The worst thing you could say about “Suicide Squad” is it’s uneven.
And the best thing?
It’s better than “Batman v Superman.”
“Suicide Squad” is less a movie than a video game campaign — a long, drawn-out journey that leads to a big boss battle. It starts with a bang, ends in a yawn and features a whole lot of “What the …?” along the way.
Here’s the gist: Shady government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) dreams up a plan to team together incarcerated supervillains in the event a metahuman like Superman goes rogue.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, as one of Waller’s own operatives opens a hole in the sky above Midway City, spreading dark magic across the globe and turning citizens into drone soldiers with creepy bubbly tar faces.
Thus the bad guys have to choose: Save the day or break bad (again).
If it sounds a little like “The Dirty Dozen,” well, duh. Longtime comic book writer John Ostrander created the DC Comics supergroup in the 1980s with the Lee Marvin movie (and TV’s “Mission: Impossible”) in mind.
If it also sounds like Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” that might be intentional, too. “Suicide Squad” appears built to echo every good thing about Marvel’s movies, from the poppy soundtrack to the mid-credits tag scene.
And, in some regards, it succeeds. “Suicide Squad” is more enjoyable than the pedestrian “Ant-Man,” the wackadoodle “Thor: The Lost World” and the bloated “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Which puts it well above “Iron Man 3.”
Despite a prodigious cast — Will Smith as can’t-miss assassin Deadshot, Jared Leto as the Joker, Jay Hernandez as flame-throwing El Diablo — the star clearly is Margot Robbie.
Her tragic Harley Quinn is by turns hilarious, lovestruck, hyper-violent and desperate. Harley already was among the most popular costumed characters at comic conventions. Robbie’s performance is sure to make her among the most popular costumed characters come Halloween, too.
“Suicide Squad” occasionally veers off the path. Midway through, the film makes a narrative jump so jarring, in the good old pre-digital days you’d wonder if the projectionist was playing the film reels in the wrong order.
Rain, smoke and darkness obscure so much of the action at the end it’s extremely hard to tell who’s clobbering whom.
Those are just missteps. It’s the uncomfortable misogyny of male heroes and villains punching female characters for laughs — to say nothing of Joker’s gross abusive manipulation of Harley — that make the low points of “Squad” careen from annoying to repulsive. It’s not enough to just say, “Hey, these are bad people.” The point of “Suicide Squad” should be repentance, which only one character achieves. The rest remain unchanged — and sequel-ready.
It would have been great if director David Ayer could have sustained the frenetic energy of the film’s gonzo first hour, but “Suicide Squad” had one job: Make folks who were bored by “Batman v Superman” see a little hope in future movies set in the DC Comics movie-verse.
“Suicide Squad” is by no means perfect, but, nonetheless, mission accomplished.
David Frese, 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese
Rated PG-13. Time: 2:03.
Who’s who in the Squad
Who: Repentant gangster whose pyrokinetic gift is also his curse
Played by: Jay Hernandez
Who: A renegade Aussie diamond thief
Played by: Jai Courtney
Who: Scaly sewer dweller prone to occasional cannibalism
Played by: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Who: Former asylum psychiatrist who fell crazy in love with the Joker
Played by: Margot Robbie
Who: Uncannily successful hitman (and loving dad — aww)
Played by: Will Smith
Col. Rick Flag
Who: Navy SEAL ordered to lead the Squad
Played by: Joel Kinnaman
Who: Samurai master of a soul-taking sword
Played by: Karen Fukuhara