From DC Comics comes the Suicide Squad, an antihero team of incarcerated supervillains who act as deniable assets for the United States government, undertaking high-risk black ops missions in exchange for commuted prison sentences.

At least the trailer was good.

“What happens if the next Superman becomes a terrorist?”

That is the Serious Question put to us early on in the new DC Comics ensemble action drama, Suicide Squad. It’s a curly one to be sure, but we’ve ventured far enough into the comic book franchise universe by now to understand that Suicide Squad won’t be the kind of film that both asks and answers its own questions. Leave it to a future instalment to address the prospect of a politically radicalised ‘extra-dimensional entity’ (like that prefaced in a fleeting flash forward sequence within Suicide Squad’s predecessor, the gloomy Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice); this is the type of film where the central villain turns good people bad with a kiss. 

Suicide Squad picks up a few months after the events depicted in BvS:DoJ. With America down a superhero, ruthless high-ranking government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) fronts up to a Situation Room full of uniforms to pitch a novel strategy – one that’s commensurate with the darker impulses of the DC universe and/or these uncertain times. Her proposed solution to the glaring lack of a Last Line of Defence is to strong arm a group of metahuman menaces to society, and unleash them upon America’s multiplying enemies.

A renegade shapeshifter (Cara Delevigne) provides Waller with just cause to establish her quasi-independent black-ops program, and she sets about lifting the latches on the cells, cages and hermetically sealed cooling tanks that are containing her chosen group of mega-mutants. They are: baseball-wielding romantic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie); sharp-shooter single dad Deadshot (Will Smith); bank-robbing ocker Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney); repentant arsonist Diablo (Jay Hernandez); a Killer Croc with next-to-no backstory and even less dialogue (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje); and a late recruit, a grieving blade warrior Katana (Karen Fukuhara). They’re each introduced with an obvious ‘mood-matching’ music cue from the likes of Rick James, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, The White Stripes etc. 

Writer/director David Ayer (Fury) devotes the film’s first hour to telling us how bad these crazy mofos are (“the most dangerous people on the planet”; “bad guys”; “worst of the worst”), but then spends the next hour (…and 10 minutes) trying in vain to make good on the promise. Once unshackled from their Hannibal Lector-like cages, they’re a pretty orderly bunch of killer crazies. They very quickly fall into line behind their assigned G-man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, in a role not too dissimilar to his model neo-con from House of Cards). One uninspired sequence reveals the team’s squad goals to be drearily conventional, and the most they ever cut loose from ‘the mission’ is engaging in low-level looting (Harley lifts a Chanel handbag) and fixing themselves a sneaky cocktail.

Margot Robbie’s knowing performance is too good for a movie that doesn't attempt to know her. She plays a Vicki Vale-type transformed by toxic chemicals/toxic love into a spunky psycho. She rises above terrible dialogue (“That’s a killer app!”) and earns the film’s lone moment of empathy amidst the mayhem. Still, I could live without the reaction shot Ayer slips in, of the guys elbowing each other as they ogle Robbie’s hungry bum hotpants – it’s the filmed equivalent of that god-awful Vanity Fair profile of Robbie from a few weeks ago. (And on the subject of things the movie could do without: having a brute punch a woman in the face. Twice.)

Robbie runs rings around her “Puddin”, The Joker; in that role, Jared Leto plays to the back row during every second he’s on screen (happily it’s only a few scenes). Will Smith sticks to familiar territory as an honest rogue, who refuses to wear his mask because it makes “bad things happen” (such as depriving the world the sight of Will Smith’s moneymaker, presumably). Delevigne spends most of her ample screen time pacing her lair in an updated version of Leia’s slave bikini, and waiting for the good-bad guys to show up and pull the plug on her dangerous whirly lightshow in the sky. The rest of the time she's the weeping victim of a body snatcher, in another of the movie's warped lady problems.  

Coming to cinemas mere months after the funereal BvS:DoJ, Suicide Squad positioned itself as the former’s aggressively upbeat wake, complete with a ready made mixtape soundtrack and a ‘get busy living’ mantra for a cast of oddballs confronting past wrongs. An onslaught of advance ‘activated’ messaging promised a ‘fresh’ assault on the dark DC Universe – in much the same way that Deadpool tried to ‘subvert’ rival Marvel’s mould, kind of (don’t @ me). It baited you to turn your frown upside down. Why so serious? Go Nuts. Crack some skulls. Problem is, after a flashy start that plays like The Expendables on (more) steroids - and a nice neck-weapon nod to Escape From New York, Suicide Squad abandons its individuality to fulfil its duty to the wider franchise. It overcomplicates a simple plot by plonking in franchise-friendly breadcrumbs (oh, here’s where I’m probably meant to tell you to stay to the end of the credits), and kills its early buzz with uninventive, repetitive call backs to its characters’ past tragedies as a shortcut to empathy.

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2 hours 10 min
In Cinemas 03 August 2016,