The opening few minutes summed up my feelings of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad perfectly.
It opens with a beautiful shot of Savant (played by Michael Rooker) sitting in a prison cell, holding onto a squash ball, looking at his reflection in a puddle of water. The camera then rotates 180 degrees and we see that the opening shot was the reflection from the water and we are now looking at Savant in the cell. A small bird lands nearby and we all know what is going to happen next, but I was wondering how they would show it. Savant is going to throw the ball to kill the bird. Will it be done with an overhead shot, so we don’t see the gruesome demise of the bird being hit by the ball? Would we just hear the sound of the bird being hit by the ball off camera?
The answer to the question is no.
Instead, the small bird is shown taking the full force of the ball, which kills it instantly. Some people laughed in the screening I was at, knowing that this was a sign of things to come and that we were in store for some over-the-top violence. I was stuck on what I just watched and wished it could have been done without the graphic death of the bird (I will say that the same species of bird does get some revenge later on in the film). That short sequence repeated itself for me throughout watching The Suicide Squad, as there were some absolutely amazing shots and sequences, but sometimes it enjoyed its excesses too much and lost its way.
The Suicide Squad (or as Colonel Rick Flag informs us, they are called Task Force X as The Suicide Squad is not politically correct) are sent on a mission to the island nation of Corto Maltese. They are there to deal with an anti-American government that now has something in their possession called “Project Starfish”, which they have been asked to destroy. There is some sick, cruel, twisted pleasure knowing that a lot of the characters we are meeting for the first time, or seeing again, are most likely going to be picked off one by one. Really, the only untouchable character in the film is Harley Quinn (played once again to perfection by Margot Robbie) as they are probably not going to kill off a character who already has a standalone film about her. After the opening act, some of our “heroes” are no more and we are left with the characters of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), Ratcatcher #2 (Daniela Melchior), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) and Polka-Dot Man(David Dastmalchian) to save the day.
I do give director/writer James Gunn’s script some kudos, because it takes these characters, who for the most part are not well known (or in the comic book world are absolutely vilified for how stupid their superpowers are) and are able to make us care about them in stretches. Polka-Dot Man gets the most redemptive storyline, which involves the use of his mother in a sick, twisted yet admittedly amusing kind of way. John Cena’s Peacemaker, who is probably the most entertaining character in The Suicide Squad for how straight he can say lines such as “I cherish peace with all my heart. I don’t care how many men, women, and children I need to kill to get it,” is a lot of fun as well because he symbolizes to viewers a lot of what is wrong with America.
Visually, James Gunn puts his stamp all over every frame of this movie. He has some very inventive title cards that occur throughout, which I enjoyed immensely. I will have to watch it again to be sure, but there is a great one-take sequence between Bloodsport and Peacemaker, where they are on a campsite trying to one up each other by killing the guards on duty in more graphic ways. Another great scene is when Harley and the dictator of Corto Maltese have their first date together, which gives us a very fun surprise as well. During the scene where Harley is trying to escape her captors, she mows down the bad guys with such joy, that the screen is filled with flowers, petals and birds to highlight her delight at the situation. Even when King Shark is in an aquarium and seeing the fish creatures come to the glass to join him is a nice moment. There is so much to like about The Suicide Squad, which is why I was frustrated that I did not love it.
One big problem I had was the decision to not to have a consistent antagonist in the film. The first act of the film, the villain is the aforementioned dictator, the second act makes us dislike a character known as The Thinker for his horrific scientific experiments and the final act brings us the appearance of Starro the Conqueror, who is very big and can cause a lot of destruction, with his power is to unleash little versions of himself onto people’s faces, allowing himself to control them(essentially making them slow-moving zombies). You don’t really dislike or hate Starro, but you know that he has to be stopped. I really think they needed a more compelling big bad throughout the film, as it was a little too scattered for my liking.
The overuse of flashbacks annoyed me, especially in the third act when Task Force X is split into two groups and we’re about to see something big happen with the first group, until we go back in time to 8 minutes earlier to see what was happening to the other group. Ratcatcher #2 gets some flashbacks as well to talk about the relationship with her father and another flashback shows us how “Project Starfish” came into existence. Flashbacks can be an effective tool, but it is not something that should be relied upon to move the story forward. Speaking of overreliance, there was this theme about hurting children that kept getting mentioned. I don’t know why they kept mentioning this, because we can all agree that hurting children is an awful thing. Harley brings it up when talking about red flags in men, Peacemaker mentioned it when talking about how far he is willing to go to preserve peace and it is discussed again in regards to The Thinker and all the experiments he conducted on men, women and children for his research. I just found that they were hitting me over the head with it and I didn’t understand why.
I usually enjoy the music that James Gunn picks for his films, but I found the musical choices in The Suicide Squad did not add very much to what was happening on screen. The final thing that I was surprised I did not find compelling was the camaraderie among Task Force X. The heart of the film is between Bloodsport and Ratcatcher #2, as they have a father-daughter relationship and will look out for each other in the hopes of staying alive, but the other characters never unite as a team in my opinion. It’s a tough job to write a film with so many characters and to try to make them memorable and meaningful, so that could be part of the problem. This explains why some actors are wasted, most notably Alice Braga’s resistance leader and Peter Capaldi’s The Thinker, neither of whom get much to do.
Overall, I think The Suicide Squad, despite all the issues I have with it, is a good film. It’s profane, it’s over-the-top violent and has some wonderful sequences. I honestly just wished I cared more for the characters on the screen, but then again maybe that is the point; that I shouldn’t be caring for these people, because they are all criminals. However, I believe that people can always be redeemed and for the surviving members of Task Force X, I’m happy they got some years off their prison sentence and I look forward to seeing what they get up to in their next adventure.