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The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad 2021

This looks fun, especially if you're trapped in a lockdown
and can't go anywhere

dir: James Gunn

2021

Every review of this starts with “the first one was pretty shit”, and, indeed, Suicide Squad was pretty shit. Who knew just making another one with many of the same characters, adding a “The” to the front, and setting most of it in daylight would make a profound difference to so many people?

The Suicide Squad is not really that much better than its predecessor. It looks better, because it probably had a bigger budget. It benefits from James Gunn’s brutish, comedic sensibilities, but it also suffers from them too. It employs the (what I think of as lazy) technique of doubling back and explaining something that happened a few minutes ago in order to explain how a person right now probably isn’t going to be murdered by the person standing over them., which became tedious 4 Guy Ritchie films ago.

It has massive action set pieces that don’t really feel that real, a villain who’s controlling the squad, who’s somehow worse than the threats they’re facing (Viola Davis, with all the venom and cold fury you’d expect and demand), way too many characters who are thankfully whittled down quickly to a core group, a strangely generic island nation in the Caribbean or off the coast of South America, and plenty of splatter and humour.

We watch the core business of this Dirty Dozen construct occur pretty quickly right from the start: a group of crims is put together, has an explosive inserted into their brains which can be exploded if they don’t follow orders or try to flee, they try to do the mission, then almost all of them die.

And then of course the credits start, to the tune of The Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died”, and the credits are basically a raucous In Memoriam for a bunch of dickheads who died within seconds of the movie starting, and who (in most cases) we will never see again.

Of this group (yes, I am going to belabor several points, why do you ask?), there is Pete Davidson, of Saturday Night Live fame, playing one of the “villians” called Blackguard. When I heard that Davidson was going to be in a Suicide Squad movie, and that so were thirty or more other people as well, I guessed pretty easily that he would be dead within minutes.

If the flick can be said to be surprising, it’s that it takes even less than that! Way to go Pete! Your post-SNL career is off to a great start.

It then backtracks to show us another completely different team being set up, with a different leader, and a similar objective, but, really, are they the main team, and the other is the distraction? It’s hard to tell. The people running stuff, under Amanda Waller’s direction, seem both good at their jobs of running black ops, but also kinda half-arsed and haphazard, as in almost random in their bad choices.

The leader of the ‘real’ group is called Bloodsport (Idris Elba), which is pretty much a generic name so generic that I keep having to remind myself what the name was by looking it up. And I have a passing familiarity with DC comics, so it shouldn’t be so hard. And yet it is.

It’s because of this: Bloodsport, Deadshot, Deathstroke; these are all different characters, villains, and who can really tell them apart, even the nerds, huh?

I much prefer it when they call him Dubois, which is the character’s surname. I love Idris Elba, as do many people, mostly women, across the world. I don’t always love his performances. There are times when he’s better than the material given to him, and times when he is worse. It’s unpredictable, too. Sometimes he’s solid, like in big budget stuff like here, and sometimes the budget doesn’t stop him from being, shall we say, mediocre? (Hobbes & Shaw, Pacific Rim, the unreviewable Dark Tower).

All he has to do is snarl and be a prick for much of the flick before doing the turn that they do with these flicks, where he chooses to care a little bit about the people around him. The manipulation they use here to force him to go on the mission is felony charges against a daughter he barely knows, who hates his guts anyway.

The running joke is that each villain is selected because of their unique set of skills, and that they are prisoners with long prison sentences ahead of them that will be reduced if they succeed and won’t matter if they die. But Bloodsport’s skill set and backstory is no different from the person he’s replacing, being Will Smith as Deadshot from the previous flick, who also had a daughter, and also was a really good marksman, and could kill a person with anything. But even then, within the carefully curated crew, Peacemaker (John Cena) has exactly the same skillset. Their ‘uniqueness’ comes from their interchangeability.

That isn’t true of all of them, though. Harley Quinn’s skillset seems to be being Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), randomly and crazily getting through situations in the most violent ways possible. Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) commands, um, jellyfish, and Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) commands polka dots.

But there was also a guy with a javelin, a weasel, a guy, another guy, a woman. There was an Aussie with boomerangs, but he wasn’t around for long. And there’s a walking shark (Sylvester Stallone), a very dumb walking around shark probably called King Shark who just likes eating everything.

If that’s a skillset, well, I’m qualified to be in the squad.

I guess, if I’m being grudgingly positive about the stuff that maybe the flick gets right, the tone is fine for this kind of flick. The different actors play their characters in different registers, as in, they’re going for different emotional elements, but the overall tone is one where anyone can die and probably should, and if they die, in general, it should be funny.

