When I told my Mom I was going to see The Suicide Squad, she asked why I was going to see a movie that was released five years ago. To clarify, she dabbles in the world of superhero movies, which means she’s not going out of her way to watch every single release churned out by Marvel or Warner Bros., but knows enough to stay in the loop.
It’s a fair question. She’s a casual fan as most people are. But the inquiry caught me off guard, I didn’t expect her to remember the previous movie and the horrendous product that it was cut into. And this is no blame on my Mom either, I’m sure that at various stages throughout the new film’s production people were probably asking the same thing.
My answer was this: The first film was hijacked by a production company that wanted to compete with Disney and Marvel for money, because of this the entire thing turned into an unrewarding narrative sprinkled with ear-piercing dialogue that was shredded by bad reviews all around. But now these two conglomerates of the superhero genre have become much more enlightened about the value of product versus money, they’ve realized the genre needs to pivot by means of more especially innovative directors and creators (all of this I am still explaining to my Mom even as I began to lose her attention to the evening news playing in the background). Instead of commercialism and the same jumbled heroic narrative, the stories have gravitated towards realism to the extent that they can while being rejuvenated with abject gore and humor. They’ve become stories that explore the dynamic nature of human beings versus ideas that are predictable and inconsequential, bringing flaws to the forefront versus stuffing them deep behind action sequences. The answer I dished out to my Mom may make more sense if I offer my review on The Suicide Squad, and then begin my dive into how this film sets itself apart from the superhero genre that has ruled the box office for the past decade.
James Gunn is awesome. I’ve been a fan since Slither (2006) and it’s been a treat to see many of his visions being appreciated whether they be included in the genre of superhero movies or not. The director has a soft spot for lovable losers and this fact is only made more evident in his newest endeavor.
The Suicide Squad is awesome. From start to finish the film is an absolute blast to watch and will easily be loved by hardcore and casual fans alike. It’s heartfelt in moments and with characters that you wouldn’t expect, but manages to balance those tender spots out with orgies of violence that will satisfy the audience and leave them craving another cataclysmic adventure.
The irreverent first couple of minutes that are usually reserved for easing the audience into the world that the film takes place in takes a turn that I didn’t see coming, at all. However, this film is vastly different from anything other superhero movie predecessors, and for that type of story to take root the tone needs to be established early. And this tone is one of blood and viscera being flayed across a screen as heads explode with soupy remnants or limbs are pulled until muscle fibers break like feeble chicken wings. Characters with phobias and clear issues being forced to work together under dire circumstances until they too are met with a timely finale, the likes of which haven’t been seen or have been solely reserved for nameless characters with no backstory or role more often than not. There’s something surprising about seeing these actions happen so early on, but it makes sense for Gunn’s version of the comic-book series that’s truly been more deeply rooted with the comical aspects of entrusting a bunch of terrible people to help save the world.
The plot itself isn’t anything new. More of the same superhero gimmicks where there’s a threat and it must be destroyed, sprinkled in with some governmental abuse issues in a Central American country, the U.S. more than likely not doing the right thing, along with a rag-tag group of individualistic people who have been sent in to solve the issues, and that about sums everything up. And yet, this film succeeds because the band of characters that have been cast aside and seen as nothing makes the plot’s normalcy non-essential. It’s more about the how, and the who, than it is the why. Again, something that gets lost on a lot of people when I read reviews about superhero movies is that they are often critiques of the plot’s fallacy, failing to ever consider that the plot is more or less used as a vehicle to convey character arcs. And in this case, the plot of supervillains being forced to go do something that’s probably going to get them killed grants access to characters that aren’t always seen as worthy of these stories. Peacemaker (John Cena) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) offer up incredibly funny lines of dialogue while serving the roles of bravado and innocence to the squad to the fullest degrees possible, while Idris Elba as Bloodsport is such a perfect fit for a middle-aged man with incredible abilities who does not want to be doing anything even remotely related to what he’s being forced to do.
Each role was cast superbly and my only gripe is that there wasn’t more time to see further interactions between these anti-heroes. Other than the direct idea of The Suicide Squad being the direct opposite of the typical superhero ensemble movie, what sets it apart from anything done before is James Gunn’s creative influx and use of hybridization, pulling elements from other film genres and using them as influence.
Gunn’s been noted in saying that Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (1967) was a major influence on the film, and I sense traces of the common impossible-mission-war-films that were pumped out with factory-like quickness during the 60’s and 70’s in more areas than just the title. These war films always had the common plot points such as superhero films do, and they too share similarities in that both kinds of films crave massive action sequences along with a final solution to the problems at hand.
Even more prominent were traces of horror genre elements, the very genre that Gunn has his filmmaking roots anchored to. The expendability of comic-book characters who have always been portrayed in movies as nearly invincible often gives the audience the allure that they can be assured of their safety. This is the case with most films from this genre. The odds are stacked that one hero will die, while witnessing more than a dozen die doesn’t make sense and would be out of the ordinary. The fact that so many characters die in this film is refreshing. It pushes back against those Marvel and DC movies from years prior that many have come to love. Gunn utilizes the aspects of horror as he picks off characters one by one with graphic exits until the heralded final victims remain. It’s a necessary revitalization of a genre so milked by Hollywood that it’s only a matter of time before audiences become complacent with what they have to offer. And I would heavily stake my claim that if this film were rated PG-13 instead of R, we wouldn’t be watching something even remotely close to what The Suicide Squad comes to be.
This more adult version of the superhero movie is a road that I hope to see more production companies open themselves up to. It clearly works, so why not fully unleash whatever ideas have the ability to push back against the common cliches of these films while reigniting interest in a style that may have been nearing the end of the road they were initially headed down.
My Mom would definitely be shocked at the amount of gore and violence. I can picture her now, slowly looking at me in the theater, her face knurled with confusion as she tries to figure out whether or not this is the typical superhero movie. It’s not. It’s much better. And I am psyched that the superhero genre is rolling down the tracks in this direction.
The more these types of movies are made with complete creative control from the directors along with a use of different genre traits makes for a completely entertaining and surprising picture. Characters are infused with more relatable qualities (in the case of The Suicide Squad, I’ll say issues). Expectations are diverted in the best possible way.
The Suicide Squad is a perfect pivot for the superhero genre and a piece of art that refreshes everything that audiences have come to expect, all while paying homage to Ostrander’s original series. It’s a hybrid brainchild melded from the heavenly twisted intellect of James Gunn that will tug at your heartstrings before ripping them out of your chest at the hands of a sentient shark who has trouble making friends.
Warner Bros./ DC