It’s no secret that DC Comics has been having an awful lot of trouble establishing a decent foothold in a cinematic universe of their own. Their previous attempts have included films like the divisive “Man of Steel,” which wasn’t all bad, but fell apart in its second half with an overload of never-ending action sequences, and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a disastrous and gloomy effort that tried to bring the two titans together on the big screen. For their latest attempt, they’ve recruited writer/director David Ayer (“Fury,” “End of Watch”) and shifted the focus a bit so that we’re not focused on the heroes, but rather the villains, who are brought together to put their talent to use and save the world. There certainly needed to be some kind of shakeup in order to help get DC into the game, but is this enough to finally establish their presence?
As the film opens, we watch as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) tries to sell her idea of putting together a team of villains (“Task Force X”) to use as a countermeasure should a Superman-like being decide to commit acts of terror. After some convincing, her request is granted, thereby recruiting several inmates at a “Black Site” prison in Louisiana. The team includes Deadshot (Will Smith), a gun expert who never misses, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a rough nutcase, Boomerang (Jai Courtney), who’s deadly with said weapon, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who is actually part crocodile, and Diablo (Jay Hernandez), who can summon fire as a weapon. They are joined by an assigned leader, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and a little backup in the form of Katana (Karen Fukuhara), an expert with her soul-stealing sword.
When a mysterious being known as The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) threatens to take over the world with her brother, the team is called into action. With tiny explosives implanted in them for insured cooperation, they first set out to rescue an unnamed person of importance, but soon find themselves with the even more important job of having to go up against a pair of incredibly powerful entities that will stop at nothing in their quest for global domination.
First and foremost, it must be said that this was one of my most anticipated films of the year. Ever since the idea was first announced and the first footage was released, it seemed like it would make for a great film, or at the very least, a fun and entertaining one. This is what makes it extremely painful to have to say that the film is a heartbreaking disappointment in several ways, from the overcrowded cast of characters to the uninspired and undeveloped villains to the bland action sequences to the half-baked story.
Starting from the top, just from the synopsis, you can see that we are dealing with a multitude of characters here, and while they may have been working on the idea that more would be merrier, it only serves to work against the entire film. Ayer, who penned the screenplay, does his best to work in as many backstories as he’s able to, but all it ends up doing is making the first half of the film feel like it’s all over the place, and what’s worse, the characters still come off as extremely flat, undeveloped, and uninteresting. If we’re supposed to be rooting for these guys, or at least having a little fun with them, this is an area that needed a lot of attention so that the connection between the characters and audience could be established. Otherwise, we’re just watching a bunch of villains that we don’t care about doing things that we don’t care about.
As far as the film’s actual antagonists go, we are barely given a shred of information about The Enchantress and her brother, other than the fact that they have been around a while and are very powerful. With as little info as this, they become nothing but stand-ins for where a real villain should be (very similar to the way Apocalypse was treated in the most recent “X-Men” film, or the bland Krall in “Star Trek Beyond”). When it comes time for the big third-act confrontation at the end, we’re left with nothing but indifference for both sides.
Of course, when it comes to villains we have to talk a little about The Joker, as his appearance was one of the main reasons that this was such a highly-anticipated film. Alas, we also have to add Jared Leto’s appearance as the infamous Clown Prince of Crime as one of the film’s negative elements. For starters, his screentime for the entire film is probably no more than ten minutes, which doesn’t leave him nearly enough time to make any kind of impact. However, even if he had more time than that, it’s doubtful Leto’s Joker would have been able to do so anyway. In a completely shocking twist, his interpretation of the villain comes to nothing more than sounding drunk in every scene he’s in, instead of acting like the villainous sociopath he’s meant to be. It’s understandable that he wanted to differentiate himself from the great performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, but this was definitely not the way to go.
Finally, we have a story that was apparently not thought about all the way through. It was a great idea to put together a team of villains to go on a mission, but it’s the latter part of this that Ayer ends up having a lot of trouble with. His screenplay gives them little more to do than act goofy and battle the same rock creatures over and over again, which not only gives us a dull narrative, but also action sequences that elicit sigh after sigh as we wait for further development for both the characters and the story. Looking back over the entire film, we can see that Ayer has a lot of trouble with not only structure (i.e. trying to fit all of these various characters into one film), but writing in general, for the film is very uneventful, which is detrimental for a comic book outing that is supposed to be exciting and engrossing.
As you can tell by this point, the film has a plethora of problems, but if I had to pick out something about the film that actually worked, it would be that Margot Robbie did a fine job as Harley Quinn. She was just as nutty as she was supposed to be, and was by far the most intriguing character in the mix. The film also comes with a decent bit of humor (something that was added in after the fact due to the negative reactions to the overly-somber tone of “Batman v Superman”), which provided a few good chuckles. I wish I could say that there was more than this to enjoy, but sadly, there’s just so much about the film that doesn’t work, which just smothers everything else. As I said, this is a film I wanted to walk away loving, but with it being broken in so many ways, all that can really be said is that it represents another major strike for DC Comics. 1.5/4 stars.
Starts tomorrow night in theaters everywhere.
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