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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look46.15%
Pretty Bad: 7.69%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 1 rating

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Suicide Squad, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Just Look For The "The"
4 stars

When I sit down to write a review of a big, effects-heavy epic based on a comic book, I almost always kick things off with a reminder that I am not a particularly big fan of such thing, largely to allow readers who do enjoy such things to properly handicap what I have to say about them. In hindsight, it would seem that in the case of “Suicide Squad” (2016), I probably needn’t have bothered since even those who generally enjoyed such things largely found it to be unwatchable swill as well. Pitched as a wild antidote to the straightforward heroics of its corporate brethren, this low-level DC title, based on the premise of a group of imprisoned super villains put together as part of a top secret government program in which they would save the world in exchange for reduced prison sentences, was arguably the biggest fuckup of such a potentially interesting comic book-inspired idea since the infamous “Howard the Duck”—it was far too stupid, ugly and hateful to work as the mass-market blockbuster it was promoted as, way too restrained, timid and bloodless to succeed as the edgy anti-blockbuster that it presumably wanted to be and was little more than a haphazard assemblage of messy set pieces that were sometimes briefly enlivened by Margot Robbie’s inspired turn as the kooky-crazy Harley Quinn (a role she would find a better vehicle for in “Birds of Prey” (2020)) and dragged down to Mariana Trench-like depths during the blessedly brief moments when Jared Leto wandered on to deliver his absurdly overhyped and genuinely awful performance as Joker, a turn so bad that one suspects that the inexplicable veneration that Joaquin Phoenix received for his portrayal of the character in “Joker” was borne mostly out of a desire to ensure that Leto never tried it again.

Therefore, I was not exactly elated to learn that a film that seemingly no one like had apparently still managed to make enough money to earn a sequel. Sure, most of the people responsible for the first film—including writer-director David Ayer and the majority of the cast except for Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman and, inevitably, Jai Courtney—were not going to be on board for this version, but so what? Sure, such a film had a better-than-average chance of being an improvement on its predecessor—two hours of blank leader might be slightly better than the first film—but having so completely ruined the premise the first time around, it still seemed highly unlikely that it would result in something good, or even watchable. And therefore, I was just as surprised as you may well be to discover that “The Suicide Squad” is a marked improvement on what came before it. This is so clearly the film that they should have made the first time around—a rude, violent and cheerfully loopy pisstake on overblown action extravaganzas that wears its crudity like a badge of honor—that even as you watch it unfold with various degrees of delight and disbelief, you may find yourself hating the earlier film all the more for having waster everyone’s time and money in the first place.

Since a number of the bigger laughs come from the element of surprise, I will be brief in my description of the particulars. Suffice it to say, having evidently learned nothing from the first film, government agent Amanda Walker (Davis) has assembled a new Task Force X of villains to do the kind of job that the more overtly heroic types can’t or won’t do. This time around, they are sent off to Corto Maltese, a Latin American country presumably just down the road from the one in “Bananas” an one where the American-favored dictator has just been overthrown in a coup. Having apparently learned nothing from history either, the mission is essentially a comic book version of the Bay of Pigs invasion and ends up going just as spectacularly wrong, leaving our surviving heroes as they attempt to complete their mission, only to discover that there are certain elements that were not disclosed to them and which have the potential to destroy everything in sight unless the group can band together and save the same world that they themselves would have been happy to destroy back in the day.

Some of the squad members you will recall from the first film, led by the irrepressible Harley Quinn (Robbie) and also including Captain Boomerang (Courtney) and military liaison Col. Rick Flag (Kinnaman). Leading the crop of newcomers is Bloodsport (Idris Elba), who is in jail for putting Superman in the hospital and who is only “volunteering” to prevent Walker from sending his teenage daughter to jail on a shoplifting charge. Peacemaker (Jon Cena) is an ultra-jingoisti type who is deeply devoted to the cause of peace and will cheerfully slaughter countless people in order to get his point across. Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) is a master thief who was trained by her late and beloved father to command and harness the power of rats. On the other end of the parental issue spectrum, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) was driven mad by his mother’s determination to transform him into a superhero and who therefore sees her whenever he deploys his deadly-but-adorable gifts. And in lieu of the first film’s Killer Croc (don’t ask), we have King Shark, a half-man/half-shark hybrid with the mouth and appetite of a man-eater, the mind of a child and the voice of Sylvester Stallone.

