'Suicide Squad' has all the pieces, but it can't fit them together (spoiler-free review)

An A-list cast, top-notch soundtrack and cameos from DC comics heavy hitters should be a recipe for success, but "Suicide Squad" is less than the sum of its parts.

Luke Lancaster Associate Editor / Australia
Luke Lancaster is an Associate Editor with CNET, based out of Australia. He spends his time with games (both board and video) and comics (both reading and writing).
Luke Lancaster
3 min read
Watch this: 'Suicide Squad' flops for fan and first-timer alike

Director David Ayer faced a monumental task in bringing Task Force X, aka the Suicide Squad, to the big screen. The supervillains who make up the squad are brought together to earn time off their prison sentences by completing do-or-die black ops missions for a shady government organisation. Following up "Batman v Superman" -- possibly the two most famous superheroes in history -- with an ensemble of unknown DC supervillains was a bold choice for the fledgling DC cinematic universe.

And on paper, it's all there. An impressive cast including Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Ben Affleck and Viola Davis. An enviable soundtrack teased in the extensive marketing campaign. A few fan favourite characters making their debut. A returning Batman. A new Joker.

You'll see every one of those things in the first 10 minutes, and therein lies the problem with "Suicide Squad". The messy first act sets the machine-gun pace for the rest of the movie, moving impatiently between character introductions and plot points. The moment-to-moment cuts, soundtrack and thin plot make "Suicide Squad" feel more like a 2-hour trailer than a feature-length film. It leaves you reeling from one moment to the next, with never enough time to take anything in.

Will Smith puts in an admirable turn as Deadshot, the hitman with a heart of gold. While it's well-trod ground, his relationship with his daughter brings some much-needed emotional depth to the story. Likewise, Jay Hernandez plays a tortured El Diablo who helps slow things down a little.

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Leto's Joker plays up the crazy in his brief screen time.

Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

Margot Robbie is an uneven Harley Quinn, short-changed by some questionable plot choices that leave her more ditz than antihero. The portrayal of her relationship with the Joker will also leave fans cold, especially those familiar with the character's more recent comic book incarnations.

Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang is a breakout favourite, but even he falls flat too often. Arrested after "robbing every bank in Australia" (that's about 14,700 -- I looked it up) and armed with an unexplained stuffed unicorn, he's comic relief. But the slapdash pacing leaves him with nothing to relieve.

Despite being underused, Affleck's Batman and Jared Leto's new take on the Joker overshadow the rest of the cast. They're the major players in a world that these characters only get to visit, and that doesn't feel deliberate.

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Smith's Deadshot does his best to bring some heart to the film.

Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

The fun moments and quotable-if-cliched gags are certainly still to be found. You'll be calling out specific scenes after the credits roll, but that's more down to the law of averages than to consistency. The movie is a constant bombardment of entertaining moments, loosely thrown together in the hopes that some stick.

Cling to those moments that do stick, because the central plot -- something with faceless monsters and world domination -- is completely forgettable. The apocalyptic stakes leave very little wiggle room, and the lack of investment in anyone means you never really mind that some characters might live up to the team moniker and die en route to the final confrontation.

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Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) fights with a big mallet and a bigger smile in "Suicide Squad."

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

If you've seen even one of the trailers for "Suicide Squad", you'd know that the soundtrack is about as subtle as the day-glo neon aesthetic. It ropes in the likes of Queen, the Rolling Stones and Kanye West.

Comparisons to "Guardians of the Galaxy" are inevitable, but unlike Marvel's own rag-tag ensemble film, the retro "Suicide Squad" soundtrack feels more tacked on than woven in. Combined with the rapid-fire editing, it feels like the focus is on the songs more than the set pieces they're accompanying, doubling down on the extended trailer feel.

'Suicide Squad': Comic villains on film

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Warner Bros. certainly learned its lesson from the overly serious "Man of Steel" and "Batman v Superman", and the ingredients for a fun, fresh superhero flick are all here. "Suicide Squad" tries very, very hard to make you like it rather than trusting in those raw ingredients. Considering the forgettable plot, abundance of central characters and confused editing, that effort would have been better spent trying to make you care.