Directed by: James Gunn || Produced by: Charles Roven, Peter Safran
Screenplay by: James Gunn || Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson
Music by: John Murphy || Cinematography: Henry Braham || Edited by: Fred Raskin, Christian Wagner || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 132 minutes
If Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) represents one of the better box office scenarios for major Hollywood theatrical releases delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad represents one of the worst. There are no doubt a plethora of reasons why the film, a standalone sequel to David Ayer’s controversial and studio manipulated Suicide Squad (2016; no “the” in the title… ), underperformed, ranging from resurgent coronavirus cases to the sequel’s day-and-date release in both theatres and on HBO Max to its R-rating; whatever the ultimate causes for its flop, however, The Suicide Squad (henceforth retitled to the far simpler Suicide Squad 2) is better evaluated as an extension of Gunn’s sardonic, violent dark comedy on film and as further means for Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe (DCEU, 2013-) franchise to distinguish itself from the far more consistent, far blander Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU, 2008-2019).
Those unfamiliar with Gunn’s filmography prior to his mainstream works with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, 2017, installments within the MCU) may interpret Suicide Squad 2 as just a bloodier, more foul-mouthed version of the 2016 original, which was itself the DCEU’s response to those MCU Guardians films, but that would be selling Gunn short as both a visual stylist and purveyor of creepy yet lovable characters. Suicide Squad 2 is the grisliest big-budget superhero film in recent memory, on par with movies such as Logan (2017) or Dredd (2012) and sporting gruesome FX far beyond that of the popular Deadpool (2016, 2018) films, which broke the dam on contemporary adult-oriented superhero adaptations. The detail and casual nature of the movie’s carnage, while not gratuitous or in poor taste, are notable relative to even general action movies outside the superhero blockbuster mainstream: Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Peacemaker (John Cena) stroll through a makeshift enemy encampment against a slow dolly shot while one-upping each other’s headshots and disembowelments without notable music or dialogue; King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) rips a guy in half, sagittal plane-style, in slow-motion against a beautiful high-key lighting setup amidst daytime rain; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), one of the few cast holdovers from the original Suicide Squad, dies via impalement from dozens upon dozens of palm tree bark shrapnel in the film’s standout opening sequence. You get the idea.
Much of what makes this ultraviolence stick is Gunn’s natural inclination toward visual comedy and funny dialogue beyond one-liners, popular culture references, or gag humor. Aside from the slapstick nature of the violence itself being humorous, the ensemble cast’s impressive chemistry and their character’s personalities, which range from braggadocios (e.g. Cena, Margot Robbie) to deadpan (Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian), intertwine with the violence in fun ways, aided by Henry Braham’s stylized yet controlled cinematography. These elements together feel more like callbacks to Gunn’s earlier works, like the goofy body horror of Slither (2006) and the bizarre character study of Super (2010), than an R-rated Guardians of the Galaxy.
What ruins some of the fun of this Squad sequel for me are the excessive presence of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, first introduced in live-action by Ayer’s 2016 film, as well as the film’s slow pace and bloated length. While not as annoying as her performance in Birds of Prey (2020), I’ve tired of Robbie’s rendition of this Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) character and see little point to her being in this film other than as mild connective tissue with previous DCEU entries. Harley Quinn is one of several elements, others being King Shark’s interest in a marine aquarium and a guerilla warfare subplot with Alice Braga, that pad Suicide Squad 2’s running time to an absurd 132 minutes when a 110-minute runtime would’ve sufficed.
To be sure, The Suicide Squad isn’t the worst paced Hollywood blockbuster in modern times, as it has plenty of competition from other bloated tentpole features in its parent DCEU franchise, the MCU, The Fast and the Furious (2001-), Transformers (2007-2017), etc. However, its considerable length and the shoehorned performance of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn may have exacerbated problems from the COVID-19 pandemic and the mediocre reception to David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad, which turned a profit despite being edited into oblivion by Warner Bros. and savaged by critics.
This is a shame given James Gunn’s masterful control of black humor and cinematic violence throughout this simple, straightforward story; however much the positive critical reception to this standalone sequel encourages Warner Bros. to commit to auteur-driven comic book-movies (see also: Shazam! , Joker , Zack Snyder’s Justice League ) or its box office underperformance discourages that remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, though: The combination of the lighthearted ensemble comedy of Guardians of the Galaxy with the goofy gore of Slither and Super into a $185 million adult action movie is one I never saw coming.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The irony of Suicide Squad 2 suffering for the sins of its 2016 predecessor, which David Ayer has since disowned due to studio interference, is not lost on me given the former’s lackluster box office performance relative to the latter. That being said, this 2021 sequel remains the superior comic version of The Dirty Dozen (1967) with its uncensored, hyperviolent spectacle, more memorable cast (sans Margot Robbie), and effective dark comedy. This Suicide Squad lives up to its title.
— However… I’m as over Harley Quinn and her insufferable mannerisms as I am Tony Stark’s snarky one-liners. James Gunn had no reason to stretch this film past two hours. None.
? So, what’s the creative title of the next sequel? A Suicide Squad? Whatever happened to numbered sequels? The subtitled sequel trend is way overdone at this point.
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