The Suicide Squad Is To Die For!

I’m back with the SPOILER Squad otherwise known as The Wages Of Cinema to take on The Suicide Squad! (Thanks to its earlier UK release, I had to dodge spoilers for a week so I didn’t accidentally discover whether King Shark is a shark.) Warner Brothers wanted Suicide Squad to be its Guardians Of The Galaxy. (It wasn’t.) So for the sequel, they got James Gunn to write & direct. That’s a huge upgrade from David Ayer. (I’m curious how the version co-written by Todd Stashwick would’ve compared.) It’s also much wiser to get a Marvel writer-director in on the ground floor than bringing one in mid-stream as a replacement. TSS follows Wolverine’s lead by adding “The” to the title rather than a number or creative subtitle. Much like TMNT:OOTS, you’re not required to have seen the first installment to enjoy the sequel. This one’s already got a leg up in containing no Jared Leto Joker!

You can tell writer-director Gunn loves DC Comics & wants viewers to too. Forty-seven comics creators are thanked in the credits. Plenty of obscure characters get their real names, origins, & powers reinvented, but he keeps their core appeal. Some misleading magazine photos showed Gunn as part of Task Force X, but he doesn’t fill Grant Morrison’s role as The Writer. (Co-creator John Ostrander has a cameo as a Belle Reve doctor.) The R-rating is earned with oodles of gore. Now that he’s not constrained to the MCU house style, Gunn shows even more creative flourishes like a fight reflected in a helmet. Chapter titles are creatively integrated on screen as if they’re individual issues within a trade paperback. Despite being a long-ish movie incorporating flashbacks, the pacing never drags.

Gunn reduced spoilers by giving the cast individualized scripts that ended when their characters died, but they each knew if their character croaked in advance. What if Gunn got WB to agree to let him kill anyone as a misdirect for having everyone survive? What a swerve that would’ve been! Cannon fodder is its core concept so the deaths will probably rile up fewer fans than MOTUR. He considered plenty of other supervillains that didn’t make the cut.

The ensemble is all killer no filler. They have great misfit camaraderie like DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow but with a stronger emphasis on being DC characters. With so many players, this is a double-edged sword. I would’ve liked an even longer movie to get to know these goners better. Rick Flag remains the dullest member yet his characterization is a massive improvement. (Joel Kinnaman liked working on the sequel much better.)

I kind of wish I’d been less media savvy when watching the trailers. From seeing how little was focused on a certain batch of characters, I surmised they’d be getting the X-Force in Deadpool 2 treatment. (Task Force Sex X mission control has their own dead pool, plus both have yellow subtitles & a Weasel.) Abner Krill’s famous last words were obvious. Although it wasn’t named, I knew its Kaiju could be none other than Starro the Conqueror. Fortunately figuring these things out in advance didn’t ruin the movie for me.

In the comics, Amanda Waller is a pragmatic anti-heroine who uses bad means for good results. Most recent adaptations have portrayed her as a selfish or inept antagonist. This continues the trend but executed better. Although she wants to keep Starro out of the new Corto Maltesian government’s control, she’s even more concerned with covering up America’s involvement in Project Starfish. She doesn’t care about sacrificing the decoy Task Force X or Starro conquering Corto Maltese. So she’s not as morally gray as she could’ve been, but her plan is more sensible than the last outing. Viola Davis knows how to get away with murder.

Folks thought Idris Elba, whose previous DC credit was The Losers, would be the recasting for Deadshot or Deathstroke. It turns out he’s Bloodsport. To keep this secret, Gunn referred to him as Vigilante. I’m just glad he’s not Sportsmaster. They took the most famous actor & made him the character fans were least interested in (aside from Blackguard). Not even piloting a stolen invisible sub on Supergirl made anyone care about Bloodsport, It kind of seems wasteful not to cast Idris Elba as Bronze Tiger, unless they’ve got plans for Michael Jai White to reprise the role. Elba even has feline experience! 

