If BATMAN VS SUPERMAN hadn’t made about US$1 squillion at the box office, you’d almost have to feel sorry for Warner Bros. and DC. All of that good will earned from the dizzying heights of the Nolan DARK KNIGHT trilogy feels but a distant memory, and SUICIDE SQUAD puts those halcyon days even further over the horizon.

It was obviously seen as an economical way to quickly expand the DC cinematic universe ahead of their big gamble: next year’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, but once again, in their rush Warners (this time handing chief responsibility to writer/director David Ayer) has forgotten to tell a coherent story.

It’s really difficult to understate what a hot mess SUICIDE SQUAD is, but the first alarm bells start ringing in the opening minutes. In a Louisiana maximum security prison, we’re introduced to Deadshot (Will Smith), and then Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). We then break to a secret government meeting between the stony Amanda Wallace (Viola Davis), who outlines her plan to create a squad of ‘the worst of the worst’ currently in custody, forcing them to do the jobs that no-one else will, or possibly can. Cue some character introductions replete with title cards, beginning with… Deadshot and Harley Quinn. That’s right, within ten minutes we have redundant scenes. As if this problem needed compounding, one future member of the squad is left off of this roll call. It’s a clear, breezy ‘up yours’ to anyone with a memory longer than a snapchat.

The plot from there on in is similarly nonsensical. It should have been a simple INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS guys(-and-girls)-on-a-mission movie, only the script has clearly been shredded mid-shoot. It feels like Ayer was jettisoning scenes right after they were shot, as every day notes from the studio kept arriving, contradicting those he had been given the day before, and the day before that.

Then there’s characterisation: someone, somewhere along the line, has a problem trusting the audience with the concept of an anti-hero. Deadshot for example, beyond Smith’s solid performance, is motivated wholly by his love for his daughter, and claims to have been a wholly honourable professional assassin – he’s never spilled innocent blood. In actual fact, he’s really not that different from AMERICAN SNIPER’s Chris Kyle, especially if you believe the stories about what he did during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina (incidentally, Scott Eastwood appears as part of the military team accompanying the squad). This lot are supposed to be the worst of the worst, but few of them seem at all properly villainous – that’s left to Jared Leto’s Joker (really rather good in the 15 or so minutes of screen time he gets), and the big bads: ancient witch Enchantress (Cara Delavigne) and her brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine), who in looks, intent and dullness are a cocktail equal parts Gozer from GHOSTBUSTERS and Apocalypse from X:MEN APOCALYPSE.

Thankfully, not every character is wasted – Robbie embodies the mad Harley Quinn perfectly, and of the characters that aren’t short-changed with screen time, she alone gets through the film unscathed. Not physically, of course – that would be too straightforward for this production, but despite the rather disproportionate amount of abuse doled out to her (electrocuted, force fed, sent through a car windshield, punched, throttled and more), it’s a strong, focused performance.

The other thing that works in the film’s favour is the conscious attempt to bring more levity – rumour has it this was one of the studio notes, and it was for the best - more wouldn’t have hurt.

Behind the camera, there’s a significantly more saturated colour palate than the two Zack Snyder Superman films, but still a dark look. And – again – strangely for a film this expensive, there’s a curiously small scale to the whole thing. When the supernatural crisis develops, Midway City is quickly and conveniently evacuated - most of which happens in tight shots or off screen altogether. There are significantly more extras (real, CG or otherwise) in Game Of Thrones’ Battle of the Bastards than there are in the whole of SUICIDE SQUAD, leaving the action with a rather low-rent feel.

The timing and pacing are an ongoing shitshow. When the squad is assembled for the first time, they’re told to hurry into their kit before ‘wheels up in 10 minutes’. Once they’re in the thick of it, they (and we) are told that the crisis they have been sent to fix actually started three days ago. Technically it makes sense, but it’s distractingly messy, and clearly a wallpaper job. At around the midpoint, the true stakes of the mission are revealed to them (end of the world stuff), and they are given permission to walk away. The larrakin Boomerang (Jai Courtney) immediately does so, getting one of the best laughs in the film, but reappears in the very next scene. Ayer just can’t – or isn’t being allowed to – make up his mind.

Then there’s the music. Despite the big/McLarge/huge budget (the first 15 minutes burns through more money in rights than most entire movies), there’s a whole separate essay in how misjudged SUICIDE SQUAD’s soundtrack and its clumsy application is - suffice to say that it’s been selected by old people who don’t understand their target audience; it’s your Dad trying to program a playlist for a sweet 16 party with only his own CD collection – great songs they may be, but you might have to skew a little more recent than Eminem or circa 2013 Kanye West if you want to be down with the kids.

They even manage to cock up the post-credits sting. Those who will take time to wait for it will typically be the big fans, and there’s nothing here they won’t have already watched two weeks ago in the Comic Con JUSTICE LEAGUE footage reel (or indeed was on the clip reel dropped into BATMAN VS SUPERMAN). It tells you nothing you didn’t already know, and only succeeds in tying the ‘good guys’ further into ethical knots.

It might all seem more admirable if they were trying to invent something completely new, but no-one is re-inventing the wheel here; the fact that they're just hurriedly copying someone else's formula makes it worse. There are kernels of fun and excitement here and there, but in terms of being blatantly mangled by its creators and mostly just plain stupid, SUICIDE SQUAD is down there with last year’s FANTASTIC FOUR. At least this has a few more laughs and its winning Harley Quinn/Joker double act going for it.

SUICIDE SQUAD is released August 4 in Australia and NZ, and August 5 in the US and the UK.