A film review by Craig J. Koban August 15, 2021

THE SUICIDE SQUAD jjj

2021, R, 132 mins.

Margot Robbie as Harleen Quinzel / Harley Quinn  /  Idris Elba as Robert DuBois / Bloodsport  /  John Cena as Christopher Smith / Peacemaker  /  Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag  /  Sylvester Stallone as Nanaue / King Shark (voice)  /  Viola Davis as Amanda Waller  /  Jai Courtney as George 'Digger' Harkness / Captain Boomerang  /  Peter Capaldi as Clifford DeVoe / The Thinker  /  David Dastmalchian as Abner Krill / Polka-Dot Man  /  Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2  /  Michael Rooker as Brian Durlin / Savant  /  Alice Braga as Sol Soria  /  Pete Davidson as Richard Hertz / Blackguard  /  Nathan Fillion as Floyd Belkin / T.D.K.  /  Sean Gunn as Calendar Man / Weasel  /  Flula Borg as Gunter Braun / Javelin  /  Mayling Ng as Mongal  /  Juan Diego Botto as Silvio Luna  /  Joaquín Cosío as General Mateo Suarez

Written and directed by James Gunn

 

 

 

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (heavy emphasis on THE) is the tenth entry in the DC Extended Universe of super hero based films and can be best further described as a sort of sequel, sort of reboot, sort of overhauled redo of what came before it, specifically 2016's critical maligned SUICIDE SQUAD (that one lacked the...THE).  

Although I was in the clear minority for liking some of what director David Ayer brought to the table with his attempt at the material (he later disowned the final product, saying it wasn't the film he intended to make), there was no question that it was a problematic and polarizing DCEU production, leaving many cold in its wake.  Even though this tale of the fringiest of fringe comic book bad guy (and lady) characters banding together in the form of a top secret government sponsored black ops team to thwart ugly messes was a box office dynamo (it make nearly a billion worldwide, and without Chinese markets figuring in), many DC fundamentalists still cried qualitative foul and demanded a do-over. 

This is where then fired (he's now been re-hired) Marvel Cinematic Universe power player James Gunn comes in, who previously made (for my money) the finest MCU entry to date in the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.  Being let go by his Disney bosses over some nasty old tweets, the cancelled filmmaker essentially jumped ship and brands and migrated over to DC and Warner Bros, with his new employers giving him a massive budget and massive amounts of creative carte blanche to revisit SUICIDE SQUAD and tame this once tainted IP.  And within the first few moments of Gunn's SUICIDE SQUAD (sorry, forgot the THE) it's pretty clear that this is a whole different beast altogether, replete with a hard R-rated sensibility that would make Ayer's version blush with envy.  Featuring just three returning characters/actors from the first iteration, but showcasing a whole different level of perversely audacious showmanship, THE SUICIDE SQUAD absolutely ups the ante for comic book film genre on a level of raw, unfiltered, and gutsy nerve, and it's certainly sharper and funnier than what came before.  But it's also not without its own issues, like being too chaotic at times, too uneven, and too self-indulgently long for its own good. 

The basic premise of this squad of the worst of the worst (they prefer to go by the moniker Task Force X) still remains here under Gunn's screenplay: Government heavy hitter Amanda Waller (the returning Viola Davis, more venomously hostile this time) still heads the team and forces them (with bribes of either reduced prison sentences or death if they back out mid-mission via remote controlled micro bombs surgically implanted in their necks) to partake in all sorts of off-the-books state sponsored missions that guys like Superman or Batman would never volunteer for.  In THE SUICIDE SQUAD's truly crazy opening sequence we witness the Suicide Sq...er...Task Force X being assembled into A and B teams to launch a coastal invasion of the heavily fortified island of Corto Maltese to destroy Jotunheim, which houses a very secretive, but very dangerous alien menace dubbed "Project Starfish."  In hilariously macabre and preposterously violent fashion, just about every member of Team A is brutally murdered within minutes of making it to shore.  You just have to give Gunn props for having the cheeky tenacity to serve up many bizarre team members (some played by very familiar actors) and make us think they'll be significant players in the story to come...only then to swiftly murder them just minutes into said story. 

 

 

But, there would be no SUICIDE SQUAD (sorry, forgot the THE again) without...a THE SUICIDE SQUAD, so we then segue to the Team B, made up of mostly discarded leftover super villains that many of the most astute comic book historians have probably forgotten about over the years.  Even though two Team A members (Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn - both returning) survived the initial invasion, both have gone missing, leaving Waller and company banding together the misfits that make up Team B, like Bloodsport (not to be confused with Will Smith's Deadshot of the last film, played by newcomer Idris Alba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher...2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and the Groot-like King Shark (suitably voiced by Sylvester Stallone).  Despite some nagging team symmetry issues early on, Team B manages to find and reunite with Flag and Harley and proceed to their mission to get to Jotunheim.  What they find - and unleash inside - just might be the most cartoonishly preposterous "freakin' kaiju" since GHOSTBUSTER's Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. 

