Movie Review - The Suicide Squad (2021)
Warner Bros and DC have gone seemingly the one place Marvel and Disney either can’t or won’t (likely both). You see, with the release of The Suicide Squad, James Gunn has created the first superhero/comic book Drive-In Movie.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise really…not to anyone that’s paid attention to his career outside of Guardians of the Galaxy. Hell, given that he got his start at Troma with Uncle Lloydie (Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman), it’s more of a coming home than anything else. And whether it’s the material or it’s just the fact that we’re in-between seasons of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs as I write this, you can hear his singular narration as the film progresses: hunnerds of dead bodies, 1 whangdoodle, heads roll, arms roll, gratuitous cute piranha-like sea creatures, gratuitous Harley Quinn, starfish fu, javelin fu, rat fu, flamethrower fu…so on and so forth. So, let’s grab some comics and head to the drive-in with Mr. Gunn and see if it’s worth it to go where the Mouse will not. But first:
The unstable island nation of Corto Maltese is hiding a deadly secret and the freshly installed military government is eager to use their new weapon to make a big entrance on the world stage. Enter…The Suicide Squad: a team of hand-selected supercriminals that earn reductions on their sentences in exchange for running covert operations for the US Government. But not just any covert missions. No, these have a ridiculously low chance of survival…and even worse? An implant is set to detonate should any of these new conscripts decide to bolt. Either die on the mission or die at the press of a button. Regardless of what you choose, it’s Suicide.
Both a sequel and a reboot of the franchise after the butchered-in-the-edit, critically panned yet financially successful 2016 film from David Ayer, The Suicide Squad does have a similar dynamic to Gunn’s previous franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy. The dialog remains crisp as quips and jokes abound…but not so much as to detract from the story, again displaying one of the reasons I tend to prefer DC’s films over Marvel’s: none of this humor feels forced. And it’s definitely not family friendly either. In fact, it’s very apparent that DC let Gunn be Gunn. That’s usually a good thing and certainly proves to be the case here. As such, another mechanic that’s present here is that the music serves as a narrative assistant and while it might not blend in so much with Awesome Mix Vols. 1 or 2, you can tell that this certainly comes from the same iPod, just from a different playlist.
But I’m trying to make the case as to why this is a Drive-In Movie, so let’s step away from talking like this is “indoor bullstuff” as the man says and start examining why the Drive-In Mutant should see this film.
“Any one can die at any time.”
In a film called The Suicide Squad, this REALLY shouldn’t be a surprise. And yet in the original film, there really weren’t that many losses: Slipknot at the beginning to demonstrate the explosive implant, Enchantress as the film’s villain and El Diablo’s noble sacrifice at the end. It seems like James Gunn took it as his marching orders to compensate for that as much as humanly possible. Within the opening 5 minutes, at least 75% of the team is dead. So just as a warning if you haven’t seen this yet, you’re gonna want to go because it’s a James Gunn film…don’t go because one of your favorite actors is in it. More than likely? Said favorite actor is gonna go in that opening bloodbath but even if they don’t there will be PLENTY of opportunities throughout the film. And let’s be clear, anyone who dies in this movie is gonna go nasty. This leads us to numero two-o…
Two of the three B’s
As a Drive-In Mutant, you’ve sworn the same oath that I did. One of the tenet’s of that? “We believe in Blood, in Breasts and in Beasts.” As I alluded to in numero uno…yeah, this movie’s got blood down, easy. A lot of people die here…a lot. Plus there are dismemberments…and a scene that seems like it was ripped from George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead. (Good on ya Jimbo if that scene was indeed a nod to the master!) There’s one scene, however, that is pretty bloodless, but only because they replaced the blood with cartoony flowers and birds. Given that this occurs during Harley Quinn’s escape from her Malto Cortesian captors, it makes perfect sense. But since I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about 80’s slasher films lately, I can’t help but wonder if this was Gunn throwing the MPAA a bone just to avoid any NC-17 branding. When it comes to the second B, you know, honestly I don’t recall seeing any (I might be wrong though). Sure, there were a pair that were the focus of some gratuitous blood-splatter, but no nekkid ones. To continue cribbing Joe Bob’s nomenclature, we did however get a Whangdoodle, as I mentioned in the opening…but that’s a W, not a B…so…shrug…automatic one-half star deduction. Lastly, we have two beasts, the first being King Shark and the second being the film’s ultimate antagonist: Starro the Conqueror. Let it first be said that Sylvester Stallone and his performance as King Shark steal every scene that he’s in. I can’t say any more than that otherwise I risk spoilers. As for Starro, well, one of the trailers spoils it best…even though the line is edited. Here, I’ll give it to you as it’s spoken – “We’ve got a fuckin’ Kaiju up in this shit!” That leads us to numero three-o…
WE’VE GOT A FUCKIN’ KAIJU UP IN THIS SHIT
Yes, this beast and the carnage he brings would certainly be enough to lure in any Drive-In Mutant. There are people fleeing, futile attempts by the military to stop the rampage, much property destruction…everything you’d expect from the best Kaiju movies is here. But to stop there is to do the film, and Starro himself, a disservice. There’s more. With his offspring, he’s able to control minds and as such, we’ve got an Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe going. On top of that, these new vessels of Starro’s intelligence can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’, providing a chance to get in some gore that we’d normally see in a zombie movie, including the aforementioned Romero inspired scene.
