Sunday, August 8, 2021

Movie Review: The Suicide Squad

Watching The Suicide Squad feels a lot like reading an issue of a comic entrenched in continuity you know nothing about. For better or worse (mostly better, but not entirely), this comes off as being part of something much, much larger than what's onscreen. Only that "larger thing" doesn't actually exist, so we're left to fend for ourselves. In other words, if there's a problem with The Suicide Squad (and, to be clear, that's a big IF), that problem is the DCEU. Because the movie is framed as a deviation from the norm, it's a bit awkward there's no real "norm" for it to deviate from. The last seven movies in this franchise are Justice League, Aquaman, Shazam, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman 1984, Justice League again, and now this: if everything is weird, is anything? And more importantly, is that even an issue?

It's certainly a double-edged sword. The DCEU's lack of cohesion makes it more conducive to experimentation than the relatively focused MCU, but it also robs its successes of the contrast that contextualized the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The Suicide Squad feels like it should also be interesting as part of its franchise, in addition to as its own story.

But since it's got to stand on its own merits, it's fortunate it's got merits to spare. The movie is overflowing with fascinating characters, thoughtful dialogue, and absurd action. It works simultaneously as a war story, a comedy, a satire, and - lest we forget - a superhero flick.

To be clear, there's a lot going on here. This is a movie that revels in gratuitous violence one moment, only to shift to a poignant philosophical or political point the next. When it's not ripping off heads, it's sweet, heartfelt, and at times shockingly beautiful. It cares deeply about its characters, even if the world they inhabit doesn't. The unapologetic fantasy elements in the trailers obscure the fact that this movie has a great deal to say about very real foreign policy.

Depending on your point-of-view, I think you could accurately describe the film as a whole as layered or patchwork. The themes resonate with the characters and their stories, but at the same time there are so many flashbacks, cutaways, and asides, it feels a little like you're being tricked into believing the plot is more complicated than it really is. This is more intended as an observation than a complaint: I think the style adds a great deal to the movie.

The characters are more or less universally wonderful. I felt a little shortchanged by several not getting enough screen time, but if you asked me for something to cut to free up space, I'd be at a loss. This definitely leaves you wanting more, but that's hardly a problem. The movie isn't above killing off minor characters for laughs, but when it wants you to feel a loss, it succeeds. Without giving too much away, I'll say it gave the character I'd least expect to care about a final line that stopped me in my tracks. And, to be clear, I'm the kind of person who expects to care about talking raccoons, tree men, and walking sharks. When I say this movie pulls out a surprise twist on a character's inner life and motives, trust it's something truly unexpected.

This is a great movie. Is it my favorite James Gunn movie? Nah, that's still Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2. It's not quite my favorite DCEU movie, either, though it's somewhere in the top tier alongside Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, and Shazam. This is worth seeing, assuming you're not easily grossed out. For the record, I'm not big fan of gore, and nothing in this bothered me too much (and almost everything that came close was in the first ten minutes).

One last note I feel needs to be acknowledged: I watched Suicide Squad the only way that made sense to me, given the fact we're in a pandemic, and I've got a young child - on HBO Max. There is a very real possibility that impacted my reaction to the movie, so take that how you will.