The Suicide SquadPublished on 11 August 2021
I've had enough superheroes.
No, really. I don't subscribe to Disney+, so I've missed all of the spin-offs on that platform, and I've watched most DC films on BluRay or streamed them (except for Nolan's, duh). I don't look forward to the Eternals or even the next Spidey (my Marvel fave, and yeah, I know I'm not even trying to stand out of the crowd with this one). As for the Spider-Man games from Insomniac? Well, I waited for two years until I picked the first one up. They were great, btw. If you own a PlayStation, don't miss out on both Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
The thing is, we've come a long way since 2007, when Marvel launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), with (the still terrific, in my opinion) Iron Man. Everything was born that day: the screenplay structure that later films were going to follow to the word, the snarky humor and endless punchlines, the dazzling visual effects, and a cast with enough chemistry to make Walter White blush. There's no denying that phase 1 of the MCU was a cinematic (and business) achievement. Lavish, stylish, curated by folks who lived and breathed superheroes ever since they were kids - the MCU shattered expectations and box-office results.
Cut to 14 years later, and it seems as though we've seen it all. What are you going to throw at the screen? More interplanetary monarchs/dictators pushing their agenda, and third-act all-out wars that consume the Earth? Been there, done that. 10+ characters in one movie, none of whom can hope to get enough screen-time or character development to even hint at an arc? Yeah, quite used to it by now. Non-stop visual effects? (deadpan) Whoa.
Sure enough, we've been spoiled. With constantly mounting, end-of-the-world stakes and two-dimensional antagonists with their continent-spanning armies. With mind-bending VFX that beat our imagination the hell out of us. With actors so first-class, you're left wondering whether something else existed before Marvel even came along.
This is where movies like the late Suicide Squad (2021) by James Gunn (and shows like The Boys (2019) by Eric Kripke) come in.
I haven't watched the first Suicide Squad. I didn't see Birds of Prey. Aside from Margot Robbie being the Harley Quinn we've all been waiting for, the trailers for these movies gave me an unshakeable sense of deja-vu. I ended up sitting them out. It was as if I had watched the films themselves just by watching their trailers. But hey, that's me.
This one, however, had my heart from the first moment I saw a gigantic, human-shaped shark gobble up a fellow human in one of its trailers. Blood and guts included. R-rated. Middle-fingers-up. A script that didn't seem to involve or rely on the Joker or any other familiar face (at least for a comic-book dilettante like yours truly) from the DC lineup.
Don't get me wrong, I was sure that what I was about to see would follow the usual superhero film structure, epic battle at the end, and all. But while this is absolutely the case - at its core, this is very much a traditional superhero flick - "The Suicide Squad" is all about the characters you embark on this journey with.
I won't bore you with details of the plot - chances are, if you're going to watch a Marvel/DC film, you're more or less familiar with what you're getting yourself into. The movie keeps you on your toes with clever setups, cutting back and forth between different POVs (the team gets split up twenty minutes into the film), up-close-and-personal action sequences, over-the-top gore, and top-notch acting. Next to Harley Quinn, the CG-but-very-much-alive King Shark and the little rat on the shoulder of the Ratcatcher steal the spotlight for me, along with Idris Elba stealing the spotlight as Bloodsport. Let's not forget about the superb soundtrack, now a James Gunn staple (I can't stop listening to the credits track - "Oh No!!!" by grandson - on repeat).
The editing is tight and to-the-point, and the directing is inventive enough to spice things up when necessary: like two of the film's characters going at it, with the battle reflected in a helmet lying on the ground, or Harley Quinn going berserk, and as you're watching your usual fire-and-fist-fight, the sequence gets infused with Quinn's psyche, and flowers spurt out of bullet wounds, explosions of pink and blue colors wash the walls, little birdies fly about as if in a Disney princess film - all of it with a sense of purpose, tying in nicely with one of Quinn's earlier lines, and building up her character, instead of just being another firefight that you're going to watch and forget.
As for the script, the reduced character roster and a generous runtime (which flies past) give Gunn leeway to work with the characters and dig into their personalities. If you've watched the Guardians, you'll be swimming in familiar waters: Gunn manages to give each cast member breathing room and dimensionality. Some get less than others - this isn't surprising - but I'd argue that the groundwork for each is solid. As someone who hasn't watched the other movies and has never read the comics, I was able to find my bearings without breaking a sweat. The isolated location the group finds itself in - on an island - helps ground the plot immensely. This isn't another pointless globe-trotting adventure, and it ends up being all the better for it.
All in all, this is the best superhero/anti-hero flick I've seen in a long time and the only one that truly worked its magic on me since The Boys. It's conventional enough for a larger audience to know what they're going to watch and takes more time with its genuinely unconventional characters to make it into an experience worth your while.
While we're on the subject, yes. I do suggest you watch this in a movie theatre. The stylized visuals, action scenes, and quality VFX are worth the price of admission alone, not to speak of the fact that you're going to have a blast. So why not have it the way you're supposed to watch a movie like this one - on the silver screen?
~ Fin ~
As a side-note, I've read some reviews that critique the "island nation" where our heroes find themselves, which is presented in stereotypical "vague third world population gets saved by a rag tag group of Americans" fashion. While I agree in essence, I believe that a movie needs its focus, or it risks juggling too many balls simultaneously and going nowhere. The Suicide Squad works because of its tunnel-vision focus on its characters, and it works splendidly. Go have a blast!