How should a comic book movie make you feel?
James Gunn has eschewed the warm fuzziness and brazen optimism of the MCU to jump ship (albeit temporarily) and make The Suicide Squad. Perhaps its’ almost acidic air of cruelty, body horror and nihilism is a result of him being “cancelled” before being welcomed back to make the impending third Guardians film. Perhaps this is how Gunn has always viewed the world, and this is what happens when nobody is around to put limitations, to place rules around his work.
But if that’s the case… rules are a good thing. They keep things from spilling out. They create parameters within which to craft something special. Just look at George Lucas: when the prequels were greenlit, nobody said no to the guy. But guess what? When he was green as hell making A New Hope, limitations and restrictions forced him to think of ingenious ways around those problems.
What DC has done here is welcome in the extremely talented Gunn and let him do whatever he wants. No barriers. But this kind of frictionless space can be a deathtrap for creatives, especially those welcomed into the tanking, grimdark playground that is the current DCEU. And if the DCEU is a playground, The Suicide Squad is the edgelord kid in the corner putting syringes in the sandpit.
The Suicide Squad Review
There’s actually a great deal that works in The Suicide Squad – or, rather, a great deal that almost works. Idris Elba’s Bloodsport is in Belle Reve, the prison with the highest death count of any prison in the United States. Running the joint is Amanda Waller, the single most cold, empty, hateful caricature in this godforsaken universe. If the MCU’s primary source of combustion is love (and it is), then the DCEU exists on apathy, grinding teeth. Pearls falling in slow motion around the body of two dead parents. Waller hates her wards, hates the world, believes in nothing. So why should we care?
Good question. Let’s continue.
Elba’s Bloodsport is genuinely fantastic – he’s amazing at what he does, but his moral compass is completely broken. He only agrees to join the squad because Waller reveals she’s going to make sure his juvie daughter (who did nothing but shoplift) is interred at Belle Reve. Even by DCEU standards, that’s… grim. It’s also another example of the almost sickening see-saw Gunn makes us ride, between Guardians-style makeshift family sentimentality (which works beautifully), and the kind of masturbatory violence which a troubled teen might scribble in the margins of a textbook.
At its best, this film is a story about discovering your humanity. At its worst… it’s those scribbles. It is angry drawings of machines guns and dicks.
The rest of Bloodsport’s team are kind of wonderful. Stallone voices King Shark, a big, sweet man-eater who effectively functions as “what if Groot, but HARDCORE” muscle. Daniela Malichor plays Ratcatcher 2, the most human of the bunch, whose scenes with Bloodsport are pretty much the beating heart of the film. David Dastmalchian plays the troubled but fascinating Polka Dot Man and Margot Robbie returns in fine form as the effervescent Harley Quinn.
Cena continues a stellar run of doing action man roles with more gumption and style than anyone else onscreen right now as Peacemaker, a complete douche who uses the ideal of “peace” to kill men, women and children.
There are a lot of references to the killing of children in this film and an almost gleeful willingness to have our anti-heroes mow down women, or people just doing their jobs. And whilst this kind of flippancy doers have a kind of Tarantinoesque charm, it sits flush against scenes of warm, goofy Guardians-style pathos and sweetness. There are two films at play here, and neither of them mesh – there’s a temptation to pass it off as a deliberate stylistic choice (the name, after all, is The Suicide Squad). But the level of exposed muscle and bone, prolonged torture and needless slaughter of characters is nothing compared to the gaping, nihilistic emptiness stamped upon the screen scene after scene.
The Squad’s handlers are, by and large, crowing, apathetic people whose zingers don’t zing and whose significance seems ill-earned, nor particularly fun to watch. And besides… it’s 2021. Have you seen the world we’re in now? It’s dark.
Nothing matters, nobody cares, life is meaningless… this shit isn’t a joke. So whilst the production values are bewilderingly good, the performances are largely perfect, the action is astounding and the execution is top-notch… The Suicide Squad just seems kind of cruel. It sneers. It twists the knife. It feels a little juvenile.
And for those characters within it who do have humanity, who do have that spark within them, who care about things, I pray they can live on in a sequel. Because there was a truly great, funny, smart film here.
I just couldn’t see it for the middle finger waving in my face as I tried to watch.
Paul Verhoeven attended a preview screening of The Suicide Squad as a guest of Universal Pictures and Warner Bros.