Back to my standard reviewer cap, the cast performs about as you’d expect them to with no real weak link in the bunch. Even though I may not care for the character very much, Margot Robbie continues to do good things with Harley Quinn. Viola Davis is an expert at making you hate Amanda Waller, just like in the comics. Kinneman’s heroic turn as Rick Flagg is pretty solid, although you get this tension that there might be a thing between him and Harley…and, well…after his hang-up on Enchantress in the first film, it did leave a slight sour taste. I already mentioned Sly but Daniela Melchior also merits a tip of the hat as Ratcatcher. David Dastmalchian brings a fantastic take on Polka Dot Man that allows for a hilarious running gag throughout the film. Between his work in the Ant Man movies, here and his appearance as Piter de Vries in the upcoming Dune film, he’s really showing he’s got the chops to be a wonderful character actor…or “That Guy” in Drive-In lingo. It’s also worth noting that Idris Elba does something interesting in this film. Sure, he’s our POV guy and likely our main protagonist, but for being in that role, he’s awfully subdued. I mean, sure, when I think about it he’s got the comedic scenes with John Cena’s Peacemaker, he’s got the fatherly scenes with Ratcatcher and his character arc takes him to becoming the leader of the team, but he really doesn’t stand out or do anything really flashy. Ordinarily, that’d be a criticism but honestly, for some reason it really works here because instead of standing out, he emphasizes his performance around the fact that Bloodshot ends up being the thing that holds this team together…and I’m not sure that you could trust that kind of role to some of the more flashy leading men out there.
Now, not everything is perfect here. I thought Peter Capaldi’s Thinker was underutilized…but that might be personal bias as Peter is one of my favorite Doctors and as such, I always want to see more and more of him onscreen. There’s a little bit of pacing lag in the middle of the film. Nothing that ruins the movie per se, but there was a moment where I popped out of the movie for a moment to check my watch and that’s never a good thing. As I emphasized earlier though, whenever the blood is flowing, and that’s a lot in this film, my attention was there…so, again, only a brief lapse in attention. While I tend to like how Gunn uses music in his films, and did so here as well, there is a small part of me that was annoyed that this mechanic did give a slight Guardians feel to the film. Sure, this was pretty easy to get over, but for those that like to keep their DC films separate from what comes out of the House of Mouse, this could be a negative.
All in all, The Suicide Squad does what it sets out to do. It tips its hat to the first film (even with a Thank You credit to David Ayer) all the while resetting the board and effectively rebooting the franchise without having to resort to some cosmic cataclysm. It accomplishes this with tongue planted firmly in cheek and with every trick from exploitation filmmaking. While, yes, fans of Gunn’s Guardians films will likely enjoy themselves here too, this film is more pointed to those familiar with his work away from Marvel, going all the way back to his Troma roots. Here it is, your big-budget superhero/comic book Drive-In Movie and while I’d certainly never want to put words into Joe Bob Briggs’ mouth, I think you should check it out...it makes for one Happy Cat.