IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 132 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Under orders from Amanda Waller, a number of imprisoned convicts at Belle Reve penitentiary are sent to the island nation of Corto Maltese to destroy Jotunheim, a Nazi-era prison and laboratory which holds political prisoners and conducted experiments. Most of one group is killed except for Harley Quinn, who’s captured, and Rick Flag, who disappears. The other team finds Flag and convinces the island’s rebel faction lead by Sol Soria to join forces with them and remove Corto Maltese’s President Luna, who has recently taken over in a military coup, from power. They also need to get hold of the Thinker, a supervillain who’s overseeing something called Project Starfish there….
Could Suicide Squad ever have been much good? David Ayer has often said that his movie was not the one that went out into cinemas, though seeing as he hasn’t decided to reconstruct his vision [something I thought he’d do after the good reception that the Zach Snyder cut of Justice League received], I’m not convinced that it would be significantly better. Nonetheless the studio’s decision to lighten it really did leave a bad taste in the mouth, because we ended up with a distinctly adult or older teenager-aimed piece that Warners crassly tried to turn into something a bit more suitable for the younger set even though that was never really possible. As good as Suicide Squad was bad, this sequel / overhaul begins by cheekily telling the dire 2016 film what it thinks of it and gives it the treatment it richly deserves before giving us the freshest entry in an increasingly tired genre in ages. Boasting a gleefully naughty sense of fun and, despite the huge budget, a surprising ‘B’ movie/grindhouse approach which recalls not just writer/director James Gunn’s still sadly underseen Super but also his roots in working for Troma [the cheapie ‘so bad it’s good’ studio which gave us such delights as The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo And Juliet], it shows Gunn finally allowed to fully show his voice in a mega budget studio production. The Guardians Of The Galaxy twofer were good – well, the first one was anyway – but felt a tad reigned by that Marvel house style and the control of Kevin Feige, a man who doesn’t like giving his filmmakers much freedom [ask Edgar Wright]; on this film he was clearly able to do pretty much he wanted [just as they pretty much left Snyder to it until Justice League], and thank goodness for that. And he’s remembered the lesson that people-on-a-mission movies are usually best when they focus on the people more than the plot.
As Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ plays in the background, Michael Rooker bounces a small red ball in an outdoor pen at Belle Reve Prison, then ricochets it around the walls to kill a sweet little songbird. This ‘talent’ is why he’s been tapped by warden Amanda Waller to have an explosive device implanted in his brain as part of her Task Force X, and he’s not pleased at being part of what is more commonly known as The Suicide Squad. We begin right away with a mission but soon the film then does something it will go on to do throughout; surprise you. Yes, this is a superhero film that has a fair amount of surprises, with many scenes that don’t progress the way you think they will, and even if you don’t like much else about it, that’s something that’s really worthy of praise. But actually there’s a hell of a lot else to like; even though out of all of us on HCF, I’m the one who’s often to be found moaning about the dominance and sameness of films in this genre, and was even dreading reviewing this. So the South American island nation of Corto Maltese is where a secret military weapons project called Project Starfish has now fallen into hands not friendly to the United States. Joel Kinnaman is back as Colonel Rick Flag, the nationalistic soldier who has to wrangle the monsters in the field. He’s part of one of the two teams, and some other returnees from Suicide Squad can be seen in this bunch too, but they aren’t around for long. The ensuring melee shows us things such as a boomerang slicing off the top of someone’s head and detachable arms that hit opponents, the latter being a scene that Sam Raimi may have shot in his early days if he’d had a bit more money, but the laughs turn to shock as nearly everyone is killed and Team Two arrives to find a load of dead bodies, the only two survivors either captured or missing. Take that, Suicide Squad!
We’re then introduced to Robert DuBois / Bloodsport, a mercenary with a powerful, weapon-producing suit who’s in prison because he once shot Superman with a Kryptonite bullet. He has a daughter he doesn’t see much, and when she comes to visit the two just swear at each other, a knowing dig at a similar though much more sentimentally handled relationship we saw and probably groaned at in 2016. Idris Elba spends many of his early scenes acting exasperated by everyone around him, but he delivers his lines so well that we still laugh sometimes. He’s joined by John Cena’s Christopher Smith / Peacemaker who does what Bloodsport does but “better” [so far more ruthless then], so the two are soon engaging in macho competing and suspicion of each other. Then there’s the man-eating shark/human hybrid Nanaue /King Shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone whose comedy is predictable and sadly not helped by iffy CGI; thankfully though we still like the character and have our hearts warmed when his sensitive side is shown. David Dastmalchian is Abner Krill / Polka-Dot Man, an “experiment gone wrong” turned criminal in a suit covered with polka dots who seems like he’s going to be useless seeing as not only does he sometimes get polka dots on his face but has huge mother issues which make for some imagery that’s both funny and freaky. And perhaps best of all is Cleo Cazo / Ratcatcher, beautifully played by Daniela Melchior. A lonely bank robber who can control rats [much to the horror of DuBois who’s terrified of them] and communicate with them, and who has a pet rat named Sebastian, she’s a fantastically written character, a female action hero who isn’t required to kick lots of male arse and remains hugely vulnerable yet is still very strong. She sort of acts as a maternal figure for some of the squad members and a daughter substitute to others. I want another film with her in.
