For how popular and notable the characters of DC Comics are, their recent foray into an extended universe of movies has been less than stellar. Commercially these movies usually do fine, at least making back what they put in, but these movies have been critically hounded for several years now. Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer for why that is. Is it really Disney paying off critics to negatively review DC films as if this somehow increases their earnings? I don’t think so. For me, I see it as DC trying to reach the heights of Marvel’s MCU in half the time that Marvel did it. This has caused many of their films to feel as if they’re rushing to set up the next movie without worrying if the current movie is strong enough to stand on its own (a trend Marvel itself has begun to fall into). Studio meddling is for sure also at play here, causing a disconnect that ultimately takes whatever movie they have and heavy-handedly altering it so much that the original vision becomes lost.
Most famously this happened Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but before that we had the colossal crap of the bed known as 2016’s Suicide Squad. Directed by David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch), the film is notorious for a laundry list of issues that occurred during its production. Reshoots, studio-inflicted tonal changes and large chunks of the film being scrapped are just the tip of the iceberg. The final product was a mess of tonal inconsistencies, bad writing, an unappealing color pallet, and egregious needle dropping for the sake of filling the soundtrack with popular songs. How much of the film’s failure is rooted in the studio or Ayer is up for debate and unless a Snydercut-tier director’s cut is released, we may never know. Regardless, Warner Brothers took their loss and decided to produce a new “half-reboot-half-continuation” of the Suicide Squad story, enlisting the help of formerly banished by Disney director, James Gunn.
Known for producing some of the best films in the MCU (Guardians of the Galaxy 1&2) and some truly over the top violent films (Super, Slither) James Gunn certainly knows his strengths and plays to them very well. Plus, he’s a huge comic book nerd, which really shows in his attention to detail and respect for the source material. Seemingly learning from their past mistakes, WB gave Gunn seemingly full creative freedom to make the hyper-violent and crudely-absurd big budget blockbuster he wanted to make, completely with gore and dick jokes. Not since Joker has WB ventured into R-rated territory, but as films like Joker and Deadpool have proven, money is sure to be made with the big name properties embracing their violent identities.
The totally not confusingly named The Suicide Squad feels like what Warner Brothers originally wanted with their first film to be like but weren’t enough to let the director they hired see out the vision. Colorful, brutal, stylish and loads of fun, Gunn has delivered one of the best films the DCEU has seen yet. It knows when to have a laugh and knows when to be serious, yet rarely feels like its trying too hard to be overtly-funny or grimdark. The cast is well suited for their roles, coming together to produce one of 2021’s most outstanding action flicks.
So what is the Suicide Squad? In short, they are a band of criminals enlisted by covert government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to perform off-the-grid missions in exchange for reduced sentences. The caveat? A tiny bomb is placed in the base of their skulls that will explode if they deviate from the mission. Led by military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the task force enlists the specialties of several metahumans and scumbags to infiltrate a South American island nation to destroy traces of an experiment called Project Starfish, which is rumored to have world-ending possibilities. Joining the ranks this time around is multi-talented assassin Bloodsport (Idris Elba), psychotic patriot Peacemaker (John Cena), mother-hating human experiment Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), rat-controlling Russian Ratcatcher #2 (Daniela Melchior), half-man-half-shark dumdum King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), and everyone’s favorite psychiatrist turned killer clown Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie).
Many characters from the first film return with the same actors, but luckily you don’t have to see the first film in order to understand what’s going on. This film quickly gives you a rundown of everything you need to know about the infamous Task Force X. It introduces its characters in quick fashion, and rushes right into the plot. The pace of the film remains surprisingly quick throughout, jumping from set to set and rarely having a moment of downtime that isn’t assigned to developing our main characters further. The film does slow down a bit in the middle as Harley Quinn slides into a B-plot that, honestly, I could have done without. Once this is over, the latter half of the film manages to remain heavily engaging with plenty of action and comedy to go around.