So it is in no way a serious superhero / supervillain caper. It feels like, even if the characters are saying stuff that should be important, well, it’s not really, not that much. The one stab at real world significance is that, if you’ve read the comics, any DC comics, and seen how Amanda Waller operates, it’s not really a stretch to make her the embodiment of US sadistic meddling overseas. At one point she orders the squad to murder a whole bunch of people in a village, and it turns out they were “good guy” freedom fighters who were fighting against the evil government of Corto Maltese even before that government was overthrown by worse people. They flat out murder a whole bunch of people, and Waller knew they weren’t a threat – she just likes making bad people do ruthless things.

And later, when the sheer magnitude of the actual Big Bad is revealed, she (being Waller) also reveals that the US has been the ones behind experimenting on the giant alien starfish that wants to take over every single person in the world by putting a starfish over their face, and turning them into extensions of itself.

It’s almost enough to make this squad of villains want to do something about US imperialism. Next they’ll be pointing out that the whole Vietnam adventure was bad too.

Viola Davis is always great in every role she’s ever done, but she seems to enjoy being evil for the sake of being evil so much that you wonder if it will make her own people turn against her.

If they do, it’s safe to say they haven’t seen what happened to her employees in the first movie, who she killed personally for no reason I could figure out, other than that she said they didn’t have the right level of clearance to know what she’s been up to. She is the living embodiment not just of the ends justifying the means mentality, but that being evil and doing awful shit that might help the US government is always its own reward.

She is not the poster child for a government acting like a considerate, engaged global citizen.

Action-wise, well, other than a long surreal sequence of Harley being wooed by the new leader of Corto Maltese with a whirlwind romance that inevitably ends in murder, the other champs (along with Milton) do their own thing until they can find some guy with spark plugs in his head called The Thinker (Peter Capaldi) in order to find the giant starfish. Harley’s bit extends into a long, quite enjoyable session of Harley killing a whole bunch of people with not much being added to the story other than the enjoyment of watch Harley kill people slightly worse than herself. I get the feeling Margot Robbie really enjoys playing this amazing character. The Harley represented here might not be as clever as the one in Birds of Prey (she has no line as hilarious here as “Don’t call me dumb, I’ve got a PhD, motherfucker!”) but some come close.

She’s so great, and so cosmically lucky, you wonder whether she really needs the rest of them. Though, the rest of them, being the few left alive, are sure Harley needs them too.

It makes for a curious dynamic, where you have a crew pretty much eventually getting along and caring about each other, and someone, a character who’s a star in their own right, blithely wandering around within the flick until someone deems it time for them to be together again for the grand finale.

And, really, it’s grand and silly simultaneously. It’s a big action finish with a huge tower falling apart in stages as the big bad escapes, with each member of the Squad (Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayana Pressley, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman and Rashida Tlaib, of course is the only Squad that matters) doing their bit to save the world.

The violence is absurdly over the top, but probably not in a way that should be too offensive to too many people (or maybe I am just inured to this kind of shit these days). The funniest section for me is that, at some point, a chap called Milton, who was driving them around at some stage, keeps following them around, even though he’s just a regular guy. He gets killed at some point, and Polka Dot guy is really upset about it, but Harley, who hasn’t been around with them all this time, having adventures, bonding etc, has no idea who Milton is or why they’re saddened by his passing.

It’s absurdist comedy, and takes up minutes and minutes of pointless argument, but I am exactly the person that would laugh at that, and then again when it’s repeated at the end, when Harley thinks that Idris Elba’s character is called Milton.

There’s also Polka Dot guys complex relationship with his mother, who he hates, represented here by having a middle aged woman, played by Lynne Ashe, at various stages, play enemies for him to attack, but, most unforgettably, stand in for the giant evil starfish Starro. It’s…bracing to see a Godzilla-sized middle aged woman tearing a city apart.

This succeeds where the previous one failed, despite having a pretty much identical structure and kinda goofy big bad. The giant dumb shark is delightful, and it’s really nice to see total fuckhead Sylvester Stallone getting relegated to only voice work (we don’t need to see you ever again, Sly, please don’t appear again in anything ever).

James Gunn has a bunch of tropes and templates, and he’s not afraid to use all the crap he did in those Guardians of the Galaxy flicks, even down to mawkishly sentimental claptrap like Ratcatcher 2’s backstory about her Portuguese heroin addict dad who nonetheless she adored, played by Taika Waititi, which still managed to pluck and tug the old heartstrings like nobody’s business. Even if the ending comes down to finding a way to take down a giant fucking starfish, as long as you were expecting to be mildly entertained by a dumb loud action flick, this would fit the bill fine, in all its garish pointless glory.

6 times James Gunn is starting to think he’s Tarantino now out of 10

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“I cherish peace with all of my heart. I don't care how many men, women and children I kill to get it.” – US Foreign Policy years 1946 onwards - The Suicide Squad

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