Peter Capaldi is still in Time Lord mode as our mega-villain The Thinker, though truth be told he’s not the most competent. The Thinker has taken over this weapons project which involves something as unlikely as starfish, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Most of the Squad stakeout a nightclub, waiting for The Thinker to arrive so they can use him to infiltrate Jotunheim, and we’re given a bit of time to see them enjoying themselves together before the plot must get moving again. Far from slowing things down, I think Gunn could have given us even more footage like this, because there’s so much chemistry between the cast and these guys and gals are great to spend time with. I similarly love a scene where two of the Squad, each of whom have something the other really dislikes, let out their feelings and partly bond; it feels natural rather than forced. Meanwhile the other Squad members are with some rebels except for Dr. Harleen Quinzel / Harley Quinn who’s in the President’s palace. Why is she there? Well it seems that she has a thing about Luna, and Luna is falling in love with her at first sight. Huh? As well as engaging in plenty of combat with masses of adversaries, Margot Robbie is also given more opportunity to show her acting skills than in Birds Of Prey despite having far less screen time, something perhaps shown best when romance suddenly but somehow logically turns to immense bloodshed. The development of her character in four films so far has actually been very good and quite natural so far; let’s hope it’s kept up. But then good characterisation abounds here – these people may be comic book characters but they’re rounded ones – and everyone is given moments to shine even if several can’t help but dominate.
There isn’t much more I’m willing to say about the plot, but I’ll describe the second big surprise, which is also a big laugh, to show how this film operates. Our team move towards an enemy camp and kill nearly all the soldiers in it, often with sadistic glee, including women and soldiers lying down, DuBois and Smith trying to one-up each other. We laugh as we recall certain scenes in older movies that are similar such as a particularly fine one in Predator, but we’re also reminded that these guys are killers, they aren’t nice people even though they may have likable traits. And they probably treat what they’re doing as a lark too, something which in a way implicates us. But then it’s revealed that these folk they killed were actually good guys and we’ve just been treated to an equivalent of American foreign policy at its finest. In fact the latter theme is shoved down our throats a bit too much for Doc’s liking; a film like this shouldn’t need this kind of foregrounded political commentary. Bad guys die in a variety of usually splattery ways; a Dario Argento favourite where a knife is actually seen to pierce the heart is reprised. Back at base, Viola Davis, an actress who can do more with a look than ten lines of dialogue, returns as Amanda Waller, who seems to be a bit of a psychopath herself. The plot has a couple of turns which may or may not surprise, but the story is just the right level for this sort of thing; simple but not especially simplistic. Of course with most of these films it could lose about fifteen minutes in the final act, the first half of which also seems to take place in a dull grayish set which doesn’t make for the most appealing visuals, but we’re treated to a superhero/kaiju battle, something I’m surprised that we haven’t seen sooner in the West, one shouldn’t really complain too much.
The humour is sometimes reduced to stuff like one character appearing naked except for really tight pants so you can definitely see what he has to offer, and we’re often asked to laugh at bloody carnage, but there’s nothing really mean spirited here. One fight sequence involving Quinn striding down a hallway dispatching adversaries has animated confetti and even animals spring up around her, and it doesn’t seem ridiculous or intrusive because by now we’re totally in this film’s wacky world. Perhaps having the environment tell us what’s going to happen after scene changes grates a little, but neat visual devices are everywhere, such as a flashback playing out in the reflection of a train window; simple but effective. One thing which pleased about the previous cinema superhero release Black Widow was that it contained much more actual stunt work than these things tend to have, and only really went full CG in the extended climax. The Suicide Squad does pretty much the same thing. Of course this makes the bit of obvious fakery like Quinn surfing over crumbling building roofs stand out more, but it’s just wonderful to see more real, if often enhanced, leaps, falls and crashes, some of the fighting being shot with long takes too which is doubly hard for the performers. Gunn and his cinematographer Henry Brahman still like to wave the camera around, but things remain coherent; the old fogey that’s me sometimes gets sore eyes from trying to keep up with the Marvel battles. The underused John Murphy provides an unusual, rock-tinged music score. Despite the obvious talent and enthusiasm of so many of those involved, it’s still amazing that The Suicide Squad has come out so well; it could have been crass, poorly judged and irritating despite the best of intentions; instead it’s the best comic book-based movie since Logan and may end up being the most fun movie of the year.