Although his broad strokes sound pretty generic, Elba is so good a playing a grouch with a heart of gold. Robert DuBois is way more memorable here than when he was squandered on Supergirl. Even his relationship with his estranged daughter has unique flavor. Bloodsport shot Superman with a Kryptonite bullet just like his debut story. He looks unrecognizable from the comics. Since his previous defining feature was a Raphael bandanna, that’s not a bad thing in his case. Bloodsport’s helmet looks like a Xenomorph popped out of Daft Punk. His colors are now confusingly closer to Deathstroke’s. His armor is filled with a delightful arsenal including a wrist crossbow & the most 90’s firearm possible. His one-upmanship with the similar Peacemaker is a delightful running gag.

David Dastmalchian is now in five DC projects (The Dark Knight, Gotham, The Flash, The Suicide Squad, The Long Halloween cartoon)! Now he gets to be a Wonderbread mascot! He was Gunn’s top pick for the part despite him not knowing who Polka Dot Man was. He got the costume designer, Judianna Makovsky, to make a suit for his cat, Bubblegum! Snakes are already cosplaying him! Even Shaq is getting in on this hot new trend.

In Pre-Crisis comics, Mr. Polka Dot could pull circles off his suit that transformed into a range of gadgets like buzzsaws, his own UFO, & a miniature sun. I don’t understand why he became a joke when his spotted suit could rival the Deus ex machina of Batman’s utility belt. The whole era was zany so he could’ve just as easily become a recurring threat. Post-Crisis Abner Krill was disappointingly downgraded to a nutter with powerless pajamas despite comics not having an effects budget to worry about. The movie reinvention is much more creative. His mother gave him an extradimensional infection in a failed attempt at creating superheroes that forces him to periodically launch disintegrating dots from his body or die. Polka-Dot Man’s pulsating polychromatic pustules are practical prostheses!

Polka_Dot_Man

Mr. James K. Polka-Dot-Man was the eleventh president of the United States who caught Skittles Pox from tasting the rainbow.

Neither Ratcatcher has the distinctive overbite from the comics. Otis Flannegan’s successor is named Cleo Cazo. This legacy proudly has a number in her codename. Footage of her rats leaked. (Ratcatcher 2 may have made her comics debut in The Next Batman: Second Son #6. So she & Bridgit Pike can theoretically team-up in that medium. It’s also possible her counterpart is Mouse.) Breakout star Daniela Melchior’s nickname was Napcatcher, the most relatable supervillainess! (Dreamer would be Napcatcher’s heroic counterpart.) It’s unclear whether Gunn added this because of her drowsiness or whether Melchior went method. She doesn’t understand what an overhead projector is, but she is the movie’s soul. Cleo is as upbeat & compassionate as Squirrel Girl. Sebastian was played by Jaws & Crisp Ratt but dubbed by Dee Bradley Baker.

King Shark knows friends & food are the most important things in life. Like his less cuddly Beeboverse counterpart, he wears human attire. Just once I’d like to see him in this costume instead. Conventional leg coverings don’t make him look more grounded once you realize they’d need to be custom tailored to his bulk anyway. (Would his teeth ruin the Tooth Fairy economy?) Steve Agee did the mo-cap & appears in person as John Economos. Green Lantern’s Taika Waititi has a role in this that’s not voicing Nanaue even though they’re both Pacific Islanders? (He’s the original Ratcatcher!) They gave the part to Sylvester Stallone instead of Powerless’s Ron Funches? This may be his best performance since Judge Dredd. How do we still not have an adaptation where King Shark sings his expository song?

Harley Quinn’s Injustice 2 inspired costume is even better than her solo movie outfits yet still inferior to her classic jester suit not glimpsed here. Unfortunately she wears a crimson dress for most of the runtime. Margot Robbie embodies Harley, but she still doesn’t feel like she’s a necessary part of the team beyond drawing in the most casual of fans. She has an impressive aptitude for carnage, but without letting her incorporate more whimsical clown shtick it could’ve just as easily been provided by another lower profile femme fatale. Although her face is obscured by her dress, Robbie did the chain escape herself!