The most important addition and perhaps the biggest single key to the film’s success is writer-director James Gunn, who has demonstrated his superhero bonafides via the two mega budget “Guardians of the Galaxy” films. This is ironic because one of the biggest problems with “Suicide Squad” was in the way that the filmmakers took the darkly violent and cynical premise and characters and tried to give them a peppier and goofier feel that was clearly meant to emulate the sunnier attitude of the “Guardians” films despite not fitting the material at all. The good news is that the same career that saw him entrusted with the “Guardians” films and the screenplays to the first two “Scooby-Doo” movies also saw him cutting his teeth working for the cheerfully sleazy Troma Films and then going on to work on such dark superhero satires as “The Specials” (2000) and “Super” (2010), in which the hero’s “superpower” was the ability to beat the heads of the bad guys in with a hammer. Suffice it to say, he leans a lot closer to the trashier aspects of his filmography than to his MCU excursions. In fact, with its combination of foul-mouthed dialogue, wildly over-the-top violence, stabs at sardonic social and political commentary and more than a few WTF? moments (especially once the final menace in unleashed in the climactic scenes), one is left with the sense that Gunn has taken the hundreds of millions of dollars and creative freedom—at least in comparison to the MCU films, which tend to bring in interesting directors and them make them crank out films largely indistinguishable from each other—and used them to make the most expensive and elaborate Troma film ever made, a description that, I hasten to add, I mean in the best possible sense. (I firmly believe that every serious movie fan should see at least one Troma film in their lives—in most cases, that should more than suffice.)

Oddly enough, it all mostly works and even in the rare moments when it does stumble, it does so in a manner so crazily offbeat that it is easy to forgive some of its trespasses. The plot is kind of silly, to be honest, but Gunn thankfully doesn’t put too much importance on it for the most part, preferring instead to use it as a laundry line to offer up concepts ranging from satirical commentary on American meddling in Latin American countries to the attempts by the squad’s two manliest men to establish their alpha-male credentials to the others. (The two humor threads come together in inspired fashion at one point when they sneak into an enemy camp try to outdo each other in how they gruesomely dispatch the bad guy and only then do they find out certain details that might have been pertinent a few moments earlier.) The performances from the major players are amusing, especially in the easy way in which they bounce off of each other—even though Robbie easily stole the first film and then did a Harley solo project, she fits in nicely with the ensemble approach as well. Besides her, I also liked Cena’s brutal blowhard, the more sweet-natured character played by newcomer Melchoir, unexpectedly, King Shark, which may have be thrown in as this film’s deadlier take on Groot from the “Guardians” films but which has a number of very funny moments, thanks in no small part to the inspired voice performance from Stallone, who is a perfect fit—again, I mean that as a compliment.

This is not to suggest that “The Suicide Squad” is even remotely close to being perfect. The villains, for the most part, are largely forgettable and, like most films of this type, the proceedings get a lot less interesting in the last couple of reels when the effects crews take over and shove all of the more interesting character stuff and quirkily amusing dialogue are kicked to the side. Gunn, perhaps after being reminded that he was making a tentpole for an entertainment conglomerate and not something cheap and trashy for Lloyd Kaufman, ends up pulling back on some of his more overly audacious punches, especially the stuff involving American involvement in Latin American politics, at jus the point when things are about to get very interesting. I also have a problem with the Big Bad that ends up dominating the proceedings in the climactic scenes. Without getting into details, the first glimpse of it inspires a huge laugh, not unlike the one you might have heard back in the day upon the arrival of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in the original “Ghostbusters” (1984), but Gunn then decides to stick with it long after it has been milked for all of its initial inherent amusement without introducing anything new or fresh to the proceedings. I also can’t help but think that the film once again kind of wastes Davis in a so-so part—a glaring flaw when you consider a.) Davis’s immense talents as an actress and b.) the inescapable fact that her character is ultimately more of an actual bad guy than the people she is ordering off on potentially suicidal missions and is willing to do terrible things in order to get her way.

Even those problems ultimately prove to be largely forgivable because when “The Suicide Squad” does work—which is far more often than any rational person might have expected, it takes you to places that are more agreeably fun and freaky than you typically find in a summer blockbuster. This is a rare example of a studio, Warner Brothers, recognizing, albeit belatedly, that they badly screwed up a seemingly ideal film property the first time around, learning from its mistakes and trying again with the approach that they should have utilized in the first place. The result has taken perhaps the recent multiplex behemoth I had the least interest in seeing and transformed it into one of the very few that I might voluntarily take a second look at on my own time. Now if they could only take the lessons learned here and apply them to the “Space Jam” franchise—perhaps by never again making another “Space Jam” film and giving Joe Dante the money to make “Termite Terrace,” his film based on the legendary WB animators behind that created the Looney Tune characters—we might finally be on the right path at last.

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originally posted: 08/05/21 02:15:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/08/21 Maybe Essentially has the mind of a 9yo, thus mostly boring 2 stars
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Directed by
  James Gunn

Written by
  James Gunn

  Margot Robbie
  Idris Elba
  John Cena
  David Dastmalchian
  Joel Kinnaman
  Viola Davis

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