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Josh Reviews The Suicide Squad

August 11th, 2021
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Five years after the first disappointing Suicide Squad film from DC/Warner Brothers comes another attempt at the property, the similarly-titled The Suicide Squad, written and directed by James Gunn.  It’s sort of crazy to me that DC/Warner Brothers can’t or won’t make another Superman movie, but somehow we’ve gotten two Suicide Squad movies in five years.  Someone explain that to me?  Anyways… after a (thankfully brief) falling out with Disney, James Gunn — who so skillfully wrote and directed the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films — left Marvel for DC, where he took the reins of this franchise.  And, lo and behold, he’s managed to create the film we should have gotten five years ago.  The Suicide Squad is delightfully, gloriously profane and violent and silly and ridiculous and juvenile and I thought it was pretty terrific.

Look, is this a great movie?  I don’t think so.  Is this the type of superhero film I’d ideally like to see?  No, the Marvel epics like Avengers: Infinity War are more my cup of tea.  I sort of wish I had been able to watch Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 this week, instead of a second Suicide Squad movie.

But The Suicide Squad delivers on exactly what this type of movie should be.  James Gunn seemed to understand precisely what movie to make from this concept: super-villains recruited for a (maybe) good cause.  The Suicide Squad is very funny, it’s filled with violent action and mayhem, and it’s populated by an array of bizarre and compelling characters drawn from the obscure corners of the DC universe, many of whom die terribly before the closing credits roll.  Really, what more could I ask?

Right from the terrific opening scenes I knew that I was in good hands with James Gunn and this movie.  The film opens with a very funny and dark moment featuring a character played by Michael Rooker (Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy), along with a bird and a ball.  We then get some quick, concise exposition that introduces us to the first group of characters.  (This is in marked contrast to the very awkward prolonged opening of the 2016 Suicide Squad, which felt like it introduced the characters and situation three different times.)  Then we jump right into a wild, ultra violent action scene that is fun and crazy and also clearly sets up the premise of the expendable Suicide Squad and just how ruthless their boss Amanda Waller can be.  And, with that, we’re off to the races.

The Suicide Squad can be seen and enjoyed without having seen the 2016 film, or any other recent DC/Warner Brothers film for that matter.  At the same time, while this is an attempt to reboot the franchise, James Gunn has been able to cleverly thread the needle of keeping this new film in continuity with the 2016 film.  It’s very skillfully done.

(I’ll also comment here that I watched and enjoyed this film via HBO Max.  I don’t know when I’ll be returning to a movie theatre, but it’s definitely not yet…)

Returning from the 2016 film are Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the take-no-shit woman in command of the Suicide Squad program; Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg, the field leader of the Squad; Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang; and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.  It’s fun to see those four characters and actors back.  Ms. Davis is somewhat one-note as Amanda Waller, but she’s certainly memorable as this great character from the comics.  I was bored by Mr. Kinnaman in the 2016 Suicide Squad film, but he’s a lot of fun to watch here!  James Gunn is able to make far better use of the character of Flagg; I like that Flagg here seems 1) very competent and 2) more fun and comradely with the other Suicide Squad members.  Jai Courtney was a big surprise for me in the 2016 Suicide Squad film; I hadn’t been a fan of his previous work but I thought he was great as Captain Boomerang.  I was hoping he’d be back for this new film and I was glad he was; I just wish he had a larger role!  But the way he was used makes perfect sense.

Then there’s Margot Robbie, who was the best part of the 2016 Suicide Squad film and who was also wonderful in the underrated Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.  It’s awesome that Ms. Robbie has now appeared in three of these movies as Harley!  (I hope we get to see her in many more!)  She is absolutely spectacular in the role.  James Gunn handles Harley far better than she was treated in the 2016 film.  I love that Harley is tougher and more capable than most if not all of the men on the team.  (There’s a very funny sequence mid-movie in which she breaks free of where she’s being captured and tortured before the rest of the team can even start their rescue attempt.)  The film also brings in some of the playfulness of Birds of Prey, especially in the delightfully weird but memorable sequence that utilizes animated flowers when Harley is massacring the Corto Maltese soldiers who had been holding her captive.  That scene had me in stitches!

Mr. Gunn has brought in a number of fantastic and memorable new characters for this film.  Idris Elba is spectacular as Robert DuBois, otherwise known as “Bloodsport”.  On paper this character feels almost completely interchangeable with Deadshot, the character Will Smith played in the 2016 film.  They’re both African American men who are supremely skilled assassins who wear head-covering masks and who are involved in the Suicide Squad because of their daughters.  (I strongly suspect that this role was originally written for Mr. Smith as Deadshot and that they just changed the name when Will Smith declined to return; this article seems to back that up.)  But Mr. Elba’s charisma combined with sharp writing by Mr. Gunn make you forget those similarities quickly.  Well, maybe I didn’t forget the similarities, but I just didn’t care.  I love Mr. Elba’s balance of world-weariness and toughness with what we can see is a glimmer of nobility inside him, even though he’s a super-villain.  (And a violent one.  One of the funniest scenes in the film is his crazy one-upmanship competition with Peacemaker, murdering soldiers when they sneak into the camp where Flagg is being held.)

