The Suicide Squad
(SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy, barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.
Some might put that down to streaming, with an HBO Max debut – US only – off the bat, or the influence of the coof. But it doesn’t altogether explain such resounding indifference compared to the original (which grossed USD422m internationally, rather than the USD112m here) or to comparable superhero movie performances this year. Maybe Big Willy was a factor. Maybe David Ayer’s movie just appealed more (I gave it a higher rating than I’ve given this one, which isn’t to say Ayer’s is necessarily superior, rather that I found this one more fatiguing).
It warrants emphasising how resistant The Suicide Squad is to general notions of likeability, Gunn apparently relishing the queasiest, most Meet the Feebles-esque quality he can muster at every turn. Such a tone is on a hiding to nothing, though. There’s no great plan in mind here, other than making an uncensored Guardians of the Galaxy with unforgivable characters and situations. Crudity, splatter and swearing abound, all with a tedious predictability.
Henry Braham’s cinematography joins in with a downbeat, squalid, greyed-out mood, only really breaking the grime when it comes to CGI (be it an aquarium of exotic fish or Harley farting petals). Gunn underlines his reliance on a Mirror Universe Guardians formula with surrogates. Instead of CGI Groot, there’s Stallone’s CGI King Shark, of limited vocabulary but similar childlike innocence (and voracious, bloody appetite). There’s also an idiot would-be leader (instead of Chris Pratt’s Starlord, meet John Cena’s Peacemaker).
But you don’t much warm to, let alone care for, any of these killers. Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2 is the most sympathetic of the Squad, until that is, her father is revealed as Taika Waititi, at which point any goodwill promptly evaporates. David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man – Dastmalchian can also be seen in Dune as Piter De Vries – is a Mystery Men crap-powers extended gag, of which there were more than enough during The Suicide Squad’s opening sequence. Margaret Robbie’s back as Harley Quinn, of course, but somewhere between the first Squad and Birds of Prey here performance became irksome rather than inspired, and now she’s running on (petal-fart) fumes. WB clearly think they have something special, but at this stage in the Craptacular Self-Immolation of One Harley Quinn, they might as well have brought back Jared Leto, for all the cachet involved.
Then there’s Idris Elba, as a very lazy remix (if you can even call it that) of Will Smith’s Deadshot. Elba’s the straight man here, which means he offers up his standard Elba gravelly world weariness but with added “You gotta be shitting me” responses to whatever wackiness Gunn cooks up for the next gag. Ironically, the perennially nondescript Joel Kinnaman fares reasonably well, at least until Gunn inevitably whacks him. You can bet he’d have done the same with Harley, had he been allowed.
Yes, James, the card, has super fun dispatching characters in surprising and/or amusing/unamusing ways. He does for Rick Flagg with a (Peacemaker) knife to the heart, followed through in all its CGI glory to said organ ceasing its beating; one is compelled to conclude this was more a “How cool would that be?” than a “Let’s get some pathos here” moment. Naturally. The opening mission serves up an entire fake-out, giving Gunn the opportunity to introduce a squad and summarily obliterate them, mostly in a manner that fails to capitalise on such potential. There’s Pete Davidson, Michael Rooker (as Iggy Pop), the Weasel (who I’ll come back to) and Gunter Braun (Fluga Borg). And Mongal (Mayling Ng). Fairs fair, Nathan Fillion’s TDK (The Detachable Kid) is an absolute hoot, and such a brilliant gag entirely did not deserve to be wasted (literally) so early on. Jai Courtney is also back as Captain Boomerang, for all of five minutes, another disappointment since he was a surprising highlight (as these things go) of the first movie.
Viola Davis oozes loathsomeness as Amanda Waller again (better loathsome oozing than shameless hamming as Ma Rainey’s Fat Ass). Peter Capaldi doubtless got a fat pay cheque, but given “My answer might not be what you expect”, in response to “Do you want some angry rodents up your ass?” is his best line, you’ll likely have an idea of how much there is in the way of quality material for him; I dare say he was even longing for the “halcyon” days of Moffat nu-Who. There’s a protracted joke about forgettable extra Milton (Julio Ruiz), which feels like a rejected Austin Powers outtake.
There are funny lines, but there are also discussions of the implications of eating “a big bag of dicks”, so much so that the good in no way outweighs the bad or substandard. There’s also a supersized set piece based around a collapsing CGI building and giant kaiju Starfish (Starro the Conqueror) and a Harley kick-ass kill crazy ballet (which highlights one of Gunn’s pet subjects in the inappropriateness of these protagonists showing moral underpinnings when someone is worse than them, in this case Juan Diego Botto’s Silvio Luna, the Corto Maltese dictator).
Such dubiously pitched rectitude is never more unconvincing when it represents something close to Gunn’s heart, or at least, his continued Hollywood currency. This is, of course, his first production since he was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (and then rehired), in the fall out of his sick-twist Twitter account. Whether you think there’s fire to that smoke, or he’s just so dead in the head he genuinely thinks/thought such jokes are funny, in which case…
Anyway. It speaks volumes that he starts The Suicide Squad with Weasel (played by his brother Sean), announced as a comedy sick twist on anthropomorphic Rocket Racoon: “He’s not harmless. He’s killed 27 children”. We’re told this before he suddenly drowns. It’s funny! You see, it’s funny and James has atoned. Why, just look at the subsequent exchanges, proving how sincere he is via his characters: “… and killing kids is kind of a red flag”; "They experimented on children!”; “All those people, John. Little kids”. I mean, how could you not believe James truly cares. Wait. What’s that? Weasel survives? As a big hurrah end moment, doubtless to go on and kill another 27 children? Yeah, I think it’s quite clear Gunn’s laughing at you. He got away with it. Rewarded, even.
Add to that mix running riffs on bad parenting (“I pretend they’re my mom” is Polka-dot Man’s method of attack), and when Waititi represents a good one, you know you’re in trouble. Gunn drops in other predictive programming curiosities here. Polka-dot Man is suffering from an interdimensional virus. The only way to protect yourself from Starro’s spawn is to mask up. Starro itself is an E.T., brought aboard the space shuttle by fake NASA (in a grab from Life). Its influence is used as an emblem of the cruel, empty freemasonic universe (“If God existed, wouldn’t this be proof that he wasn’t good at all?”)
And then there’s the reveal that the US government was part of it all, since the illusion to be had isn’t about space (obviously, it’s real, but giant starfish are not), or about democracy (obviously, the US government is corrupt, but that’s because it really does act with autonomy, rather than at globalist whims, and the democratic process is entirely valid when allowed to take its course, as proved by Alice Braga and Corto Maltese’s “free democratic elections for the first time in ninety years”). The Suicide Squad is also a movie that explicitly has its “heroes” justify not telling the public the truth. ’Twas ever thus.
But any such thematic content takes a resounding back seat to eating a big bag of dicks. The Suicide Squad is relentlessly, aggressively dispiriting. Nihilistic, even. It’s James Gunn without his make-nice Disney mask on. DC wants more from him. Doubtless a whole movie detailing the Weasel’s next brutal rampage will go down a storm.