Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn Is A Better Joker Than Jared Leto In Suicide Squad

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Suicide Squad opens Aug 5, 2016.

What a drag it must be for DC Comics and their parent company, Warner Brothers, to constantly be chasing Marvel. Oh sure, DC is currently showing up in the top 10 of comic book title sales, but only because at their core, most collectors are obsessive compulsive individuals. Every five years, when DC relaunches their comic universe and throws continuity out the window, many ardent fans take to the internet chatroom and social media outlets, throw a fit about DC doesn’t respect their audience (and they don’t, but that’s another story) and still go out and buy all of the first issues of the new comics line every five years. So while their sales are up, their brand loyalty and consumer confidence are not close to what it should be. Marvel makes mistakes too, yes, but they’re often stories that just missed their mark for whatever reason, and they haven’t built their business model around a cycle of planned irrelevancy. Likewise, Warner Brothers chases Marvel’s ownership group, the mighty Disney Corporation, whose worst house-produced superhero film (ie: not a film by Sony, Fox, etc.) in terms of box office draw was 2008’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK, which still brought in over a quarter of a billion dollars. For my money, that film is underrated. Marvel launched their “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” a tightly cohesive cinematic endeavor, in 2008 and has basically printed their own cash ever since. Warner Brothers finally stopped screwing around with overrated Christopher Nolan DARK KNIGHT films to formally launch their own DC Cinematic Universe in 2013 with the less-than-super MAN OF STEEL film. The same team of director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer returned with this year’s BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, or as I call it, “ISHTAR 2016.”

Now Warner Brothers is attempting to keep up their forward if not exactly positive momentum with SUICIDE SQUAD, based on the concept originally launched in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD but best known as the antihero/villain team-up concept created by writer John Ostrander. The roster revolved almost constantly through the years, so Warner Brothers had their pick of D-list characters to choose from. For the most part, writer/director David Ayer (STREET KINGS, END OF WATCH, FURY) did a good job with the cast. The team is put together by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a sociopathic defense planner who believes the only way to effectively deal with neck-breaking aliens and their messiah complexes is to have a team of super-powered psychopaths at the government’s beck and call. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is put in charge of the team—he’s not powered, just a loyal soldier. Floyd Lawton (Will Smith) is Deadshot, the most lethal assassin on the planet. Aussie villain Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) is a foe of The Flash who uses a variety of gimmicked boomerangs as weapons (big surprise there, eh, mate?). El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a pyrokinetic barrio gangbanger. Cara Delevingne is June Moone, Col. Flag’s girlfriend who is possessed by an ancient enchantress imaginatively named The Enchantress. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) is Flag’s bodyguard, though she’s better known in the comics for being a regular in the Outsiders team more than a Suicide Squad type. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaja) is a former professional wrestler with a skin condition that gives him a human crocodile-like appearance. Character actor David Harbour, who just hit it big with the Netflix smash hit STRANGER THINGS, also makes an appearance.

And then there’s the Odd Couple. Will Smith might be the biggest name in the film (which is clearly beneath an actor of his caliber though he doesn’t phone it in), but the fans are going to be going to the theaters primarily for The Joker (Jared Leto) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). This, as far as casting goes, is both the film’s biggest hit and biggest miss. The Joker is simply unnecessary as part of the plot, and would have been better utilized in flashbacks to flesh out Harley. On a scale of Cesar Romero to Mark Hamill (still the best Joker ever), Leto’s Marilyn Manson-like appearance and grating characterization rank somewhere below Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze but still decently ahead of Jesse Eisenberg’s ridiculous Lex Luthor (and yes, I realize neither role belongs on a scale of Jokers…and neither does this one). Leto, a method actor, reportedly did a good amount of research into the criminally insane, but his performance just never clicked. Margot Robbie, on the other hand, steals the show from her costar Smith, whom she showed good chemistry with in last year’s FOCUS. She is perfect as Harley, and that’s not a word I throw around lightly when discussing DC or WB. The character actually originated on the much beloved BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES more than 20 years ago and original voice actress Arleen Sorkin should be proud to see her legacy in such capable hands.

The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, with Jay Hernandez being a nice surprise for me as El Diablo and Jai Courtney being so forgettable as Captain Boomerang that I’ve had to look him up twice already to see who played such a non-contributing part. Hernandez gave El Diablo enough tragic nuance to make that character much more interesting than the rest of the background players. I just wish Ayer’s script gave El Diablo more to do than literally stand around and watch everyone else fight until he finally gets in the game during the big boss fight. Maybe WB should give comics scribe and El Diablo co-creator Jai Nitz (with artist Phil Hester) a crack at the screenplay for the presumably inevitable sequel.

I suppose some of you readers might be curious about the plot. To avoid spoilers, I’ll give you a comparison instead: SUICIDE SQUAD is The Expendables with superpowers but with less retro-cool star power. ‘Nuff said? Good. I will also mention that Ben Affleck has a couple of cameos both in and out of the bat costume while that murdering Kryptonian isn’t anywhere to be found, thankfully. The script is chocked full of bad dialogue (the one-liners aren’t funny, not a single one of them) and plot holes you could drive a Batmobile through, and the film is overlong though not as excruciatingly tedious as DAWN OF JUSTICE was. It just would have benefitted by a lot less Joker. If you have Batman showing up, however briefly, you don’t need Joker to sell tickets. Heck, that’s Will Smith’s job, and he does the best he can with such a hodgepodge script. At least the special effects were better than WB’s ill-fated GREEN LANTERN debacle.

If you were expecting a DC team version of the delightfully irreverent DEADPOOL, you should just go Redbox DEADPOOL again and save yourself the disappointment. If you’re looking for a decent, brainless blow ‘em up and an excuse to munch popcorn, you could do worse. You could do DAWN OF JUSTICE again. SUICIDE SQUAD won’t redeem Warner Brothers for that dreck, but in a year with just a handful of really good movies and a whole lot of garbage, I guess I’ll take it. If you cut Joker out I’d even tolerate a sequel. I’d enthusiastically greenlight a two-picture deal for Margot Robbie to lead a couple of standalone Harley Quinn movies, right now. I wish Will Smith took meatier roles more often but the chemistry he and Robbie share right now will probably lead this very average action flick to a decent box office total this weekend.

Grade: 
2.5 / 5.0