11 Aug 2021

The Suicide Squad

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 11 August 2021

This reboot/sequel of DC's supervillain action-comedy again stars Margot Robbie. But unlike the first Suicide Squad movie of 2016, it's funny, smart and light on its feet.

Dan Slevin: The first Suicide Squad movie - written and directed by David Ayer - was an artistic and commercial disappointment for DC and Warners, even though hardcore comic book fans embraced it.

They are now the strongest advocates for both that film and an eventual release of Ayer's original cut - butchered they say by a studio that wanted a film that was more like the trailer and so employed the trailer producers to recut and reshoot the film.

An attempt to confront the wholesome and dominant Marvel comic book universe with something different, something more grown-up, the 2016 version of Suicide Squad was an expensive mess that squandered the star power of Will Smith and failed to land a punch on the competition.

And the main reason was, that it wasn't very funny. Or funny at all. Or even meant to be funny, I can't recall…

In 2018, James Gunn, one of Marvel's most successful directors, and someone the studio thought they could trust to work alongside Taika Waititi to lead the development of the next ten years of superhero money printing machines, retroactively blotted his copybook with a series of tweets from ten years earlier and found himself fired.

For most people, this is the dullest topic imaginable, so I thank you for still listening. I bring it up only because auteur outcast Gunn and character outcasts the Suicide Squad - combined with an obscene amount of money from a global media empire that knows no other strategy than to keep doubling down on their IP - have become the perfect match.

Gunn's transgressive sense of humour was pushing at the boundaries of Marvel and Disney's sensibilities with Guardians of the Galaxy, and without them, he can offend with freedom. Suicide Squad was a great idea but an abject failure in the entertainment department.

This week a reboot/reimagining/sequel-but-is-it-really arrives in cinemas and that mysterious third component of success might be what distinguishes success and failure - timing.

"The" Suicide Squad is funny, smart, snappy, innovative, and light on its feet. But right now, is it the film that audiences want?

Just like the first film, Viola Davis is a government security official recruiting criminals and assorted head cases to take on impossible but essential undercover missions.

In the latest version, she has chosen Idris Elba, also known as the assassin Bloodsport, John Cena as the deranged fascist Peacemaker, Daniela Melchior as a young woman who can summon rats and Sylvester Stallone as the voice of a shark who can walk on land.

Along with the rest of their team, the task is to infiltrate the Latin American island of Corto Maltese, which thanks to a military coup has a new leader, who looks like just like Lionel Messi, and then destroy the secret American-funded Nazi research facility which contains an alien starfish with the capacity to destroy the world, by crikey.

Unbeknownst to them, the anti-hero of three previous films, Harley Quin, played with an enthusiasm commensurate with her love of the character as well as her obvious contractual obligation, by Margot Robbie, is also on the island and has a mission of her own.

The Suicide Squad follows a predictable path with its humour - set up and then rug pulling over and over - but is more interesting in its wider context. Unlike the pseudo-politics of the Marvel movies where no regime ever gets called out by name, this picture doesn't shy away from highlighting the victims of American exceptionalism in Latin America over the past fifty years, along with the corruption and degradation that goes along with it.

Ironic then that Panama, by offering the studio backdrop for the recreation of their own exploitation and then giving the studios a subsidy, ends up kissing the ring of Western capitalists for Yankee dollars once again.

But, let's not forget that it's the Suicide Squad with the heart of gold. Almost every character has a traumatic backstory and a redemptive arc. This squad just needs a hug. Even someone who has to shoot lethal polka dots out of his skin twice a day simply to survive, has a desperately sad story of abuse and neglect at his heart. But we laugh at him just the same.

The Suicide Squad is rated R16 for Graphic Violence, Offensive Language and Cruelty, which is a shame as mid-teen boys would absolutely lap up this level of unsophisticated humour. It's in cinemas now.