Review: The Suicide Squad

Today’s another interruption in the series of planned posts because I want to shout about The Suicide Squad. Dang, what a fun experience! If you’ve liked Guardians of the Galaxy, R-rated superhero movies, John Ostrander’s ’80s Suicide Squad comics, war movies, or the first Suicide Squad flick, you should find something to enjoy here. (I check a lot of those boxes but only started reading Ostrander’s series after watching the new movie–I’m up to issue 14 as of this writing, and I’m loving the experience.)

I’m very confident that no one’s going to ever claim that I have great taste in movies. As such, I’m sure no one is surprised that I mostly liked David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, and I also suspect that my soft spot for the movie isn’t likely to change any minds anytime soon. But after watching James Gunn’s crack at the squad, I’m overwhelmed with the realization that the premise and cast deserved much better writing and direction from the beginning. The characters who carry over from the original make this especially clear. Data point one: Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is a delightful chaos agent, more in the spirit of her depiction in Birds of Prey in autonomy and antics than the over-sexualized, under-dressed (but still well-acted and quirky) lead of the Ayer effort. She’s given more to do, but to be fair, Robbie’s portrayal of the character is consistent, not a dramatic overhaul. Data point two is what blew me away though: Joel Kinnaman was a generic, asshole commando type in the first Squad, but he gives a delightful and distinctive performance as Rick Flag this time around, charming and with excellent comedic timing and delivery, with enough emotional range to carry the heavier scenes too. Where was this Flag before? I wasn’t otherwise familiar with Kinnaman and had no idea he had this sort of performance in him! Third data point is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, who similarly is given more to do than simply being cold as ice and intriguingly mysterious. And the final data point: Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang continued to delight me with his smarmy shitbaggery, but this time he was a little less one-note (only so much mileage to get out of Ayer’s pink unicorn joke, for instance).

It’s not just the returning actors offering improved performances, though. There are some great portrayals here from Idris Elba, John Cena (playing the incredibly hateable Peacemaker), David Dastmalchian, and Daniela Melchior were all excellent. I never expected that my favorite character would be someone named “Ratcatcher 2,” but Melchior’s presentation of intermingled naïve good-heartedness and deep-rooted trauma made her very easy to root for. Oh, and Sylvester Stallone’s voice-acting for King Shark makes for an adorable dullard you hope makes it out okay even as he’s gorily devouring his opponents.

This movie is also incredibly funny. I laughed so very, very much in the first fifteen minutes–before being shocked into awkward silence as so many of the squad members are eradicated in a botched beach assault. The movie would often alternate between goofy antics, hyperviolence, and emotional heart. I was shocked by some early deaths, not just shocked by how they happened but by who was killed, and this rattled me out of certain expectations. From that moment on, I feared that any of the characters could die. Even Harley Quinn, whose massive popularity surely provides IP, if not plot, armor, was genuinely imperiled at times. The balance between light and dark, humor and horror, and sentimentality and gore worked for me, but I’m sure that not everyone will agree.

I certainly had a good time and will probably watch it again soon!

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