If there’s something weird
And it don’t look good
Who you gonna call?
The Suicide Squad!
The highly anticipated not-quite-a-reboot-but-not-quite-a-sequel-either THE SUICIDE SQUAD (this time with a definite article added to the title) has finally landed on our cinema screens and DCEU fans are giddy with excitement. Writer-director James Gunn (THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series) has taken over the reins from David Ayer, who has made it abundantly clear, especially in recent days, that his cut of the critically skewered SUICIDE SQUAD from 2016 is not the version that made it into the cinemas. DC fans are responding and are asking for Warner Bros. to release Ayer’s cut of the film, much as they did for Zack Snyder’s cut of JUSTICE LEAGUE, but the studio has so far shown no interest in doing so. With so much money at stake though, I can’t imagine they’ll hold out much longer and I predict we’ll be seeing Ayer’s version sometime next year.
But back to this film, while THE SUICIDE SQUAD is technically a sequel to Ayer’s film, there’s nothing that connects the two stories together other than a few actors who have reprised their roles. Gunn has very wisely taken a “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” approach with his film and has kept some fan favourites like Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, BIRDS OF PREY; BOMBSHELL; ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD; MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS; I, TONYA; GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN; THE LEGEND OF TARZAN; THE BIG SHORT), Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, THE SECRETS WE KEEP), Task Force X director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM; WIDOWS) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, HONEST THIEF; TERMINATOR GENISYS; THE WATER DIVINER). He has also moved the feel of the story closer to the studio’s vision of being DC’s answer to MARVEL’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, though THE SUICIDE SQUAD is definitely nowhere near as family-friendly. Here in Hong Kong, the film is rated Category III (in the US, it’s NC-17 and, bizarrely, it’s rated 15 in the UK) and deservedly so for its violence, gore and language. But as much as Gunn and the film’s actors like to say that the two franchises are different, Bloodsport (Idris Elba, CATS; THOR: RAGNAROK; THE DARK TOWER; STAR TREK BEYOND; THE JUNGLE BOOK) is Star-Lord, Quinn is Gamora, Peacemaker (John Cena, FERDINAND; TRAINWRECK) is Drax the Destroyer, King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) is Groot, and Weasel (chirped by Sean Gunn) is Rocket the Raccoon. THE SUICIDE SQUAD has two other additional characters in Ratcatcher 2 (Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior) and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, the ANT-MAN films; BLADE RUNNER 2049; and soon to be seen in DUNE). While they may have counterparts in the GOTG universe as well, I haven’t yet figured out who they would be. Character similarities aside though, the big difference between the two franchises is that the Suicide Squad really are a nasty bunch whereas the Guardians are good people at heart.
As in the first SUICIDE SQUAD story, Amanda Waller assembles of a team of misfits – the worst of the worst, she says – to go on a suicide mission. This time it’s to the remote South American island nation of Corto Maltese where the president was recently deposed in a coup and murdered along with his family. Normally, that wouldn’t be a big deal but Corto Maltese is also home to Jötunheim, a Nazi-era prison and laboratory where mind-controlling experiments are being conducted on political prisoners. The man behind these experiments, known as Project Starfish, is chief scientist Gaius Grieves, aka The Thinker (Peter Capaldi, the PADDINGTON films; BBC’s DOCTOR WHO), a hyper-intelligent telepathic metahuman. With a new government in power on the island – one that is hostile to the interests of the United States – the squad is tasked with stopping Grieves before he can turn his secret weapon on America.
There’s a lot that’s good about THE SUICIDE SQUAD and there’s some that’s not so good. For the good, Gunn has got the tone right. It’s fun but it’s not dumb. It’s also batshit crazy. The visuals are excellent, relying heavily on the primary colours, with staging that is highly reminiscent of how it would look in a comic book. Robbie, once again, brings buckets of personality to Harley Quinn. She’s really at her best when the character goes on her killing sprees or blows up stuff, which she does with tremendous style. Elba, too, is excellent as he leans into his character’s dark side as well. It’s probably no surprise that the film focuses a lot of attention on Peacemaker as the character will be getting his own self-titled TV series on HBO Max starting in January. Fortunately, Cena is up for the challenge, playing the douchebag Captain America-ish anti-hero who believes in achieving peace at any cost with complete relish.
Where the film is less successful is in the pacing. In between all the craziness, the film falls flatter than a pancake. While we probably wouldn’t want to have 2-1/4 hours of complete mayhem (well, maybe some people would), when the pace of the film slows down, it really slows down. The other problem is that the story’s third act basically becomes a cross between GHOSTBUSTERS and any zombie movie or TV series you can think of. After so much creativity, the ending sorely lacks originality and spark.
As a whole though, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is worth watching, especially if you saw the 2016 film. It is violent, though, so if that’s not your thing, better to give it a miss.
THE SUICIDE SQUAD opens in Hong Kong today (August 5th), and simultaneously in every other major market and on HBO Max tomorrow. Be sure to wait for the film’s end credit teaser, which addresses the franchise’s worst-kept secret.
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