Superhero fatigue? Warner Bros. and DC Comics remedies that with “Suicide Squad,” filled with characters uninterested in heroics. “We’re bad guys,” demented clown Harley Quinn sneers, in case there was any question. Writer/director David Ayer and crew deliver a refreshingly sarcastic and cynical slice of comic book mayhem, with just a drop of syrupy sweetness.
Based on the advance publicity, you’d expect Jared Leto’s Joker to be the star of “Suicide Squad,” but that’s not the case, fortunately. A bit of Leto’s hipster pimp Joker goes a long way. The film belongs to Will Smith, whose 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 is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, the Joker’s misbegotten girlfriend, a psychiatrist who turned nutty harlot after a dip in a toxic chemical bath. She’s fearlessly unhinged, strutting in stilettos and hot pants, 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 Aussie bank robber Boomerang. This is Courtney’s best role yet, one with actual personality.
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 gifted, if morally corrupt, loners. She 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. The soundtrack rips with classic rock and hip hop, and Harley and Deadshot keep the quips and clips firing on all cylinders. But for all the promise of wacky weirdness, it feels 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 pesky supernatural forces looking to turn everything to dust. Alas, there are only so many world-ending sky vortexes that film audiences can care about.
The gleefully antisocial 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. But the characters are far more fun than the story itself.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language. 2:10. 3D only: Georgetown. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill. 2D only: Winchester.