Speaking of Peacemaker, John Cena is hilarious as this ridiculous character, a vicious murderer who thinks he’s a champion of peace.  I love everything about this character.  I love his ripped-from-the comic book pages look (even that crazy helmet!!), and Mr. Cena’s deadpan line delivery is incredibly funny.

Daniela Melchior is compelling as Cleo Cazo, “Ratcatcher 2”.  Games Gunn’s script takes this ridiculous character — with the power of controlling rats, as you might have guessed from her on-the-nose name — and turns her into a rich, layered character.  Ms. Melchior brings a lot of grace and nuance to the role.

So too does David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man, Blade Runner 2049) as Abner Krill, the Polka-Dot Man.  I can’t believe that the Polka-Dot Man is in this movie… and that he’s one of my favorite characters in the film!!

I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the great characters in the film.  Sylvester Stallone is incredibly funny as King Shark.  Peter Capaldi is memorably weird as Gaius Grieves, The Thinker.  (I love his look in the film!)  Nathan Fillion is terrific as T.D.K., as is Pete Davidson as Blackguard.  (I only wish they both had larger roles!)  Alice Braga hits all the right notes in her small role as the freedom fighter Sol Soria.  Sean Gunn helps create another bizarre CGI character in the Weasel.

I was delighted that the film’s third act featured Starro the Conquerer.  God bless James Gunn for taking this classic comic book character — one whom I never possibly believed could be brought to life on screen — and finding a way to do so.  Starro is depicted perfectly, in my opinion.  He looks fantastic — exactly as outlandishly weird as he should — and he’s also a dangerous threat to the Suicide Squad characters.  Mr. Gunn’s mastery of tone enables this crazy supervillain starfish character to share the screen with the mostly very street-level Suicide Squad characters, and it all works.  (Isn’t it funny that in the comics Starro was an important early foe for the Justice League, but in the DC movie universe he’s an important early foe for the Suicide Squad… because the Suicide Squad seems like a more important group to the Warner Brothers folks than the Justice League!!)

There are some plot problems in the movie that surprised me.  It doesn’t make much sense to me that these, um, easily noticeable supervillain characters were sent on a multi-day undercover mission. Why was a tall tower used to hide the monster that was actually buried underground?  Why were Waller and her whole staff asleep in their offices towards the end of the film, when we cut back to them at the start of Starro’s rampage?  (It sort of looked like they’d all been knocked out by sleeping gas!)  And how/why could things possibly be all back normal in Wallace’s office at the end of the film, after her underlings knocked her out?  That doesn’t seem like the type of thing that Waller would forgive or forget!  And as much as I wrote above that I enjoyed Flagg in this film, I felt the script sort of lost track of his character in the second half for a while.  Why wasn’t he upset that Walker used his group as sacrificial lambs?  After he gets rescued, how does he feel about Bloodsport’s being in charge of the mission, with him now second fiddle?

Some other thoughts:

* I love the chapter titles!!  Each one was beautifully and cleverly designed, and I loved the sense of structure that they gave to the film.

* For much of the film, I found the uber-violence to be very funny, as was intended.  But Mr. Gunn successfully turned the screws on me in the third act, with that terribly gruesome and sad shot of a character’s heart being impaled.  That was tough to watch!!  (As I’m sure was intended!)

* Have I emphasized enough that I loved Starro???  (And let me just say that the final fate of Starro was gloriously and spectacularly disgusting and hilarious.   Bravo.)

* As is to be expected from a James Gunn film, the soundtrack was tremendous.  Just one note-perfect song after another.  Magnificent.

* Also magnificent: the costumes in this film.  They’re a perfect blend of four-color superhero/villain outrageousness with a sense of lived-in reality.

* The film boasts two short stingers, one right at the start of the end credits, and a second at the very end.  I was surprised by how “meh” they were.  They undo two deaths in the film, which was a weird choice to me.  One was a character who I didn’t care about.  That this character got a stinger makes me think that James Gunn and co. thought the audience would be more invested in that character than I was.  The other was a character who I was happy to see survive, because I’d love to see more of him in a sequel… but on the other hand, his survival seems crazy implausible, and I’m not sure why they undercut the drama of that death by taking it back so quickly.

The Suicide Squad is not for everyone, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  It was exactly the movie I’d hoped it would be.  I had tremendous fun watching it, and it’s a movie I can’t wait to find the time to watch again!

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