By BRIAN BOHNERT
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
On the surface, “Suicide Squad” is a neon-colored atom bomb — a vibrant and whimsical acid trip, and an extreme departure from the superhero movies audiences are used to seeing.
But for all its strengths, the film is ultimately undone by lazy storytelling and shoddy character development at the hands of writer/director David Ayer.
Following the events of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) persuades secret government agency A.R.G.U.S. to green light a task force of the world’s most dangerous criminals to carry out missions the U.S. military cannot.
To motivate this motley crew of incarcerated baddies, Waller offers each of them shortened prison sentences and injects them with tiny explosives to ensure they go against their own self interests.
Chosen to direct the Suicide Squad is Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) — who leads Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Diablo, Katana and Slipknot on a mission to stop a supernatural entity from annihilating the planet.
Ayer (“Fury,” “End of Watch”) was given the opportunity of a lifetime to make “Suicide Squad” something truly special. He had killer source material, an A-list cast and a whole new cinematic universe to use as his sandbox.
In return, he produced a clumsy, cluttered story that fails to treat its titular rogues with the respect their pop culture history has afforded them.
The first-act introduction of our anarchistic antiheroes feels rushed. Ayer carelessly hurries through a hodgepodge of three-minute flashbacks showing the capture of each baddie at the hands of this universe’s Batman (Ben Affleck) and the Flash (Ezra Miller).
The filmmaker blatantly even skips the introduction of a late member to the team, killing him off after just a few moments when he should have just been left out of the script altogether.
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is like razor blades in Halloween candy, devilishly skipping into every scene she’s in and stealing it like a string of pearls in a jewelry store.
With her bubblegum-colored pigtails, baseball bat and shorts hotter than the sun’s core, Robbie is the living, breathing embodiment of the character — bubbly and deranged, yet emotionally and mentally self-aware.
Will Smith is once again a leading man as Deadshot, Gotham City’s infamous gun-for-hire. The Academy Award nominee lends his many talents to the mix, effortlessly blending his action movie chops with his comedic range to create a sassy sharpshooter with a soft side.
Like Robbie, Smith adds a human element to the ensemble, portraying a loving father whose violent career path lands him in prison and under Waller’s manipulative thumb.
Then there’s the Joker, played this time by the always-enigmatic Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Requiem for a Dream”). With a face full of metal and a body covered in tattoos, Leto’s Joker is unlike anything moviegoers have been given before.
He’s different, sure, but it’s almost as if Leto is trying to out-crazy the character with his outrageous antics and sociopathic mood swings.
Thankfully, this Joker takes a back seat to the lesser-known baddies of the Batman world.
Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a reformed pyromaniac with fiery talents and a pressure cooker for a temper. Katana (Karen Fukuhara) is a nothing more than a samurai sword-wielding vigilante haunted by her quest for revenge.
Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is a servicable nod to his comic book counterpart, whose involvement with the Suicide Squad is a result of Waller threatening his love affair with Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne).
But in a film stacked to the brim with villains, the film’s actual antagonist should be a pretty big deal — right? Right?
We’re given Dr. Moone’s alter ego, a mystical witch named Enchantress who — after a confusing explanation of her plan to exterminate the human race — is abandoned for much of the second act and only used as a plot device to bring the Suicide Squad together for an underwhelming and anticlimactic final battle.
For die-hard fans of the superhero genre, “Suicide Squad” is a required viewing — if only for its potential connection to the forthcoming films in the DC universe.
But spending $10 to see it on the big screen might just make you as crazy as Harley and the gang.
Verdict: 2.5 stars