The Suicide Squad ***1/2
One Liner Review:
The best of the DCEU, this movie uses an R rating in all the right ways including great humor and extreme violence.
Talk about everything coming together in exactly the right way, both on the screen and off. This movie got the best director possible for this kind of genre to make it, because he was fired from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies at just the right moment, (before being rehired by them,) and that director, James Gunn, brought all of his craziness to this one. The thing that makes it special, compared to Guardians, is that it’s rated R. And boy does Gunn have fun with that. He uses the opportunity for both humor and violence and pulls no punches. Let’s just say this movie lives up to its title, killing characters left and right, often in very humorous ways. And on top of that there is great character development and beautiful artistry as well. The only gripe here is that the story isn’t anything special. Especially in the second half. But in all other ways, from action to humor to character, this movie delivers.
The Suicide Squad represents the best the DCEU is and probably the best it ever can be. Unless they decide to give us an R rated Batman movie at some point and get the perfect director to make it. You see, The Suicide Squad is an example of the perfect director being tapped to make a movie that is right in his wheel house, while being given the exact right rating he needed and no studio interference. Basically it was the perfect storm, or the absolute right combination of elements to make this thing work. And it did. The director is James Gunn, best known for the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Before those movies, he was a wacky director making some very unusual black comedy horror-gross out movies. We’re talking Slither and Super, two of the strangest movies around. But with Guardians, Gunn found a way to bring his style and humor to the mainstream. Now, that’s not to say that he sold out in any way, but just that he found a way to make his style work for a different audience. And that first Guardians movie, in particular, is in many ways a modern day masterpiece.
Well, with the Suicide Squad, Gunn is even more in his element than he was when he made those Guardians films. Consider it like Sam Raimi going from the Spider Man movies to Drag Me To Hell. In other words, a director who had gone mainstream to make superhero movies that still maintained his style, was now being given the chance once again to make a movie right in the genre he was best at. For Gunn, an R rated superhero movie is perfect. Especially considering it is an ensemble, group of misfits film, which is exactly what Guardians was. In fact, Suicide Squad, the Will Smith movie that came before this one, from about five years ago, was DC’s version of a Guardians of the Galaxy film. It was DCs answer to that Marvel movie. So when Marvel cut ties with Gunn and fired him from directing Guardians 3, after some off-color tweets from over a decade ago, that Gunn apologized for and regretted a long time ago, DC snatched him up. How perfect that right when they were ready to find a director Gunn became available. And it was only for a very short window of time, before Marvel decided to rehire him for Guardians 3. But by that point, Gunn had already signed on to make The Suicide Squad, and so this movie actually happened with the very best director they could have found to make it.
The movie is a sequel to that earlier Will Smith, David Ayer-directed film. It’s been said that this is a reboot or a non-sequel, and none of that actually makes any sense. Four of the main characters from that movie return for this one. Sure, Will Smith is not in this movie, and he was the number one actor in the earlier film, but it’s an ensemble piece the whole way, and when four characters return, and the story logically follows (this is just about continued missions that follow the same rules as the first movie,) then it is absolutely a sequel. And that’s a good thing, because to reboot the movie so soon after the first one would have been pretty dopey. By making it a sequel, both movies can exist in the same universe, which means we are open to the possibility of Will Smith even returning one day to reprise his role, if there is yet another film. And after this movie, and how great it turned out, there certainly should be.
The movie opens with the point of view of a single character, Savant (played by Gunn regular Michael Rooker,) as he sits in his prison cell and kills a bird with a ball. We get a rapid fire montage of Savant being let out of his cell to come work for Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, reprising her role from the first movie,) on a Suicide Squad team. She quickly explains the rules, which is a rapid fire rehashing of what was established in the first movie, including the idea that a chip is being installed in the back of Savant’s neck, and the chip contains a bomb, which Waller can blow up any time she wants, if Savant tries to run. And we meet Rick Flag (Joel Kinneman, also reprising his role from the first movie.) Flag is the team leader.
From there, we meet the rest of the team very briefly as they board an airplane and then ride out to their mission. They get dropped on a beach, by jumping out of the plane, into the water, and after the first character dies because he can’t swim, the rest all go into combat. We get to see different characters use their powers. Captain Boomerang is on board here, for example (Jai Courtney, as the third actor reprising his role from the first movie,) and he throws a boomerang in such a way that it cuts off the heads of his enemies. He dies shortly afterwards, which means he was only in the movie for about five minutes, and in those five minutes we got the coolest moment we’ve seen with this character, despite him having an entire film in the last movie to do better. Chalk that up to the R rating this movie was given, and how Gunn knows how to use that rating just right. He blends humor (one character called The Detachable Kid, TDK, has arms that float around and just slap the enemies in the face, in the slowest, funniest and most ridiculous of ways,) with gory action, and gets it down perfect. This opening scene features the deaths of nearly every character sent, and includes multiple graphic killings from one guy getting his face shot off to another getting his head exploded and then his insides eaten by a bird. It’s all pretty over the top, pretty funny, and gutsy as hell. And it announces that this movie will not be holding anything back.
