The Worst-Heroes-Ever are back, and this time they don’t fall into the trap of living up to their billing. Alexander Crisp reviews.
Five years ago, Suicide Squad entered cinemas terrifically hyped and exited them utterly panned. Cara Delevingne arm-waving like a lost tourist, Jared Leto purring like a perverted cat. In all, it was a nightmare which may not even have been the worst of what Warner Bros. had to offer, coming as it did in the middle of a sequence of turgid DC movies that culminated in Mother-Of-All-Flops Justice League. One creative course-correction later finds Warner producing more colourful—if often just as underwhelming—superhero flicks. However, salvaging this popular but toxified brand would require outside help. For the job they turned to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy guru James Gunn to, well, make DC their own Guardians of the Galaxy.
The result is a soft-reboot–sequel that’s fathoms better than its misguided predecessor. For one, Gunn’s take is watchable, a low bar that was still too high for the first film. He gets the casting right—the new faces blood in with the clutch of survivors from Suicide 1, with John Cena standing out for his confirmation as an effective deadpan film star. Sylvester Stallone is sent-up as a monosyllabic CGI-Shark called “Nanaue”, the undisguised Groot of the movie. To be fair, in spite of it being a rehashed joke, the joke is funnier with Stallone. Joel Kinnaman tones his formerly-shouty performance right down; Margot Robbie on the other hand provides more of the same. And Peter Capaldi gets to bare his teeth as evil scientist “The Thinker”—it’s always fun to see one of our own having fun in Hollywood.
This new-look superpowered-strike team are sent to destroy a fictional South American island’s extra-terrestrial WMD. (Think Cuba, but instead of Soviet nukes it’s a face-hugging starfish from outer space). The narrative includes some Cold War-intrigue, and has little of the tonal dissonance that belied Warner’s last minute interference in David Ayer’s admittedly joyless Suicide Squad vision, with Gunn in much greater control. His own script doesn’t strain as hard to get laughs as his Guardians efforts did, providing a steady-drip of decent jokes that continue to substitute wit for puerility. As the film moves past a middle act lull into an all-action second-half, the joke count gets thinner, while the action is maintained with consistent pacing and without a lot of filler.
But, as much as it’s gratifying to be diverted rather than stupefied by a cinematic universe entry, familiar finale obligations are a serious reminder of where the superhero caboodle is at these days. Because guess what, the tail is dragged out by a lengthy battle against a giant computer-generated foe. Gunn partially ameliorates the fatigue with a playfully novel visual, choosing Starro—a tower-block sized starfish—to be the Kaiju-In-Chief. Yet it can’t prevent the mental dam from being burst, a realisation that it’s all been done before, over and over and over again.
Since 2008, there have been roughly 56 movies based on Marvel and DC characters. 56 times we’ve gone through the same, by now mutually-indistinguishable beats in 13 years. The genre’s tropes fell foul of diminishing returns a long time ago, and though this is one of the better superhero blockbusters to come out in recent years, and it’s still just an OK film. If this is the high watermark we can expect today, perhaps it’s time to give the dog-tired format a rest.
A boon for fans who had to suffer with the rest of us under 2016’s instruments of torture, The Suicide Squad makes up for lost time thanks to James Gunn, but does nothing to show there’s any mileage left in the superhero tank.
Words by Alex Crisp
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