SUICIDE SQUAD (Directed by James Gunn, 132 minutes, USA, 2021)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC James Gunn helming a Suicide Squad film should have been an easy win. The director previously adapted a property for Marvel few even knew existed when he brought Guardians of the Galaxy to the MCU. That film has became a pop-culture touchstone and represents a watershed moment for the director. Gunn cut his teeth making no-budget indie films for Troma that trafficked in transgressive humor and buckets of gore. After a falling out with Marvel — a fence that has since been mended — Gunn was lured to the DC film universe. There he was offered to work his brand of magic on a property about a similar group of outlaws on a mission, aka The Suicide Squad. DC’s supergroup of villains who are doing good in the hopes of shaving some time off their prison sentences, which originally was an easy way for the comic creators to explain why the villains of DC were constantly getting out of jail. This film is a soft reboot that brings some of the surviving members from the first film back with fresh new looks and a harder R-Rated attitude.
The truly ironic thing here is the original Suicide Squad was kind of DC’s knee jerk reaction to Guardians of the Galaxy. The original Squad was rumored to have been much darker before they cut a trailer that was similar in tone to Guardians, replete with needle drops and quirky jokes and Gunn-esque banter. After the overwhelmingly positive fan reaction to that trailer, the film was then recut by a third party – the ad firm that cut the trailer, with additional reshoots to further mimic that stylistic tone. This resulted in a bastard child that failed in my opinion like most of these DC films because of tonal imbalance due to pandering to fan reactions to trailers when they should be trusting their directors. So landing Gunn, the original auteur who crafted the film they tried and failed to replicate, on the sequel to said film seemed to really make sense.
The Suicide Squad picks up sometime after the first, with the Squad once again recruited by Amanda Waller to head down to the South American island of Corto Maltese. Their mission is to erase all traces of “Project Starfish,” a top secret doomsday weapon research project of “extraterrestrial origin,” when a military coup risks it falling into anti-American hands. After the group who you think are the movie’s titular protagonists (but in actuality are a sacrificial diversion meant to run interference for the real Suicide Squad) are killed off, we then follow the violent hijinks of a group of convicts-turned-commandos lead by Bloodsport (Idris Elba). The rest of the roster here includes the scene-stealing Peacemaker played by the massively underrated John Cena, the Sylvester Stallone-voiced King Shark, Polka-Dot Man, and Ratcatcher 2. They are later joined in their quest by Harley Quinn and Rick Flag who are the only two characters who genuinely care for one another, which is the biggest flaw in the film.
The Suicide Squad has Gunn coming in hot on his R-rating with plenty of fucks, tons of gore and probably the most taboo of thing in American movies: full frontal male nudity. It’s all here, and it should be glorious, and hilarious, but it’s missing something — heart. The reason the Guardians films worked so well is because you got the feeling that this band of outsiders were a dysfunctional family and by overcoming their personal differences it made them not only stronger but better people in the process. Here, we are just waiting on the group to turn on one another in what feels like an episode of Rick and Morty. Project Starfish, it turns out, is literally a giant starfish from outer space that destroys the capital city of Corto Maltese using Alien-style face-sucking mind control to turn its citizens into homicidal zombies hell bent on killing the Squad. This is basically what happened in the first film as Deadshot, I mean Bloodsport, has to choose to be a leader to get the Squad to the finish line of their mission and save his daughter.
I am not going to even try to touch the bizarre, anti-American subtext that feels like an empty plot device to facilitate a full release for our remaining team at the end. But this film just fails on so many levels, sorely lacking the emotional gravitas of Gunn’s previous spandex clad outings, it’s derivative and resorts to simply throwing against the wall whatever sight-gag humor he hopes will stick to the lowest common denominator. I mean by the time we see the third person ripped in half by a giant shark and Taika Waititi O.D. on heroin, we’re painfully aware that The Suicide Squad is the film equivalent to a Calvin pissing on the Marvel logo sticker on the back of a Telsa.The sad truth here is while there’s some really cool shit here. The original Suicide Squad, which was essentially a poor man’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, had more heart than Gunn’s and I hate to say it but less is sometimes more in the shock department. While being mildly entertaining, yet ultimately forgettable, this Squad could be Gunn’s first superhuman misstep; here’s hoping he gets his head on straight and his shit together before Guardians Three.