Let’s be clear.
This isn’t Suicide Squad (2016) or Birds of Prey: And the Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020). This is THE Suicide Squad (my emphasis), James Gunn’s entry into the ongoing saga of comic book supervillain Harley Quinn.
Although I’m not much of a comic book fan, I will admit that Harley Quinn caught my eye, peering at me from the multitudinous racks of superhero comics in the basement of Eide’s Entertainment here in Pittsburgh.
She stood out from all the fanboy clutter—an enigmatic vixen with the hot bod of a sassy high school cheerleader and the edgy garb of a grunge rock goth girl, playfully wielding that sledgehammer that you knew she might use to bash your brains out without even the slightest hesitation.
She was deliciously deranged. The ultimate bad girl; a poster child for the psychological concept of approach/avoidance conflict.
She stood out from all the other comic book creations vying for your attention.
And so, when I heard that she was making her big screen debut and the Margot Robbie would be playing her, I was pretty excited at the possibilities.
The trailers for the original Suicide Squad movie looked sizzling. It looked like Margot nailed it.
To some extent, she did. The movie fell short of expectations, but it really wasn’t Margot Robbie’s fault. She was great. The movie wasn’t.
I thought they might have more luck with the sequel Birds of Prey, but it was becoming clear that Hollywood had no idea what to do with this beautiful, bizarre character.
They toned down her look and cranked out a movie that was less exciting than the previous one. Things seemed to be slipping.
But then came the news that writer/director James Gunn was coming to the rescue. How could the creative force behind Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) possibly miss?
He wanted creative control. The studio gave it to him. He somehow assembled an impressive cast including establlished stars like Idris Elba and Viola Davis (returning for her third installment). What could go wrong?
Well, just about everything; starting with the overall tone of the film.
A longstanding observation in Hollywood over the last few decades is that the prime target movie audience is made up of 14-year-old boys.
Think about it. It explains a lot of what Tinseltown has been cranking out in recent years. It explains a lot about what is going on in THE Suicide Squad.
Let’s start with the opening sequence of an ugly, aging long-haired prisoner in an orange jumpsuit and orange Crocs bouncing a handball off the walls of a cement recreational area.
In movies like The Great Escape (1963), it was enough to have a someone (like Steve McQueen’s character) just bounce a ball off the walls, as a gesture of defiance. Here, it quickly and disgustingly turns into a sadistic moment in which a yellow canary lands in the corner of the yard only to be splattered by the handball a moment later.
The prisoner nonchalantly proceeds to wipe the blood off the ball on the leg of his pants.
A bad ass, character-defining moment? For sure. Forget about what the Humane Society might think or anyone who is concerned about cruelty to animals in movies or real life. This character is BAD.
The movie wastes no time establishing that. The mindless act becomes a set up for an equally sick revenge moment a little later in the film. Both scenes are stomach churning.
I know. THE Suicide Squad is made up of sadistic psychopaths. That’s who they are. I get that. But killing canaries is right up there with puppy stomping in movies like John Wick (2014). I have a problem with that, in a world in which borderline psycho can take their cue from movies like this. It concerns me.
Granted, the Squad quickly turn their attention to the real baddies (human ones) and are being air dropped, Navy SEAL style onto the beach of a fortified tropical island.
To his credit, James Gunn has some fun with audience expectations here. What follows is a little shocking. But you’re reminded that the squad is on a suicide mission. In most movies that’s just lip service. Sparing the bloody details, it’s not the case here.
There is plenty of graphic violence and blood-spattering gore in THE Suicide Squad. The movie also abounds in profanity and vulgarity, the stuff that action comedy is made of.
In this case a heavy reliance on dick jokes and penis references guaranteed to delight 14-year-old boys everywhere. They even slip in a “69” reference for good measure. Always good for a chuckle.
THE Suicide Squad sets its sights pretty low, content to wallow in adolescent nonsense.
Granted, there are some nicely staged fight sequences and action sequences if you haven’t witnessed enough scenes of superheroes (or in this case, supervillains) surviving a hail of bullets while returning nonstop fire from automatic weapons that never run out of ammunition.
Regarding the monster element here (there is always a monster threatening to destroy the world in movies like this), it’s a giant, one-eyed, alien starfish that I only mention here because it’s seen in all the trailers. Gunn seems to be cashing in on Godzilla or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the original Ghostbusters (1984).
He seems to be cannibalizing his own previous work (namely, Guardians of the Galaxy) with the inclusion of a whacky weasel character (paralleling Rocket the raccoon in Guardians), the lumbering shark character that can only mumble monosyllabic utterances (like Groot) and the strangely attractive female lead (like the Gamora). A lot seems to be borrowed here.
For the record, Gunn has no idea what to do with Harley Quinn apart from dressing her in a red prom gown and combat boots and handing her a spear. And that’s a shame.
In the end, as mentioned, THE Suicide Squad seems to be a movie made to entertain 14-year-old boys with its violence, profanity and sexual references. The problem here is that the movie’s R-rating will prevent them from seeing it. Duh!
The Suicide Squad is in theaters now.