12 September 2021

First Impressions: The Suicide Squad

I may have missed my window on this. But I watched Shang-Chi (2021) last night and am bound to crank that one out. But The Suicide Squad (2021) is in my queue! Maybe these don't have to be 3000+ words each? But I liked these movies. Okay, I'll try to blow through context, because it's pretty wide known at this point. SPOILERS from here on out, though.

What I do want to espouse on quite a bit is how ridiculous it is that Warner Bros notably micromanaged the hell out of all their mid-2010s DC properties, including David Ayer's Suicide Squad (2016), and this feels like the most auteur Superhero movie of all time. Did anyone say no to James Gunn on anything in this? I can't imagine what Ayer was thinking when he watched this. Now, to be fair, Ayer himself isn't the kind of wacky creative brain to really run with this concept, and Suicide Squad's generic formula, for all our whining, probably isn't wholly the fault of the studio. But we also know that WB took it out of his hands, gave it to a trailer making studio to edit, and somehow tried playing it safe and edge the whole time.

I continually get a crack at the fact that they're just allowed to redo all these movies that totally bombed. But it's somehow even more irritating that their second chances have been so good. Although it wasn't wholly without problems, the Snyder Cut demolished Justice League (2017). And I gotta say that the studio's attempt at doing this exact same concept again, except right, resulted in one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. I said it.

It works by simultaneously poking fun of its concept but also taking itself seriously. It's a weird line to walk, but one that comic book themselves do earnestly all the time. There needs to be a tacit acknowledgment that everything going on is ridiculous and far-fetched, but there are still real consequences and characters. It's not ashamed of any of its pulpy origins, but it still finds ways to imbue genuine emotion into the insanity on screen. It's a lot similar to what Gunn did with racoons and talking trees in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), except with rats and talking sharks, but it still finds its own throughline towards originality.

We ought to talk a bit about how much this is a sorta half-sequel. It's basically not, although it brings back about half of the primary cast. There's no real reference to any previous adventures, and the barest references to the greater DC universe. They use this to their advantage, though. People like Captain Boomerang who you'd think would be an "unkillable" character (even in a Suicide Squad movie) are offed in the first scene. The marketing wisely avoided that whole spoiler, by the way, which is truly commendable.

Looking back, we should have probably figured it out that the dumbest characters would all die first (well, I dunno, Polka Dot Man...), but it's a truly amazing bait and switch, especially how much it focuses on Michael Rooker as our main character in the first five minutes. For a second I was sitting there thinking, "Is this really going to be a Michael Rooker movie?" and then when they all get offed it really leaves us in the lurch. But that's also what the title promises! It's so fun to have some genuine cannon fodder, and no one is safe for this whole movie. Well, except Harley Quinn. It's pretty guaranteed that she's safe. There isn't a ton of reference to her solo movie, but that's also totally Harley. Who knows where this takes place in her life or in relation to anyone else. She's certainly broken up with the Joker, though.

This kind of story fits the Squad so well, though. It's a dirty black ops mission that the US government can legit deny. And they also completely screw it up. There's this easy going-with-the flow nature to the story where you may expect anything to happen at any time, and there's so many set-ups to left-turn payoffs. Like when Harley is captured, of course she is able to escape on her own and doesn't need saving. That was a gratifying moment - Harley should never be a damsel in distress.

The movie is also genuinely dark and funny with a surprising amount of legit gore. It again serves its premise of taking the ramifications of giant sharks seriously, but also stretching reality just enough to add some comedy to the gorefest. It also doesn't do what the original Suicide Squad did, which is constantly acknowledge that they are all horrible people and criminals. They think nothing of killing their enemies, and sometimes accidentally their friends. Still, there are surprisingly touching deaths, like Colonel Rick Flagg, and Polka Dot Man, which pairs with Yondu as touching moments. Nothing to it, but how do we feel more for Polka Dot Man than we do for Superman? Maybe because we knew Superman was going to come back? Or because his arc isn't nearly as satisfying as the man who conquers his obsession with his abusive mother and finally gets a chance to use his horrific powers to do some good in the world?

Idris Elba has pretty much the same motivation as Will Smith in Suicide Squad, so take that with whatever racial overtones you'd like. There is some nice parody there when they talk about how they all have the same origin story. But all the acting is all reasonably solid, especially John Cena who does better the more he relishes his insanity.

Finally, Starro. I can't believe they put fucking Starro in this movie. I like to think that it was a little nod to him being the villain in the first Justice League comic, which is a nice sardonic commentary on this group of idiots now being the ones to fight him. But he's also a tragic figure in the best of Gunn ways, really only wanting to journey back to the stars after years on his earthly prison. They also genuinely use tactics and powers to beat it, which is so unlike every other superhero movie these days where they have to go back in time, or flick a switch, or grab a gem or something. No, use your actual powers, this is what we came here to see!

This film is just refreshing. It's violent, carefree, funny, dark without being edge, and just very genuine with itself. I've said that a lot because it bears repeating. It's everything the first Suicide Squad wasn't, which was a hot topic try hard. That makes such a critical difference. It also finds a way to have real heart, inside all the starfish facehuggers and shark bites. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it (although it's certainly not a four corner tentpole like a normal superhero movie). Two fins up.

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