Friday 13 August 2021

The Suicide Squad

The future of cinema (as we know it) is at a crossroads enforced by the ongoing pandemic. Studios continue to grapple with the controversial implications of simultaneously releasing movies in theatres and on streaming services.

However, this has allowed for uniquely fan-driven fare Zack Snyder's Justice League, which was the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) recut I didn't know I needed when it premiered on HBO Max and Sky Cinema earlier this year.

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, follows Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max with The Suicide Squad in a darkened theatre. Can director James Gunn reinvent these misfits into DC Comics' Guardians of the Galaxy?

Guest post by Nick Smith

I’m in a minority liking the original Suicide Squad movie, released back in August 2016. I was happy to see a comic book I grew up with adapted into a $175 million blockbuster. I admired the cast, which included Will Smith and Margot Robbie, bringing their acting chops to a beat-‘em-up.

I was aware that the film had been criticized for not being all it could be, and that the project had taken 7 years to get to the screen with reshoots thanks to, as actor Joel Kinnaman recently put it, ‘conflicting visions.’ What director David Ayer intended as, ‘a soulful drama,’ Ayer wrote on Twitter, ‘was beaten into a comedy.’ No wonder the result was messy.

Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for scrappy underdogs who don’t fit in with expectations and apparently, I’m not totally alone. ‘I have to give the characters the stories and plots they deserve next time,’ Ayer mope-tweeted, probably while counting his pay – the film earned over $746 million.

Criticisms of that first film ranged from ‘ugly and boring’ (Vanity Fair) to ‘ugly trash’ (Wall Street Journal). Suicide Squad aspired to be punk art; it was a supervillain version of 1967’s The Dirty Dozen, which is an action movie with some great acting and characters, dark humour and nihilistic violence? Were reviewers expecting something deeper, or were they anticipating pretty petals exploding out of soldiers when they died?

If that is what they wanted then 5 years later, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad delivers, complete with the flowers. For consistency’s sake, 4 actors reprise their roles: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Amanda Waller (perfectly brought to life by Viola Davis). Like the first movie, The Suicide Squad sequel had growing pains – 3 different directors, a switch of one of the main characters in the hopes that Will Smith would return in the future, and helmer James Gunn’s temporary fall out of Hollywood favour for what Christ Pratt called, ‘inappropriate jokes from years ago.’

Despite all that, the new film feels cohesive under the writer/director guidance of Gunn. Like the best parts of its predecessor, it hearkens back to John Ostrander’s 1980s comic book run, featuring a group of losers most of whom the public hasn’t heard of.

Gunn’s major improvement is making his losers more likeable. We worry about them as bullets fly, buildings topple and people get eaten around them. ‘If you don’t care about the characters,’ Gunn told USA Today, ‘the heads exploding don’t really matter.’

The obscurest characters get the most sympathy – Ratcatcher 2 (played by Daniela Melchior) has a backstory that got me quite choked up, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) has massive mommy issues, King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) suffers pangs of loneliness. This is Hollywood character-building, to be sure – nothing too deep or unrelatable – but in the context of a quirky action flick, Gunn gets it. We are engaged, emotionally and visually.

Gunn’s narrative surprises keep us guessing who will survive and what will be left of them (the teaser posters say, ‘don’t get too attached.’). There’s great attention to detail (a gate leaves grooves in the ground as if it’s been opened and closed thousands of times; realistic gore is pecked from a headless corpse). The film is broken into chapters with Will Eisner-style titles formed out of the landscape. The Squad’s silver age appearances in The Brave and the Bold and Star Spangled War Stories are homaged with a show-stomping villain later in the movie.

In the centre of all this action and affectionate comic-bookery are Bloodsport (Idris Elba), a rewrite of Will Smith’s Deadshot that doesn’t feel like a mere replacement thanks to Elba’s gravitas; and Harley Quinn, in Robbie’s best performance so far as the demented, homicidal but somehow still utterly affable anti-hero.

Audiences might come for the comedy, the vivid imagery and war movie vibes but they’ll leave with feels for the craftily developed characters who are searching for a misfit family of their own, conflicting visions and all.

Have you seen The Suicide Squad? Let me know in the comments below.

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