I have to hand it to director and writer David Ayer (Fury), he took on a near impossible task and made it work. Is it brilliant? No. It is a a filmed mess of fractured fun with an uneven script and way too much packed into a single story. However, in lesser hands, it would have failed. What you do get is a good ride and some good moments though it is still very DC; the humor is more inferred than enjoyed.
The biggest issue is the balance of the film. It was clearly originally centered around Will Smith (Focus), but Margot Robbie (Z for Zachariah) matches him for focus. Her Harley Quinn could have been ripped straight from the comic, down to her manic commentary running in the background of some moments. She’s brilliant, sexy, scary, heart-felt, fun. Smith, on the other hand, is all business with a heart. The two together form the drive of the film.
The rest of the squad is good, but have, at best, moments. The most complex is Jay Hernandez. But there is also Jai Courtney (Terminator: Genisys), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii), Cara Delevingne (Pan), Adam Beach (Backstrom), and newcomer Karen Fukuhara. And that’s not even everyone.
Delevingne arguably has a large role, but very little character associated other than as the object of love for Joel Kinnaman (Child 44). Now Kinnaman does manage to deliver one of his better performances in this film. He finally seems like a real, approachable person rather than some kind of off-putting ass.
In many ways, though subtle, the real surprise outside the squad is Viola Davis (Blackhat). She plays one of the toughest, coldest characters, and particularly female characters, ever on screen. And she does it with conviction and believability. It is a great performance, though again without a lot of support in her story; she just “is.”
There are side characters as well. Despite all the initial hype, we just don’t get enough Jared Leto (Mr. Nobody) as The Joker. There is a great and unique performance going on there, but we only get glimpses and no particular scene feels fully realized. A shame as they put huge effort into his design and story. Some additional noticables were Common (Now You See Me) and Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower).
I heard one critic refer to the movie as a pastiche. I don’t think that is quite fair. This is more pointillism: lots of little bits and pieces that resolve into a whole. But, because of that, it wasn’t very satisfying. There wasn’t a single satisfying meal in the bunch (to mix painting and food metaphors). And the plot itself was rather contrived and convenient… obstacles simply appearing and being able to be overcome with very little explanation of how anyone knew anything. Perhaps on rewatch, and I will see this again just to catch all the design work and detail if nothing else, my sense of the story will change. But for a theater outing, what you get is an amusement park ride with some flashy moments. If you insist on a Marvel comparison, it is about the equal of Iron Man 2 in its writing quality (and that is faint and damning praise).
So, yes, see this on a big screen first. Settle in for a ride (the 3D version uses its tech pretty darn well, though it isn’t required). You will have to judge for yourself where it lands in your pantheon of film memories. Unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, to which it is being most compared due to the number of lesser known characters and the release date, I didn’t walk out feeling charged up to see it again immediately. I didn’t have moments on my lips that I was talking about. I simply felt like I’d had a bit of fun and then needed to get on with my day.