we see the side of Deadshot that wants to be there for his daughter but can't reconcile how much he loves his job as a hitman; and then there's Harley Quinn, whose genuine love for The Joker makes her sympathetic.
It's the kind of humanity that this film needed sooner and which each DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film has desperately needed to date. It's remarkable that characters like Harley Quinn, Deadshot and El Diablo are more relatable than Superman in this cinematic universe – but that's where we are. They're aided by good performances from genuine, enigmatic movie stars Smith and Robbie - whose chemistry creates a surprisingly effective friendship. It's a shame that Robbie's performance is undermined by the leering male-gaze of the camera. Of the support cast it's Hernandez who makes the biggest impression. He makes Diablo work in the way the film wishes all its lesser-known characters had.
These signs of life don't save the film however, as after the bar scene we hurtle towards a finale that is little more than another hollow fight against computer generated threats.
The DCEU is attempting to recreate the success of Marvel's cinematic universe, but in its attempts Warner Bros has completely failed to see why things have worked out so well for its rival. Warner clearly sees Suicide Squad as its answer to Marvel's surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy, but in doing so much to dilute director David Ayer's potential vision it has missed a vital ingredient in Marvel's success – trusting unique filmmakers.
Instead, we get a Guardians-style pop soundtrack obnoxiously crowbarred in so Warner Bros can sell a few records, and a film cut like a trailer because the studio no longer has faith in the man it entrusted. There's a decent film somewhere in here, but it's buried under a ton of studio notes and messy filmmaking.
Rubbish, but not complete rubbish, making it something of a return to form.