From that beach slaughter, which is like the Omaha Beach invasion scene of Saving Private Ryan played for humor and featuring superheroes, we now move backwards to about one day earlier. Gunn continues the humor with the way he uses imagery to present time jump titles. First, when a character’s head is exploded, the blood in the water forms the words “Warner Brother’s Presents.” Then the next title appears as soap on a prison toilet bowl that one of our characters is cleaning. The character is Blood Sport, played by Idris Elba. This is not to be mistaken with Dead Shot, the Will Smith character from the first movie, despite the fact that both characters are assassins, have somewhat similar names, wear masks that hide their entire faces, and are played by black actors. Bloodsport is the protagonist of this movie, if there is one. He’s the team leader of another team that Waller is about to send out.
In fact, we learn that Bloodsport’s team is being sent out at the exact same time as the other team, and that the death of the other team is something that Waller is using as a diversion to help distract the enemy from attacking Bloodsport’s team. A guess is that Waller sent both teams at the same time, not knowing which one the enemy would be near and would attack, and that it didn’t matter which team was the sacrificial one, based on the fact that Flag, the real team leader was on the sacrificial team. Not to mention that all the returning champions from the first movie, including Captain Boomerang and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, the fourth actor to be reprising her role,) were on that sacrificial team, and you would expect Waller to hold these characters in the highest regard considering that they were the ones who saved the world once before. But Gunn quickly eliminates and disposes of them in a way that is funny because of how fast he kills them off, as much as it is for anything else.
And now we are with the second team, watching Bloodsport meet the other members. These include Peacemaker (played by John Cena,) a character who claims to believe in peace and country, but is willing to kill men, women, and children in order to maintain that peace. The team also includes Rat Catcher 2 (a woman who controls rats,) Polka Dot man, (a guy who throws Polka Dots,) and King Shark (a half man, half shark, voiced by none other than Sylvester Stallone.) Gunn knows what he’s doing with these characters and gives them all life and personality. In Guardians, he made us care about a talking racoon and a tree man. Here, he again gives us animal characters front and center with King Shark being this movies version of Groot, as well as a rat who hangs out on Rat Catcher 2’s shoulder and does funny gestures throughout the movie, and even a disposable Weasel character at the start of the film. Gunn handles it all flawlessly. King Shark, referred to as Anawee here, actually does come through as a real character. Then again so do all of the others.
From Polka Dot Man’s multi-colored and somewhat horrific rash, as well as his mother issues, to Rat Catcher 2’s caring personality and father-inspiration, these characters are surprisingly pretty developed. Think Rocket talking about the experiments that were done on him, in the first Guardians movie. Not what you’d expect from a talking raccoon. Even Margot Robbie is the best she’s ever been as Harley Quinn, and that’s a pretty wild statement considering she was the best thing about the first Suicide Squad movie, and she also got her own spinoff film (Birds of Prey.) But no movie figured out how to really get her character right, until now. She is dynamic here, owning the accent (in all other films it was more annoying than fun,) and the craziness of the character. Quinn even gets her own brief subplot here, including a short-lived love affair with a prominent politician.
The movie has a whole lot going for it, including some great banter and competition between Peacemaker and Bloodsport (their shootout-executing enemies competition is probably the best scene in the entire movie.) Even the main monstrous, giant beast of a villain at the end is kind of cool. And yet something about the plot seems a little too simple. It is, after all, a basic men on a mission movie to destroy this lab and creature. In the first half we don’t notice that as much, mainly due to all the creative time jumps. But in the second half, as the creature appears and we head towards a climax, you definitely feel it more. The subplot with Harley Quinn might not fit exactly with everything else going on in this movie, but it was a nice diversion, giving us something new and creative. More of that in the second half would have gone a long way. But instead, the second half begins to feel a little generic. Especially when we learn the villain has an army of faceless enemies working for him, much like just about all ensemble superhero movies have (think about every Avengers movie.) Still, Gunn gets his eye popping colors in and his wild imagination (say what you want about that end creature, but he is sure fun to look at.) Gunn gets his campy humor in and his grotesque use of blood and violence. And all of it is delivered just right. Sure, the storyline isn’t perfect, but the fact that this movie got so much right in terms of violence, creativity, and humor, and still had tons of character development is pretty impressive. What a surprisingly good film.