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‘The Suicide Squad’ Review: The Second Time’s The Charm

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at January 1, 1970

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad starts strong, roaring out of the gate with a delicious avalanche of horrific violence and hilariously mundane discourse. By default, it can’t help but be disappointing when it settles down after the first reel and becomes a pretty conventional “flawed men and women on a doomed mission” movie. Yes, the R-rated film is filled with graphic and grotesque killings. It also relishes the kind of 80’s-era action movie amorality that only works in 2021 because it’s a supervillain flick and because the cast of anti-heroes slaughtering various South American soldiers is mostly “not a white guy” actors. Save for a few “Oh, he went there!” moments, Gunn’s DC Films flick is by the book in terms of plot, character arcs and pay-offs. It’s (to quote The Simpsons) rebellious in a conformist sort of way.

Yes, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is a more coherent, more enjoyable and just-plain better all-around movie than David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Yes, I know that the 2016 predecessor was pretzeled and scrambled to pieces by WB executives in the wake of Batman v Superman’s reception, but it’s not like Bright was much better. Despite Gunn and company trying to argue otherwise, this is a sequel through-and-through, and that’s a good thing. That some of these characters (Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn) have a shared history and kinship elevates our investment. Viola Davis is so damn funny as Dr. Amanda Waller that I prefer the moments set in her office (as her coworkers have mundane “another day at the office” reactions to the comic book events) to the conventional blockbuster set-pieces.

There isn’t much plot beyond another group of C-level supervillains being rounded up for an “if you survive, you get ten years off your sentence” mission. These literal “expendables” have to sneak into the Corto Maltese and destroy a weapons-building prison after the “evil but friendly to American interests” royal family gets dispatched by a military coup. So, we get the usual gang of weirdoes, including Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian offering tragic pathos to a ridiculous character), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), Rat Catcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, acting as the motivational “heart and soul” of the squad), Peacemaker (John Cena, getting his own HBO Max prequel series) and of course Margot Robbie as a post-Birds of Prey Harley Quinn. There are many other small-time villains played by big-name actors, but, as the poster says, don’t get too attached.

Idris Elba’s Bloodsport is the unofficial leader, whose backstory is so similar to Deadshot’s that I have to wonder if they expected Will Smith to come back. Elba’s interactions with the distinct members of this group of a-holes work even well enough that the action scenes quickly become a distraction. Robbie has a few centerpiece moments, including one that turns her into a horror movie monster, but Cena saves his nuance for the HBO Max show. Steve Agee both plays one of Waller’s worker bees while giving the physical on-set performance for King Shark, making him the arguable MVP for this flick. Nonetheless, Dr. Waller steals the movie, with Davis offering a hilarious turn that in no way compromises her bad-ass machismo. I’m not “surprised” (good actor acts good), but it’s a thrill nonetheless.

One immediate upgrade is that the film doesn’t spend its entire first act on introductions. There’s one great action sequence that takes the piss out of Predator-style action set pieces. Moreover, the film’s kaiju-level threat (and resulting collateral damage) seems like a dare to those who decried Man of Steel’s kaiju-like carnage to embrace this film’s civilian body count. Hell, that everyone cried foul when an American city was nearly destroyed in a superhero movie climax but will likely shrug when it happens to a South American town is (intentional or not) a powerful political statement. That said, we’re dealing with a movie about supervillains, led by a government stooge who may be the worst of them all, so the only “problem” is that I kept expecting Superman or The Flash to race to the rescue.

It’s, however, interesting the extent to which the two Suicide Squad movies end up being similar. They both eventually devolve into “a handful of baddies walking down a street and dealing with metaphorical zombies.” The Suicide Squad is a whole new/different movie but merely a (much) better variation on the core Suicide Squad formula. The picture mostly looks excellent, courtesy of Henry Braham, and the 132-minute picture only feels its length during the overlong action climax. That’s especially true because the faceless soldiers are so outmatched by our “squad” that the action quickly becomes monotonous. The film combines Gunn’s Troma sensibilities with his patented “wounded outsiders discover the hero within and learn how to accept love and friendship” narrative template. It’s certainly closer in spirit to Guardians of the Galaxy and Super, even if it occasionally flirts with Slither-level violence.

The film’s extended prologue is a perfect distillation of the Suicide Squad concept, a masterpiece of black comedy action filmmaking and self-aware comic book satire. Everything that comes after almost feels both superfluous and comparatively conventional. Even if the whole never lives up to the sum of its parts, it’s certainly the kind of thing that DC Films should be making alongside the conventional superhero stories. It continues their relative post-Justice League artistic winning streak. Alas, like many recent blockbusters (Jungle Cruise and the recent Star Trek films come to mind), the (very often generic) elements which caused the film to cost (rough guess) around $150 million are also the very things that take away from the “Can’t get this anywhere else” film-specific ingredients. Nonetheless, good is not the enemy of perfect, and James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is mostly pretty good.


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