The term “Phantom Menacing” refers to the period of denial after you watch a movie you’d been highly anticipating, only for it to be not so great, or phenomenally bad. If you head to YouTube, right now, and look at the audience reactions to The Phantom Menace, you could’ve sworn that they had seen the second coming of Christ, when they’d actually just sat through two hours of Jar-Jar Binks (1999 was wild!). However, I am not exempt from this condition, as the original Suicide Squad poked the same proverbial nerve within myself. Apparently, 16-year-old me thought Jared Leto’s snarling Joker impression was “pretty good”. I was deeply wrong; Suicide Squad is not good. Suicide Squad is bad. The Suicide Squad, in contrast, makes heavy amends for its predecessor.
Fast forward to 2018 and James Gunn has just been fired from Marvel for a series of edge lord, basement-dwelling “jokes” that would make any teenager very, very proud. Gunn is an artist who clearly thrives off shock humor, or shocking content, at heart. The difference between Gunn and other ‘edgy’ filmmakers though, is that he has managed to successfully grow and think about how he can strike the right balance between offense and, if not slightly ballistic, insight. Change, emotionally and politically, is a fittingly core concept in his new movie. Personally, I think Gunn has somewhat redeemed himself with a raucous romp that pulls on its characters heart strings, both literally and figuratively.
The plot is essentially the same. Bad guys go bad place and make a big ‘boom boom’. The narrative is, conversely, far busier and far more interesting than the dulled-out city of the original. Here, we bounce back and forth through place and time focusing on different interactions and plot beats. Is it overstuffed? Perhaps, yet I was strangely enjoying the length of this picture. There is rarely a dull scene in this film, and the parts that drag on are still extremely entertaining. As someone with a tumultuous attention span, long movies rarely keep me hooked for so long – although – most movies don’t involve a giant starfish from outer space.
The Suicide Squad’s director James Gunn & the Cancel Culture
The cast does wonders all around, but I found personal soft spots for John Cena as Peacemaker, Idris Elba as Bloodsport, and Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2. Not only does Gunn spend the most on fleshing out their desires and drawbacks, but he also infuses a lot of pain into their arcs. If you don’t plan on spending an evening in the theatre tearing up at rats, think again. We get sufficient sympathy for the rejects, a la Guardians. I was worried for the shortest time that Harley was going to be made into a ditzy princess, a poor move considering her growth and independence displayed in Birds of Prey, but rest assured that Quinn is very much fighting for her own self-interest. Sometimes, even, to the tune of Louis Prima.
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I could natter on all day about how The Suicide Squad is not Oscar worthy, how it creeps into the territory of cringe comedy from time to time, or how Polka-Dot man is given an inexplicably large focus on his mummy issues. Overall, who cares? If you’re going into this film expecting ultra-violence, lots of swearing, trademark needle-drops, a cast of crazy cantankerous criminals, and a man-sized Weasel, then you’re going to have a fantastic time. If hearing an audience cheer and laugh in unison at one of the most brazen films of 2021 is your kind of jam, James Gunn’s DC debut is a force to be reckoned with.
Watch the trailer