Superhero fatigue? Warner Brothers and DC Comics have a remedy for that with “Suicide Squad,” filled with characters who are decidedly uninterested in heroics. “We’re bad guys,” sneers demented clown Harley Quinn, in case there was any question. Writer/director David Ayer and crew have delivered a refreshingly sarcastic and cynical slice of comic book mayhem, with just a drop of syrupy sweetness.
Based on the attention, you’d expect Jared Leto’s Joker to be the star of “Suicide Squad,” but that’s not the case, fortunately. A little bit of Leto’s hipster pimp Joker goes a very long way. The film assuredly belongs to Will Smith, whose pure star power eclipses everyone around him, and in his performance as Deadshot, a hit man who never misses, he owns both the emotional stakes and the humor of “Suicide Squad.”
A close second to Smith is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, the Joker’s misbegotten girlfriend, a psychiatrist who gained a sassy New Yawk accent and turned into a wild, nutty harlot after a dip in a toxic chemical bath. She’s fearlessly unhinged, strutting in stilettos, hot pants, swinging a baseball bat like a lost member of the Furies from “The Warriors,” somehow managing to make smeared clown makeup sexy.
The other Squad standouts are Jay Hernandez as Diablo, a gang member with a face full of tattoos and a fistful of fiery powers, and Jai Courtney as wild-man Aussie bank robber Boomerang. This is Courtney’s best role yet, one with actual personality, and Hernandez is a welcome presence back on the big screen.
Along with Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Slipknot (Adam Beach), this motley crew is pulled together by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) as Task Force X. The idea is to fight terrorist “meta-humans,” as superheroes are known in this world, with other meta-humans — the Diablos, Killer Crocs and other variously gifted, if morally corrupt loners. Waller puts soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) in charge, exploiting his vested interest in the protection of his girlfriend Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevigne), who’s possessed by an ancient witch, Enchantress.
When “Suicide Squad” is on, it’s very much on. But for all the promise of wild and wacky weirdness, it feels somehow smaller in scale than the colorful pop-art posters promise. The scope of the film is mostly limited to a deserted area of downtown Midway City, where the Squad battles with pesky supernatural forces looking to turn everything into dust. Alas, there are only so many world-ending sky vortexes we audiences can care about.
The gleefully anti-social squad feels hamstrung, relegated to dark, empty streets, battling faceless foes. You want to see them taunt the normals, like they do Flag’s men, and their dirtbag prison guard (Ike Barinholtz). Powered by the star power of Smith, Robbie, and the ferocious Davis, “Suicide Squad” has its inspired moments. The characters are the ultimate in “squad goals,” but they’re far more fun than the story itself.
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language. Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto. Director: David Ayer. Running time: 130 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21 (2D, 3D), Edwards 9 (2D, 3D), Edwards 14 (2D, 3D), Edwards 12 (2D, 3D), Majestic 18 (2D, 3D), Village Cinema, Terrace Drive-In.