Five years since directing Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 and a number of controversies later, James Gunn returns to the top job behind the camera. However, this time around, it shapes into a vibrant but wildly overblown and unnecessarily “edgy” second stab at putting this particular comic brand on the big screen.
The 2021 film’s spin sees Task Force X, or as they’re both colloquially and eponymously known: the Suicide Squad, charged with an intervention mission on the fictional island of Corto Maltese. As a small nation it has befallen to a supposedly tyrannical rule and thus needs liberating by the squad of villains handpicked for the task. However, and as one can imagine, no superhero film (nor comedy for that matter either) is ever really plain sailing, and along the way, there are twists aplenty – from political conspiracies to an Alien creature breaking free it’s hectic… but fails to perfectly mesh.
So, having danced around it long enough, I’ll unleash my criticisms. There was nothing more vexing to me than its style. One that tried far too hard in an effort to be something that could be anointed “a living, moving comic” which results in many dodgy visual effects that wouldn’t have looked that out of place if it were used twenty years ago. In its desperate efforts to stand out, these moments, whether for the context of the temporal setting, or quite literally detailing the plot’s next move, becomes grating. It’s a major flaw within Gunn’s style of direction in the superhero genre and can be seen in the action sequences, specifically, in the second Guardians of the Galaxy film. It’s hard to really engage with, let alone keep up with what’s effectively a multi-coloured blur, there’s no real grounding to the film in any sense of the word, which makes for an incredibly shallow two hours of viewing.
Also, beyond just the visuals, it’s pretty hard to find any real anchor to the film in the performance department either. Always a massive risk to overload a title with a crammed roster, most of which have no tethering to its audience, The Suicide Squad pays the justful price for its ridiculous horde of stars. With certain subplots becoming ridiculously predictable and not a shred of chemistry between anyone, it felt at times like it deliberately went out of its way to nullify and shackle its standouts. This is evidenced by the sidelining of Margot Robbie’s, Harley Quinn, and the odd three-way split between actors: Joel Kinnaman, Idris Elba and John Cena for the crown of the protagonist, none of whom are allowed to actually stamp their authority on that much vied over the role. Just about saved from being a complete write-off, it’s a chance to see Robbie return to that role she has undoubtedly made her own, even though it does pale in comparison to her freedom in the recent Birds of Prey. There’s even a pretty standout Taika Waititi cameo to look out for, though admittedly, that praise speaks little for the casts’ quality if a background appearance was so impactful and lasting.
Overall, I’d say that at least the story is perfectly serviceable even if its political themes are iffy at best. On that, I think it’s purely coincidence that its release has come off the tail of recent imperialistic uproar regarding the Cuban regime, only Gunn’s script certainly has an overt sense that rings a little like hard-right fantasy, drawing comparisons to figures such as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and enacting a grim fate upon them, I could perhaps be reading a little far into things but it was on the nose if nothing more. Story-wise though it’s a workable superhero film, nothing that particularly reinvents the wheel but it’s lively enough to keep at a decent pace and almost trick you into forgetting that not much else is on offer.
That, however, is a double-edged sword and comes to my ultimate criticism, it is a shell of a film and comes from inconsequential chaos. The premise itself demands a lot of character, specifically charm, of which there’s none to be found in what’s one of 2021’s few outings in this sub-genre. Attempting to make up for that fact by casting a whole range of proper A-List stars and celebrities alike makes it seem as if notable faces are enough to compensate for the lack of value across its array of characters. Therefore, you can probably imagine how unmoving the inevitable deaths of some of these are and it feels like a totally pointless exercise and incredibly vapid.
In an effort to bamboozle its audience with over-the-top visual qualities and a deafening soundtrack, it was an absolute battle to sit through and shaped to be one of the most disappointing trips to the cinema in quite some time.