Dynamic Do-Over, by Bob Connally

7 Aug

Five years ago, almost to the day, I wrote my first ever review for More Than One Lesson. It was for Suicide Squad and I concluded it with, “In this age of constantly remaking the wrong movies I can’t help but feel that Suicide Squad is exactly the sort of movie that someday should be remade. There’s potential with this premise and these characters. David Ayer couldn’t deliver. Maybe in about twenty years, someone else can. Maybe we’ll get to see the Suicide Squad this movie should have been.” Well, it’s not really a remake and it’s 15 years earlier than I had predicted but Warner Bros. and DC clearly learned from their mistakes on the 2016 film. That movie was taken out of Ayer’s hands and edited by a trailer company to try to fool audiences into thinking they were seeing a James Gunn film. This time, WB and DC actually hired Gunn and it would appear that they largely stayed out of his way creatively (or as much as ever happens with movies like this). While the end result is certainly not a masterpiece, it is a significant improvement over its predecessor.

There’s little need to set up the premise with this film. All you really need to know is that the U.S. government needs to put together a team of people with incredible skills and/or superpowers that can go on missions that have little chance of success or survival. As they are prisoners who are given the opportunity to have 10 years taken off of their sentences, it’s difficult for them to pass up the offer. One prospect, however, has been saying no for a long time. Robert DuBois, better known as Bloodsport (Idris Elba), is a master assassin convicted of shooting Superman with a Kryptonite bullet. Intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) comes up with a decidedly reprehensible tactic to get Bloodsport on board in the hopes that he will not just join but become a leader. Given his choices now, Bloodsport finally agrees.

For those who either never saw or have completely blocked out the memory of 2016’s Suicide Squad (and I envy those in either category), that film was a relentless series of scenes with painfully on the nose song choices that were meant to make it feel like Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies. However, it was done without the understanding of why those songs worked emotionally for the central character of the Guardians films. It’s notable here how much restraint Gunn seems to have with his song choices. While there are certainly several songs that make for a typically great Gunn soundtrack, there’s not an overreliance on them. The choices are imaginative as well. As much of a fan of the Pixies as I am, I never would have thought to use Hey for a Right Stuff-style hero shot but it’s one of the best moments of the film.

It seems strange to realize that The Suicide Squad is only James Gunn’s fifth feature film as director. His two previous films were of course based on a comic book series and there is certainly a similarity between the general premises of The Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both focus on a rag-tag group of criminals who must come together to work for good. Just as with the Guardians movies, Gunn brings his incredibly off-kilter sense of humor to the writing and direction. Because this film is R-rated however, he’s off the leash here in a way he isn’t with the Disney-owned Marvel. As a result, he’s able to indulge in much more graphic violence, and that works well in this context. However, the movie is also overlong and meanders a bit in its second act, just as Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 did. Despite that messiness, Guardians 2 held together well because of the effective emotional core and the deeper exploration of its characters. Those aspects work well enough here but not as strongly or consistently.

This is the third film featuring Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and given that she has been in the hands of three wildly different filmmakers, she never seems to be quite the same character from one movie to the next. This is the most sympathetic she has been but so many of her scenes are separate from the rest of the cast that there’s an awkwardness to them. When she is with Elba and some of the other central characters, they all fit together nicely, however. Elba does a fine job here and demonstrates once again that he has leading man presence to spare. That Gunn let him keep his natural British accent for the character is another plus. Elba can do a flawless American accent, mind you, but his Britishness makes him that much cooler. It’s odd though how similar Bloodsport’s talents and family situation are to Will Smith’s Deadshot from the previous movie. It almost feels as though the script only needed to be slightly altered to accommodate casting a new actor.

The cast here is huge and most do fine work, even if they are only alive for a scene or two. The standouts though are John Cena as Peacemaker, Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2, and most of all, David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man. Yes, Polka-Dot Man. The idea of a man who can kill by expelling polka-dots from his body is pure nonsense but in the hands of Gunn’s style and Dastmalchian’s performance, it’s the most wonderful nonsense. Whenever Dastmalchian is on screen he commands it, absolutely stealing this movie.

Ultimately, The Suicide Squad is flawed and messy but entertaining and imaginative. It doesn’t come together as well as Gunn’s Guardians movies but it works far better than the first Suicide Squad on every conceivable level and that’s enough to wash the five-year-old taste of that movie out of your mouth. The Suicide Squad is now in theaters and on HBO Max.

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