Shortly before Amanda Waller assembles Task Force X, she pitches her team of supervillains as "the worst of the worst". It doesn't matter if they crash and burn, she assures her colleague Admiral Olsen, because they have "built-in deniability". Whatever happens, the CIA's hands will be clean.
Warner Bros. and DC do not have built-in deniability. If Suicide Squad crashes and burns, a stake will be driven through the heart of the DCEU. In box office terms, the studios need this movie to be the best of the best.
Last night a screening was held in New York for critics, and at midday Eastern today the embargo was lifted. Their reviews are now live. So, what's the consensus? Does DC have a surefire Harley Quinn-er on its hands, or is the bad guy team-up movie a neck bomb waiting to detonate into a cloud of charred bank notes? Let's take a look at what each of the major publications had to say about Suicide Squad.
Variety's mixed, borderline-negative review criticizes the apparently-nonsensical plot and the villainess Enchantress, but reserving praise for The Joker and Harley Quinn.
"Enchantress is, let’s face it, the lamest DC villain since Sharon Stone stalked Catwoman ... Ayer allows Harley Quinn a certain deranged sense of humor, giving her the chance to deliver the sarcastic zinger to multiple scenes, but he only half-recognizes what a tragic character she is, and it’s discouraging to think that the film’s biggest laugh comes at the expense of Batman punching her in the face."
The verdict? "Like Deadpool earlier this year, it’s entertaining insofar as it allows the characters to crack wise and act out ... but in the end, it’s just another high-attitude version of the same."
Entertainment Weekly (B-)
EW.com had high praise for Harley Quinn, and less for the movie around her.
"Aside from Smith’s Deadshot, [Harley Quinn is] also the only character with a remotely interesting backstory as the onetime shrink to Jared Leto’s mad wild card Joker who was seduced to the dark side. Don’t cry for her, she seems to love it."
Like many of the other reviews, complaints are raised about the Enchantress: "The stakes should feel higher. As someone who isn’t fluent in Suicide Squad lore, I can’t imagine there wasn’t a better villain in its back catalog."
The Guardian (3/5)
Peter Bradshaw's review in the UK's Guardian newspaper is more positive than most from the other side of the pond, with particular praise reserved for Viola Davis' ruthless, ball-busting CIA agent.
"Robbie steals the movie from most of her co-stars, but the real scene-stealer is Viola Davis, playing soberly dressed federal apparatchik Amanda Waller ... It’s a clotted and delirious film, with flashes of preposterous, operatic silliness. But it doesn’t have much room to breathe; there are some dull bits, and Leto’s Joker suffers in comparison with the late Heath Ledger."
Reviewer Peter Bradshaw ultimately concludes that "Suicide Squad promises madness, and a dense downpour of madness is what it delivers," with the caveat that "I could have done with more fun and more lightness of touch."
Despite a strong 4-star rating, Empire don't hold back on the negatives...
"It takes a good 45 minutes for the [flashbacks] to stop flapping and the action proper to kick in [and] in striving to find a threat deadly enough to warrant asking bad guys to save the world, the film’s answer is less than satisfying. We get little more than just another posturing villain with vague plans for world domination via a big, swirling mass of CGI."
The biggest praise is awarded to Jared Leto's take on The Joker:
"Where Heath Ledger’s version was scarred, shabby and countercultural, Leto’s has a smooth, blingy gangsta swagger: a modern take on the way the original comic-book creation riffed on ’30s mobsters ... It’s something we’ve never seen before: the Joker in love. It’s unsettling and compelling — almost enough to make you wish it were more than a subplot."
It'll be worth keeping an eye on Metacritic as more reviews come in, but it's fair to say this is not the start DC wanted for Suicide Squad. Still, at least it's good news as far as Harley Quinn and The Joker are concerned.