When the advertising campaign for writer / director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad adaptation kicked off back in 2016, I’ll admit that I was hyped (and even went and saw it as a birthday thing with my wife). It looked like a cool, moody, action-packed story of super-villains being forced to fight for the forces of Good…and the trailers promised a fun but gritty time at the movies. But then, as it was all ramping up, Warner Bros. did what Warner Bros. seems to do…and they fucked it all up (beyond the awful writing and direction for Jared Leto’s misguided and annoying version of The Joker).
First off, they took the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the first two trailers and thought ‘well, gee whiz, everyone loves these trailers so why don’t we just hire the fucking MARKETING / TRAILER PRODUCTION COMPANY, who clearly don’t know how to piece together a cohesive and engrossing narrative beyond 2 minutes and 30 seconds long, to completely recut the already completed work-print version that Ayer had already submitted and was being prepped for release?!’ And the final result speaks for itself. It’s a jumbled mishmash of ideas and tones that ultimately never quite come together. You can tell that it’s not what was originally intended and Ayer himself has gone public charging that WB almost totally recut his film and opted to release something FAR different than he / they had planned, in order to attempt competing with rival studio Marvel’s highly profitable and critically regarded output.
So, in the end, Suicide Squad ended up earning money but also earning scorn for being a confused, half-baked mess of a movie that used flashy, but clumsy editing and style in place of character and story; two rather important elements in the realm of successful fiction.
But as short-sighted as WB has a tendency to be, they do also really like money (I mean, who doesn’t?). They knew there was still a market, or at least a morbid curiosity, for the ‘Suicide Squad’ brand, despite the substantial misfire the first one turned out to be. So, they went back to the drawing board to try again, this time under the direction of the recently-fired-by-Disney-for-stupid-Tweets-years prior writer / director James Gunn (Slither), who had gifted the omnipresent mega-studio with not one but two solid and entertaining (and profitable AF) Guardians of the Galaxy flicks (2014, 2017). WB laid out the red carpet for Gunn and his creative team and tried learning from their past mistakes by taking a more trusting, hands-off approach to the overseeing of their considerable investment coming together under Gunn’s assured control.
It seems to have worked.
As we’re still in the grips of this goddamn COVID-19 pandemic (this shit’s getting old, people!), I was hesitant, despite my curiosity, to venture back to the theatre to check this one out on release. Luckily, a good buddy of mine had it available for streaming so I bit the bullet, jumped in the car, and drove over an hour south (to a whole other city here on Vancouver Island, such is my dedication) to tip back some beers, smoke a stupid amount of really good weed (legalization – it’s The Shit!) and hopefully laugh our asses off at / be horrified by James Gunn’s newest, twisted contribution to the already bloated and overpopulated superhero genre.
I got almost exactly what I hoped for!
The Suicide Squad is a loose sequel to / reboot of the 2016 original and again focuses on a group of villainous weirdos and freaks from Belle Reve prison, under the direction of Viola Davis’ ‘Amanda Waller’, who are assembled as Task Force X and sent into the fictional Central American island nation of Corto Maltese to investigate and stop a monstrous secret project called Project Starfish. Returning from the first one are ‘Rick Flag’ (Joel Kinnamen), ‘Harley Quinn’ (Margot Robbie), and ‘Captain Boomerang’ (Jai Courtney). These left-overs are joined by a slew of new villains, such as ‘Bloodsport’ (Idris Elba), ‘Peacemaker’ (John Cena), ‘Ratcatcher 2’ (Daniela Melchior), ‘Polka-Dot Man’ (David Dastmalchian), and a giant, infant-like man-shark named ‘King Shark’ (Sylvester Stallone). The group is rounded out by several James Gunn mainstays, like ‘Savant’ (Michael Rooker), ‘TDK’ (Nathan Fillion) and ‘Weasel’ (Sean Gunn). And there are others, which is great as it leads to a hilariously horrifying body-count over the 2 hour, 12 minute run-time. Yes, the advertising campaign didn’t lie when it said ‘DON’T GET ATTACHED’. Many a mutilated body hits the ground, often played for gallows humor laughs.
The Suicide Squad succeeds where Suicide Squad failed because it knows not to take itself too seriously. Whereas just about everything David Ayer (Sabotage) touches takes on a borderline obnoxious macho-serious vibe (just go back through his filmography and you’ll see what I mean), James Gunn is very different in how he effortlessly injects dark and subversive humor into the mix, humor that successfully offsets some of the amusingly gruesome imagery he was allowed to commit to film for this one.
In a nutshell, I thought Gunn’s movie was a ton of fun that was able to throw a whole lot at the wall and have much of it stick like so much sprayed viscera, even just from a technical standpoint.
The film looks great, very much taking and establishing itself as something new and different from the first one. It’s appropriately drab and monochromatic when it needs to be and bursting with color (especially red) for the rest. Gunn also makes creative use of Title Cards, using a bunch of different styles that interact with the settings just like one could expect to see in the frames of a comic book. It was clear that the creative blank cheque WB tossed his way was paying off. The characters are all fun and definitely stand out, bringing what they need to breath life into the spectacular circumstances unfolding as the twisty narrative unspools. All the actors seem to be having fun, even those that don’t stick around long. It may be worth mentioning that nothing is sacred in this flick and that no one, and I mean no one, is safe from a hilariously grotesque and unexpected demise. This unpredictability also helped prop up the ‘fun factor’ that permeated the entire flick.
And right there about sums it up.
The Suicide Squad is, if nothing else, a gorily fun flick that knows what kind of movie it is and never felt like it was going to outstay its welcome. If you’re a fan of the work of James Gunn, or of today’s endless crop of superhero media in general (top-notch, subversive entries such as Amazon’s The Boys or Invincible instantly come to mind), especially if you felt burned by the 2016 original, then you owe it to yourself to join The Suicide Squad for this latest, fucked up adventure. It’s an expectation-defying, knowingly-winking good time and I hope that Gunn dips his toe back into SS territory (beyond the upcoming Peacemaker series) after he wraps up Guardians 3, as I could definitely use more of THIS playing across my peepers in the future.