I recently read an article about how all of the MCU film entries are meticulously pre-visualized and storyboarded years in advance, and well before they even hire directors (which is arguably why so many of their recent films have a frustrating level of aesthetic sameness).  One of the giddy pleasures of watching THE SUICIDE SQUAD is that the quirky personality and style of its filmmaker shines through every pore of it.  This is a James Gunn film in every conceivable way, from the quirky F-bomb riddled dialogue to the inky black comedy and to the blood and brain matter exploding hyper violence.  As for the latter, super villains here are not just killed in throwaway fashion: they're shot, stabbed, impaled, decapitated, burned, squished, and exploded in the most grisly over-the-top manner possible (THE SUICIDE SQUAD is not the first R-rated comic book film, but it's the gold standard now for outlandish on-screen brutality).  DC/Warner Bros should be given strong thumbs up for not slavishly regurgitating stale, repackaged genre formulas here.  With JOKER, last year's criminally underrated BIRDS OF PREY and now Gunn's THE SUICIDE SQUAD the studio is embracing a newfound maturity in their comic book efforts by letting their filmmakers' imaginations run fully hog wild to shake things up in ways that Disney's MCU would never dare.  Allowing Gunn to cut loose and make a DCEU entry with a throw caution to the wind ambition is commendable. 

Even better is Gunn's fascination with making low rent villains prominent characters here, and they're presented in the most joyously comic book-y manner possible.  Take Cena's ultra square jawed and ultra patriotic Peacemaker, for instance.  He's portrayed as the douchebag super solider, who's name is all the more paradoxical because he doesn't so much play the role of keeper of the peace as much as he ruthlessly kills targets with extreme prejudice.  He's like a hapless serial killer that wears a silly toilet seat-like helmet, and Cena is pitch perfectly cast here.  Then there's Daniela Melchior's Ratcatcher 2, who is the daughter of, yes, Ratcatcher 1, with both family members being able to electronically control any rat (or army of rats) at any given time.  Perhaps the two most ridiculous Suicide Squaders are David Dastmalchian's Polka Dot Man and Stallone's King Shark, the former of which adorns a cheap looking suit covered in his namesake, but beneath his dime-store costumed facade lurks a suicidal maniac that only sees his mean mother in all of his prey ("I don't like to kill people, but if I pretend they're my mom...it's easy," he chillingly and amusing brags at one point).  Stallone's CG creature (think the Hulk, but even dumber and with a shark's head) has an insatiable appetite for human flesh, which makes his inclusion in the team very awkward for all others.  Deep down, however, he just wants friends.   

Of course, franchise newbie in Alba and returning vet in Robbie are most welcome here as well, with Alba getting a lot of scenery to chew (he also serves as the audience conduit and straight man here, incredulously reacting to all of the madness that befalls his team, often netting the film its best laughs).  And Robbie - as she demonstrated twice before playing her ex-psychiatrist turned all around psychopath - is just as infectiously screwy as ever, but this time is arguably given more of an opportunity to show how she can, like, never be trusted because of her freakish mental instability (like, ever).  Like a Looney Tunes cartoon short on acid and steroids, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is always running wild with an unabashed forward momentum with this band of twisted misfits, throwing them all into one deliriously silly pressure cooker situation after another.  Sometimes, unfortunately, Gunn's unquenchable thirst and enthusiasm for these characters and the film they occupy doesn't know when to quit.  At an oftentimes watch checking 132 minutes, THE SUICIDE SQUAD becomes a tad exhausting by the time the end credits roll by, not to mention that this film's relentless assault of unique branded super villain hijinks, metahuman prowess, and borderline pornographic gore starts to become numbing after awhile. 

And speaking of gore porn, THE SUICIDE SQUAD certainly aims itself (and mostly succeeds) to transcend and subvert our expectations for these type of massive budgeted super hero blockbusters, but then it really disappoints by slavishly adhering to what oh-so-many other comic book extravaganzas (on both DC and Marvel sides) cling to in their climatic acts: visual effects heavy showdowns involving the heroes (or villains in this case) having battles with an extraterrestrial menace leading to shocking amounts of consequence-free city destruction.  How many more of these comic book films are we going to have to sit through that wallow in miming this overused third act template?  Considering the unbridled boldness of Gunn's approach throughout the first two thirds of THE SUICIDE SQUAD, witnessing the lack of creativity in its finale was a real letdown for me (granted, the alien beastie of Project Starfish is indeed a most memorable "freakin' kaiju").  

Still, if 2016's SUICIDE SQUAD was like the Diet Coke of comic adaptations (easy to drink, but lacking in flavour punch), then experiencing Gunn's THE SUICIDE SQUAD is like chugging liters of heavily caffeinated and sugar laced energy drinks.  It has an innovative brand of controlled (well, sometimes uncontrolled) chaos that's wholly its own and unlike just about any other comic book feature (only the DEADPOOL films rival and top it).  And Gunn's wild-eyed and reckless confidence and absurd anarchist's spirit serves this material quite well, which helps override some of THE SUICIDE SQUAD's more problematic issues.  

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