Have you not heard? The DC universe is "darker" than its primary-coloured Marvel equivalent. All those who endured the murky sludge that was Batman V Superman will attest that this is literally so. The masters of this universe are, however, keener to stress the spiritual "darkness" at their films' cores. Is Suicide Squad "dark" in the manner of Endgame or Cries and Whispers? Not so much. Picture a heavy metal bar in suburban Duluth and you'll get some sense of the generic Goth aesthetic. How creaky is this approach? Do they so lack imagination as to play Sympathy for the Devil over the opening credits? Count on it, sister.
The scenario for the original comic looks to have been culled from The Dirty Dozen. Viola Davis, one of our greatest living actors, brings unnecessary class to the role of ruthless government wonk Amanda Waller. Following the funeral of Superman (because he's, like, dead and won't ever be coming back, right?), the planet has fallen into a state of chaos. Waller has a plan: she will bring together the nastiest super-villains in custody and, offering them some clemency, form the "darkest" of all crime-fighting teams.
It’s hard to think of a film whose opening third has been so swallowed up with exposition. Waller takes the top brass to a nice restaurant and begins talking them (and us) through the vast Dramatis personæ. Each hyper-being possesses a special talent, a globule of humanising back-story and a name more suited to a Mexican wrestler. So, Deadshot (Will Smith) is an expert marksman who cares very much for his young daughter. El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), able to summon fire, appears to have immolated his own family. Boomerang (Jai Courtney) throws magic boomerangs. Pancakeman has waffle irons for hands. Okay, I made the last one up, but such a being would not be out of place beside the Crocodile Man and the female samurai whose sword captures her victims’ souls (or something).
It’s scarcely possible for anybody not already soaked in this stuff to take in all the information. It’s like being stuck at a bad fancy dress party with a host who insists on introducing you to every one of his guests.
The most charismatic, played by Margot Robbie at full pelt, is a charming psychopath named Harley Quinn. Her special power is that she owns a baseball bat. Her humanising globule is an inexplicable affection for The Joker (Jared Leto). Objectified in contemporary comic-book fashion – while the men are all decently covered up, she is dressed like a sex worker at a truck stop – Robbie somehow manages to make the character fizzle. The Australian spits out more carnival energy than a whole tent-full of drugged-up clowns.
Leto cannot boast so much. It has been reported that the recent Oscar winner, now 44 years old, sent "sticky" porn magazines and a dead pig to fellow cast-members when preparing for the role. This middle-aged actor also stayed "in character" when not delivering his lines as the mad jester. For what? The extended cameo turns out to be everything you'd expect from a 1980s soap-star playing Captain Hook in panto at the Barnsley Empire: all extended vowels and erratic phrasings. You never caught Caesar Romero gift-wrapping a dead pig.
Anyway, for all the silly "darkness", Suicide Squad does prove to be more fun than either of the preceding DC films. David Ayer, director of the rough-hewn Harsh Times and End of Watch, doesn't stint in the staging of set-pieces to stunningly obvious rock; Seven Nation Army, Paranoid, Fortunate Son and Spirit in the Sky are just a few of the juke-box regulars unearthed. The wisecracks often hit the mark. The heralded guest appearances by Batman and The Flash zip by without dragging down the momentum.
Indeed, Suicide Squad is perfectly tolerable until its closing half hour, at which point Cara Delevingne, playing some sort of witch, unleashes many levels of boring computer-generated chaos on a blameless city. It's very much what you'd expect from the denouement of a bad Ghostbusters movie. But those films are breezier comedies. This is "dark". Do you hear? Wipe that smile off your face when you laugh at it.