Suicide Squad review: “the cast is game but this wobbly walk on the wild side is not going to challenge Marvel”

DC's supervillains come out to slay but even Jared Leto's Joker or Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn can't save this comic-book take on The Dirty Dozen

114122

★★

Never mind the good, only the bad and the ugly get into this squad. With DC Comics’ premier superteam the Justice League (Batman, Wonder Woman, et al) not debuting on the big screen until 2017, it’s the supervillains who get to do their stuff after the world-shaking events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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However, that’s not their choice. Initially, Batman baddies Deadshot (Will Smith), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), along with Aussie thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and pyrokinetic gangster Diablo (Jay Hernandez), are rotting away in a high-security prison overseen by government hardass Amanda Waller (a quietly menacing Viola Davis) and right-hand military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). It’s only when poor old Midway City comes under mystical attack that the fearsome felons are press-ganged into service via remote-controlled bombs in the neck á la Escape from New York.

John Carpenter’s cult 1981 movie does cross your mind when these reluctant saviours try to survive crashing in a deserted metropolis awash with the murderous minions of their adversary. However, these blob-headed minions also resemble something from an old Doctor Who episode and are not much of a threat to the costumed psychos, especially when bludgeoned by Harley’s baseball bat.

Sadly, that’s not the only problem with DC’s latest attempt to keep up with the Marvel Universe. The origins of the squad members appear willy-nilly, and so by the time the team is briefed and costumed for action, nearly half the film has gone and you still feel disconnected from the felons, their backstory and the mission.

A few brief exchanges early on and a pause for a drink at a bar amid the mayhem allow some banter and character chemistry to develop. But then it’s on to the next shoot-‘em up and a climax involving “a swirling ring of trash in the sky” which has become all-too-familiar thanks to not-dissimilar endings in Age of Ultron and X-Men: Apocalypse.

It’s a pity because the cast is undoubtedly game, with Smith’s hitman and Robbie’s coquettish but manic blonde bombshell getting the lion’s share of screen time. The first movie depiction of Harley Quinn, the psychiatrist-turned-girlfriend of the Joker, has been eagerly anticipated for years, and Robbie certainly does justice to the role, even briefly wearing the character’s classic Harlequin costume from her comic-book debut in 1992.

However, Jared Leto’s punkish Joker (all gold teeth and tattoos) appears in such short bursts, it would be unfair to judge his feral popinjay of a Clown Prince against Heath Ledger’s indelible turn in The Dark Knight.

Director David Ayer’s pedigree is undeniable, too, with grittily intense dramas like Fury, End of Watch and Harsh Times to his credit. As with a Martin Scorsese film, Ayer uses great songs on the soundtrack – the Animals (House of the Rising Sun), the Rolling Stones (Sympathy for the Devil), Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody) – to channel the mood but then a typically portentous score soon takes over.

Let’s be straight: I’m no Marvel acolyte keen to dump on the DC movie universe, but, with a heavy heart, this wobbly walk on the wild side is not going to challenge Marvel’s way with a comic-book blockbuster. Not because it’s lacking the humour that seams into Marvel’s hits, but because it hasn’t married the content to a coherent script that allows characters to breathe and converse while delivering action and suspense that grow out of the narrative.

The fact that Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash pop up, only goes to show this disappointing, cluttered attempt at a new franchise is merely another stepping stone to next year’s Justice League.

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Suicide Squad is in cinemas from Friday 5th August