Oh DC, what a rocky road you have had, trying to get out of the large shadow cast by Marvel Studios. It has always seemed so odd to me that despite how great the DC characters are between the pages, in the animated shows and the video games, the leap to blockbuster cinema has been a struggling journey of misfires. It found glory in the early years thanks to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, and the Joker film was a masterclass of acting performance and personally I thought Birds of Prey was a lot of fun and had some stylistically awesome choices sprinkled throughout it. But overall, DC has struggled to be the go-to film for epic superhero adventures.
Enter writer/director James Gunn (yup, the dude from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy), into what seems like another attempt by producers to make the DCEU into something more than the hit-and-miss projects of the last 10 years… by literally taking a director from the shadow-caster itself. Surely an acclaimed Marvel director is the right way to go!? Guys? Well… it’s not yes. But it’s also not quite a no.
The Suicide Squad, like it’s kinda unrelated predecessor of almost the same name (Ayer’s Suicide Squad) is about some of DC’s most well known (and some not-at-all known) villains being flung together to go on a suicide mission to stop badder bad guys from bad guying. Each squad member has a detonation device in their cranial region. If they stray from the mission, then boom boom and their head explodes quicker than James Gunn’s troubling tweets. It’s an easy premise to get on board with, so Gunn’s script takes little time to establish this as it skips any detailed explanation to get straight to the zany characters and violence.
A wise decision has been made here to let the film be super violent. Like Birds of Prey before it, the restricted rating allows for a lot of violence, blood, dismemberment and naughty words. The opening action sequence is truly glorious, filled with excellent performances from incredibly well known actors being smutty and grotesque as they shoot, explode, decapitate and shock.
This opening is incredibly well shot, incredibly engaging, and almost Tarantino-esque in terms of the visceral nature of the violence. It is Gunn at his absolute best, having an amazing time and allowing his actors to be as ridiculous as possible. It’s hilarious, it’s confronting, it’s exciting. The first 20 minutes of The Suicide Squad is everything fans have wanted the film to be. It’s amazing. If this film was 20 minutes long, then it pretty much would have been the film adaptation of the source material we were all waiting for. It would have been the film DC fans had been waiting for. But alas the film isn’t 20 perfect minutes.
Gunns script is… fine. It has lots of jokes. Some hit, some don’t. Some are natural and clever, others are forced and overused. The story itself is generally predictable and expected, however still super entertaining for the most part. At times Gunn falls prey to forgetting to show us rather than needing the characters to tell us what we have just seen (“they smashed the keypad! We can’t use it now!) . The danger of giving a director complete creative control over both the script and the direction is that no one is there to help streamline the final product: we are left with everything the director wants in the film. Which in this case lead to an over-bloated film that almost becomes a slight slog pacing wise as it attempts to pick up speed yet again for it’s final and – by this point – exhausting denouement. Sometimes “more” isn’t always best.
Overall the performances are solid enough, even if the characters do feel a little underwritten at times. Idris Elba, Margot Robbie and Peter Calpaldi all seem delighted to be acting the fool and it adds to your enjoyment seeing such polished actors behave so badly. John Cena is his usual endearing muscley self, even if it feels a little typical of what we have come to expect from him. We are even treated to a wee cameo from our own Taika Waititi. Oh boy – the cameos. I HAVE to (spoiler free) mention the cameos. The Suicide Squad has them aplenty and they are all equally fantastic and hilarious – it is awesome to see how many characters from the DC Universe Gunn manages to bring along for the ride.
Although the film is visually pretty impressive for the most part, it is all style and very little substance, which at times even feels like it is trying a bit too hard. I couldn’t quite tell if it wanted to be taken seriously or not and this left it feeling a little bit confused and muddled by the end. Cool kids who think they are cool, are never as cool as they think they are. Weird cool kid analogies aside, there is definitely a huge amount of fun to be had. The stylistic super violence and swearing definitely has its place but I couldn’t help but feel that after a while it relies too much on these elements, to the detriment of good storytelling and character development. The downside of giving a director absolute creative control over both the script and the direction is that sometimes it lacks a much needed fresh perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the majority of the movie, but I think it’s more of a small step in the right direction for DC, rather than it’s final destination.
– Ashton Brown