The Suicide Squad (2021)
Warner Bros. seems to have no idea what to do with the DC brand. It has been trying harder and harder to compete with Marvel and they fail almost every time. It's not because they are hiring the wrong directors or actors, or even the wrong scriptwriters; in fact, if they actually made what was in the script more often, the DCCU would be right up there with Marvel. It's just that they never seemed to have grasped what made the two Tim Burton Batman movies and the three Christopher Nolan ones stand out. It wasn't grim settings and plodding drama, but in the former a great sense of dark humor (which replaced the campiness of the television show) and the latter, for the most part, good story telling.
Instead when Batman was brought back after Nolan's trilogy was completed he had issues. Superman also has issues. Lois Lane has issues. Everyone has issues, and everything goes boom, in a washed-out color palette that looks like everything was filmed in a combination of an Arizona dust storm and Los Angeles pollution. Thus, I have to admit, when watching DC films, I have to usually accept the fact that if I'm interested in one I'm probably not going to get a lot of references to previous ones, because I would assume that if they can't show the good parts in the trailers to actually make the movie look good, then it must be an even more grueling experience sitting through it for two and a half hours.
David Ayers's Suicide Squad immediately struck me as a movie I wanted to avoid. It had Jared Leto's Joker looking like Ninja from Die Antwoord (one of the few people in this world now less popular than Jared Leto) and, at least in the trailers, little hint of any story or anything beyond a bunch of people posing in silly outfits. I didn't see Justice League for much the same reason, although I was willing to sit through all four hours of Zack Snyder's Justice League just to see if all the stories of studio interference were true. Watching side-by-side comparisons, the truth is, yes, Warner Bros. ruined their own film by letting Joss Whedon trash everything Snyder had done to that point. While it did not need to be four hours, Snyder's version was at least an enjoyable superhero film, helped by the fact it didn't try to compromise for a PG-13 rating.
The original Suicide Squad suffered from studio interference was well, and also was gutted of any life for that coveted PG-13, and now it seems David Ayers is trying to see about getting his original version out there. After watching The Suicide Squad, directed by James Gunn, I might be interested in seeing the original if he gets his way, largely due to Margot Robbie's performance as Harley Quinn, which was the only good thing I heard about in either Suicide Squad or its semi-sequel Birds of Prey. Until then, I'm happy to report that Gunn, directing this movie while on hiatus from the Marvel Universe due to be temporarily cancelled for for some decidedly creepy jokes he made when he was younger, seems to understand that this is probably going to be the case. While technically Suicide Squad wasn't a financial disaster, it was one with critics and fans, so much so that it can taint what comes after.
With that in mind Warner Bros. did something radical: let Gunn write and direct the movie he wanted, and pretty much kept their noses out of it. Rewrites, reshoots and following the advice of test audiences didn't work for Justice League, Suicide Squad or Birds of Prey. Sure, letting Patty Jenkins have her way with the Wonder Woman films is hit and miss, but the first one was better than anything else DC was putting out, and Joker as a standalone film wasn't perfect but it did address the fact that these movies did not have to be rinse, wash, and repeat, which is something that Marvel and Disney often forgets.
Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the head of a government agency in charge of Task Force X, otherwise known as the Suicide Squad, has gathered a number of imprisoned supervillains, led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinneman) and including Harley Quinn, to invade the island of Corto Maltese. What they are unaware of is that another squad, made up of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratchatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), has also been sent to the island. The concern is that the ruling family has been executed in a coup and the new dictator, Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto), is not friendly to the U.S.
The reason this is a concern is because of a research facility on the island called Jotenheim, in which there is an ongoing project called Starfish, led by a scientist known as the Thinker (Peter Capaldi). Luna and his right-hand man, Mayor General Mateo Suarez (Joaquin Cosio) hope to use whatever is in Jotenheim to make the island nation a world power. The Suicide Squad has been sent to prevent this by any means necessary and, eventually with the main band combining with Flag and Quinn, they come up with a plan to do so. Unfortunately the nature of what Project Starfish is has more wide-ranging consequences than anyone believes.
The result of letting Gunn have his way with everything is that one doesn't have to sit through two bad movies to understand this one. It's not dark and muddy like many of its DC counterparts; in fact, an entire sequence involving Harley Quinn escaping from an interrogation involves animated flowers and birds flying all over the place. The last act of the movie takes place entirely in daylight and, to boot, a monster that would look ridiculous in the hands of anyone who had not already made two movies with a talking raccoon. His narrative may not always seem the smoothest, but his imagination is on full display here, including that aforementioned sequence with Quinn that seems much like what Zack Snyder was going for in one of his biggest failures, Suckerpunch.
Speaking of Quinn, she is not the main character in The Suicide Squad. The temptation I'm sure was there as she was largely the only character anyone cared about, but the focus is on Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2. Idris Elba is basically filling in for Will Smith, who played Deadshot in the first film and could not return for this one, but beyond the obvious reason the role was written Elba makes this character his own. Daniela Melchior is a Portuguese actress that was, until this movie came out, unknown in the United States, and does most of the dramatic heavy lifting. She is definitely the one that technically shouldn't be thrown in with the rest, although she turns out to be one of the most important, providing a moral anchor for Bloodsport, especially in his ongoing conflict with Peacemaker. One would think the comedy would fall largely to David Dastmalchian, and in some ways it does, but it also just happens he and his ability are a lot more than what people give him credit for. The true comedic character, and also one of the most violent, is King Shark. Sylvester Stallone provided the voice as a favor to Gunn and he seems to have just had fun with it.
One of the problems with The Suicide Squad is it does have too many villains, and I'm not just talking about the Squad itself. First there is Amanda Waller, whose moral compass pretty much aligns with Peacemaker's, and both make it clear that this movie is still very much stuck in the Trump administration. Gunn is never shy about going after Trump and, unfortunately for him, his target is long gone from the White House, so some of the jabs he is making seem out of place now. Peter Capaldi plays a mad scientist and seems anxious to shake an remnants of his time as the Doctor, and he's one of the more memorable. It is too bad he wasn't the main focus, but we also have Silvio Luna and, after him, Mayor General Suarez, and not to mention in the end we get a completely different threat to deal with separate from everyone we have already met.
Gunn tried to tone down the CGI this time around and use more practical effects, and that does help in many ways. King Shark, Sebastian the Rat and Weasel are all CGI characters and look great, but there are still some horrible, almost unfinished scenes, such as a bunch of predatory sea creatures and some of the nightmare visions that Polk-Dot Man sees. The latter may be intentional, but at other times it just seems like the effects department just went home after getting the main characters done. I also think that at times the action goes by way too fast, which is a typical complaint I have about modern movies that seem like they can't hold a shot for more than two seconds.
For the most part The Suicide Squad is the movie that the first one should have been and, if audiences are willing to forgive the films that came before it, it may even help the entire DCU franchise. It's not always that original - Deadpool 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy obviously had a lot of influence on the humor and structure - but it sure is a lot of fun to watch. I'd be more interested in seeing spinoff movies for Bloodsport, Ratcatcher 2 and a real Harley Quinn film at this point than any more Batman or Superman, or even Wonder Woman for that matter. If the executives at Warner Bros. can keep their noses out of it and trust their directors then there may be some hope of saving this franchise yet.
The Suicide Squad (2021)
Time: 132 minutes
Starring: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, Daniela Melchior, John Cena, David Dastmalchian, Joel Kinneman, Peter Capaldi, Viola Davis, Sylvester Stallone
Director: James Gunn