James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is the rare first in a cluttered superhero landscape. Most immediately, it’s the first time we’ve assure a comic book-based “do-over” from a previous film, but with a handful of the same core cast. It’s an unusual approaching and feels a little like Warners didn’t want to toss what David Ayer did whole-hog, but also didn’t want him involved move forward. In a space, that establishes feel, as the first Suicide Squad was a huge money-maker, but received very poorly by reviewers( me included ).
It also can’t run unremarked that in the lead-up to that first film, the marketing was clearly trying to sell it as DC’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy. With this “soft reboot”, they travelled straight to the source and hired Gunn to fully deliver that promise.
Gunn is an interesting filmmaker, a product of the Troma splatter and gore school turned mainstream. And his Defender films, specially the second largest one, are among the only MCU entryways I ever want to just put on and “vibe with” as the children say. Not flawless aspects by any means, but they have a tangible imprint, which compared to something like the duller than dirt Black Widow, travels a long way. He’s also clearly really into the source material. To know that he’s a massive follower of the original John Ostrander/ Kim Yale/ Luke McDonnell pas of Suicide Squad goes a long way. It’s one of the greatest runs of DC’s greatest period, and probably one of the top 5 conceptions in all of adventure comics.
Gunn’s take on the Suicide Squad , be called THE Suicide Squad, befitting the odd nature of the project’s origins, is deeply indebted to the initial arc of the comic. Dropping Ayer’s nu-metal veneer, the movie firmly embraces The Dirty Dozen aesthetic that’s far more apropos for the franchise. We often hear lip service about how this superhero movie is really an “espionage thriller” or this other one is really a “heist movie”. It’s pretty much all bunk, but to the degree that the suffocating formula of these allow, Gunn and his crew have cooked up the closest thing we’ll probably get to a superhero campaign picture. And a insurgent one at that, with just enough of an anti-imperialist message that autumns out of step with the current de rigueur of running scripts by the Department of Defense.
The great challenge of reviewing this film is that almost anything I’d say would constitute a spoiler, even a story synopsis slightly more detailed than bare bones. But only to crack the basic facts of the case: there’s been a coup on the island of Corto Maltese, and with the ruling household having been executed by the immorality dictator Silvio Luna( Juan Diego Botto ), Amanda Waller( Viola Davis) instructs Task Force X to infiltrate the island to destroy a secret base called Jotunheim. They break into two teams to infest the different seashores of Corto Maltese, with one team led by Rick Flag( Joel Kinnaman) that includes Harley Quinn( Margot Robbie ), Captain Boomerang( Jai Courtney ), Savant( Gunn repeat musician Michael Rooker ), and a slue of others. On the opposite side of the isle arrives Bloodsport( Idris Elba, playing Deadshot with the serial numbers rubbed off just enough ), Peacemaker( John Cena ), Ratcatcher 2( Daniela Melchior ), the Polka-Dot Man( David Dastmalchian ), and King Shark( voiced by Sylvester Stallone ).
Bloodshed and chaos ensue and the tagline of “don’t get attached” is definitely applicable throughout. For formerly, and maybe for the first time since the original comics, the Suicide Squad genuinely does live up to its name.
What’s exciting about this second time at at-bat for the dealership is that it perfectly marries the two apparently oppositional phases of Gunn’s filmmaking career. It’s big-budget entertainment of the highest order, though structured a little better, and frankly cleverer, than many of its peers, but it’s likewise quite a gorefest. Even if the language wasn’t salty throughout, the blood and guts would more than give it the R-rating it’s tagged with. The Suicide Squad feels untethered to the four-quadrant mores of the current studio system, like Deadpool, but with a narrative that’s better constructed and a largely more appealing cast.
It even comprises the rare distinction of getting better as it goes. With so many similar movies fastening under their own weight before the inevitable white noise climax, the third act roll-out for The Suicide Squad is quite rousing, with a visually appealing menace, a few twistings and turns, and the fulfillment of core character arcs that are established from the outset. The bones on this thing are so very solid.
So why don’t I love it? I wrestled with that question on the way home from our screening. It’s, without doubt, a good movie, and an accomplished one, but its flaws glare a bit in reflection. For starters, the team itself has a “bland leader” problem. Between Bloodsport, Peacemaker, and Rick Flag, that’s only one too many alpha males predominating the running time, and there’s a reason there’s only one Leonardo and one Cyclops in their respective crews. Don’t get me wrong, I desire Elba, and Cena’s Peacemaker is the real breakout of the film( they know it too, thus the HBO Max show that’s coming next year ), but Flag probably could have stood to be sidelined just to rebalance things to the side of the scuzzy and villainous.
There’s likewise an overreliance on Ratcatcher 2 to carry the emotional load of the film, focusing a good deal on the loss of her father, the original Ratcatcher, and the stand-in role that Bloodsport plays for her as a kind of new paternal figure. It doesn’t really operate. Sentimentality is not one of Gunn’s strongest suits as a writer, and between that and an actress is that is the weakest link in the casting, those scenes fall very flat.
And while I dislike to judge the movie I wanted vs. what I got, the film absence a strong villain presence. Peter Capaldi’s The Thinker is fine, but he’s just a plot donkey and is pretty incidental to most of the mission. The big threat at the end has a lot going for it, but personality isn’t one of those things. I can’t help but feel like that’s one component that perhaps Gunn should have borrowed more from those early comics. Drop-in personas like Ravan, Jaculi, Manticore, etc and I think that would have added just enough color to offset some of the other issues that became more predominant.
Am I being too squeamish? Again, it’s a good film, but given the early raves, I was hoping to fall head over heels for it. Instead, I only stand mostly impressed with it as a feat of pushing the unimpregnable borders as far as they can go. Look , no matter what, it’s still in the top tier of DC movies( right there with Shazam ! and Zack Snyder’s Justice League ), and tribes, that ain’t nothin’.
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