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Suicide Squad’ feels overly cramped with super-villains

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Suicide Squad

Two and a half stars

Suicide Squad Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis. Directed by David Ayer. Rated PG-13. Open Friday.

In its efforts to catch up with the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC has been hurrying to put together its own interconnected set of films featuring its popular comic-book superheroes. Following March’s ungainly Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, super-villain team-up Suicide Squad features a slightly more streamlined narrative. But it’s still overstuffed, an ensemble piece with nearly a dozen main characters, telling origin stories for half of them, bringing them together into a new team and facing them off against two different antagonists.

In response to the existence of superpowered beings like Superman, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) puts together a team of criminals with special abilities, held in check via blackmail and death threats, and their first mission involves stopping one of their own, the ancient witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). The threat of the Enchantress lacks urgency, and writer-director David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch) isn’t able to establish a strong enough connection between her and the other characters for it to feel like a betrayal. Instead he wastes time on the much-hyped appearance of the Joker (Jared Leto), whose presence in the movie is much smaller than the marketing would indicate, and adds nothing to the story.

Will Smith (as infallible marksman Deadshot) and Margot Robbie (as charming, unhinged psychopath Harley Quinn) have some snappy chemistry as the team’s leading bad guys, and Davis exudes menacing authority, but the sketchy character arcs all feel incomplete. Ayer tries to compensate with a distractingly garish visual style and a proliferation of recognizable music cues that set up scenes to be much cooler than they actually are. When the characters get a moment to breathe, sitting around and bantering, they’re fun to watch. But cramming them all together in a rushed story to beat the competition doesn’t do any of them justice.

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