Skip to main content

Monster nom nom?

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.

Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

Three. Two. One. Lift with your neck.

Red Notice  (2021) (SPOILERS) Red Notice rather epitomises Netflix output. Not the 95% that is dismissible, subgrade filler no one is watching but is nevertheless churned out as original “content”. No, this would be the other, more select tier constituting Hollywood names and non-negligible budgets. Most such fare still fails to justify its existence in any way, shape or form, singularly lacking discernible quality control or “studio” oversight. Albeit, one might make similar accusations of a selection of legit actual studio product too, but it’s the sheer consistency of unleavened movies that sets Netflix apart. So it is with Red Notice . Largely lambasted by the critics, in much the manner of, say 6 Underground or Army of the Dead , it is in fact, and just like those, no more and no less than okay.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

What about the panties?

Sliver (1993) (SPOILERS) It must have seemed like a no-brainer. Sharon Stone, fresh from flashing her way to one of the biggest hits of 1992, starring in a movie nourished with a screenplay from the writer of one of the biggest hits of 1992. That Sliver is one Stone’s better performing movies says more about how no one took her to their bosom rather than her ability to appeal outside of working with Paul Verhoeven. Attempting to replicate the erotic lure of Basic Instinct , but without the Dutch director’s shameless revelry and unrepentant glee (and divested of Michael Douglas’ sweaters), it flounders, a stupid movie with vague pretensions to depth made even more stupid by reshoots that changed the killer’s identity and exposed the cluelessness of the studio behind it. Philip Noyce isn’t a stupid filmmaker, of course. He’s a more-than-competent journeyman when it comes to Hollywood blockbuster fare ( Clear and Present Danger , Salt ) also adept at “smart” smaller pict