What has always been the measuring stick of any ensemble cast is its diversity in their character types and their interactions between one another. The ragtag Task Force X in this film is made up of a bunch of assholes that must defy their self-centeredness to work together in order to stay alive. Bloodsport is our reluctant leader, constantly butting heads with Peacemaker’s hyper-patriotism and “shoot first ask no questions” attitude. The heart of the group is Ratcatcher #2, as she genuinely tries to see the good in others, even after being almost eaten by the dimwitted but lovable King Shark. Depressingly bringing up the rear yet perhaps the most powerful of the group is Polka-Dot Man, a character from DC’s Golden Age long written off as a joke. In the film…he’s still kind of a joke, yet his tragic backstory and depressingly funny outlook on life breaths new life into a once forgotten character. Watching the squad going from being at each other’s throats to comrades is fun to watch and feels organic enough, with a few twists and turns thrown in for good measure. As to be expected from a film with such a large cast, not everyone gets the same amount of screen time, and as to be expected with a film based of the Suicide Squad, there are a LOT of deaths. Most of them are fairly easy to predict, but some come as a genuine surprise, something the first movie never really managed to do. Its hard to attach yourself to some of the characters because of their lack of development, but they are still highly entertaining to follow.
Perhaps there is no bigger character in the film than Gunn himself. The director’s humor, style and creativity bleeds and gushes onto the screen through deliberate framing, inventive staging and unorthodox storytelling. He makes decisions that other directors would simply “point and shoot” to capture, going out of his way to make sure every frame has visual appeal. This can be a mix of blocking, color choice, special effects or even time cards; anything to let you know a film like this could only be made by Gunn. The director/writer’s trademark snarky, often-crass humor is on full, relatively unrestricted display here to varying degrees of affect. Sometimes you can only hear so many dick jokes until you begin to believe a 13-year old wrote the movie. Yet, his humor is nicely balanced in between the film’s more serious moments, never letting the tone feel completely off but never taking himself too seriously. Of course, like any big budget Gunn movie, there’s several classic songs sprinkled throughout the film, yet utilized in an engaging and fun way unlike the terrible needle dropping from the first film.
As stated before, the pacing can be all over the place at times. The beginning moves so quick that by the time we reach the middle of the film it feels as if we crashed into a wall based on how much slower the film becomes. Non-traditional editing is sprinkled throughout the film; sometimes working and sometimes not. Instead of intercutting between two separate groups splitting off and doing their own thing, we follow one, then jump back to the beginning with the other group. It really keeps the film from moving fluidly in my opinion. The film does its best to keep up momentum by the time it reaches the third act; a visually impressive action set-piece that unfortunately goes on a bit long while never fully utilizing some of the elements it establishes. The climax is still a ton of fun, but I can’t help but feel like it missed out on some opportunities to fully utilize the insanity that was preestablished.
The rest of my issues are borderline nitpicky, and I can’t deny that this is the most fun I’ve had with a superhero or action movie so far this year. Made for fans by a fan, Gunn not only understands what people like to see, but how to properly adapt an established IP in a way that remains true to the comics while still adding his own flavors to make it uniquely his own. Its a recipe for success that will hopefully stick around with Warner Brothers and hopefully Marvel. Just let the directors make the movie you hired them to make. Most of the time they know what they’re talking about. Most of the time.
Looking at you, Zack.
Starro the Conqueror
Stolen from the stars above, this sweet cocktail is inspired by Task Force X’s main target, Project Starfish aka Starro the Conqueror. The pink and blue star of destruction is a formidable foe for a bunch of schmucks with guns, so it seemed fitting that I make a cocktail in his image. The cocktail’s main ingredient is white rum to reflect the film’s tropical setting, but its infused with pink, strawberry flavored Starbursts to give the drink its color and extra flavor. Made extra foamy thanks to the addition of pineapple juice, the cocktails crown jewel is a bright blue star floating on top. This is made possible thanks to edible blue powder (I used luster dust, but there are other options). It looks happy floating, staring at you taking a sip.
- 2oz pink Starburst infused white rum
- 1oz pineapple juice
- 3/4oz lemon juice
- Garnish: Edible blue powder
- To make the infused rum, combine 3 pieces of pink starburst for every 1 ounce of rum in a sealed container or bottle. Shake periodically for a few hours until the rum changes color and the starbursts go pale. Then, strain the rum into a new container, removing the starbursts.
- In a shaker, combine your ingredients with ice and shake.
- Strain drink into cocktail glass.
- Hover a star shaped stencil over the drink, then gently sprinkle the blue powder to create the star design.