John Cena almost reached his empanada limit in a scene I didn’t notice until editing this. This is the superior sort of method acting to whatever Leto failed at. Cena is a cryptid that steals your empanadas without appearing in security footage. He even does interviews in costume! That’s because he won’t give it back. Peacemaker’s biggest comics contribution is inspiring Watchmen’s The Comedian. Or is he really Peasmaker the Bird’s-Eye pitchman? Cena is very committed to being a moron, which makes him an excellent foil to Elba & Kinnaman. This movie is about letting things be simulataneously silly & deadly serious, so his obsession with peace takes a terrifying turn. Rather than being redundant, he’s Waller secret ace in the hole for the cover up. He tries to kill Cleo, which has no pardon! His defeat is cleverly set up by earlier banter.

Pete Davidson is Blackguard, as assassin so terrible his own employers wanted to rub him out in the comics. I prefer his more knight-like armor, but it’s not a dealbreaker since I already don’t care about this screw-up. He’s rewarded for selling out his squad by being shot in face!

Captain Boomerang is a worthier archnemesis to those whom can’t dodge projectiles at supersonic speed. I was disappointed he was definitively slain so quickly since Jai Courtney was most amusing as King Dirtbag. Boomerangs are supposed to come back if they don’t hit their targets. I got my hopes up the stinger would reveal he miraculously survived, but it was just Peacemaker to lead into his HBO Max series.

When Sean Gunn’s character dies in The Suicide Squad, will it be accompanied by a “Pop Goes The Weasel” joke? No, but that’s technically not a missed opportunity since he survives thanks to Savant. (Why does Slither have a James Gunn cameo instead of a Sean Gunn cameo?) Weasel was inspired by Bill the Cat. Gunn also cameos as Calendar Man alongside Double Down & the fan-created Kaleidoscope (played by the producer’s wife, Natalie Sarafan).

Unlike the GOTGs, you can recognize Nathan Fillion in this. His TDK is The Detachable Kid, a new take on Arm-Fall-Off-Boy! (Some days I wish I was as powerful as Arm-Fall-Off-Boy. He’s metal AF. If you can’t handle me at my Arm-Fall-Off-Boy, you don’t deserve me at my Arm-Fall-Off-Boy. I only have one setting!) A fan had to make TDK his character poster. He can levitate his attached arms to attack enemies at a distance. TDK doesn’t put enough elbow grease into it (perhaps because disembodied limbs lack leverage), so this is one power that ends up being as useless as it looks.

Despite actually casting a muscular actress, Mongal is still too tiny. (Mayling Ng was previously an Amazon in Wonder Woman.) Mongal ought to be 8′ x 8′ square rather than easily mistaken for Starfire. It seems like her character was originally intended to be Lashina/Duchess, but she might’ve been embargoed for the cancelled The New Gods.

The trailers show Harley wielding Javelin’s javelin, so it was painfully obvious Flula Borg would be a goner. She uses it to help slay Starro. This is reminiscent of Harley using Katana’s katana to save the day in the previous picture. (“This is Katana. She has my back. What’s she doing with it? Doesn’t she have a back of her own? Is she a Huldra?”) The season of Arrow I didn’t watch apparently used Javelin as someone completely unrecognizable as Javelin?

The former ruling family of Corto Maltese stayed in power by feeding dissidents to Project Starfish. The makes the new coup regime seem sympathetic until they reveal they’ll be doing likewise. The other revolutionaries are supposed to be the most benevolent, but I get the sense that’s only because Starro has been taken off the table for them.

Bloodsport_Starro

It may not have grimdark Patrick Star, but it does have STARRO THE CONQUEROR! I lost my mind when I saw it in the trailer, & seeing it in IMAX was even better! Now I don’t feel so bad that it was embargoed from the Beeboverse. Starro conquered Leicester Square! I love the way the Starro spores twirled in the air before latching on to their hosts. It was the perfect mix of goofy & horrifying. Its army has a very Doctor Who vibe to go with it being tortured by Peter Capaldi the 12th Doctor with giant bolts sticking out of his noggin. The stakes of its rampage feel higher because the surviving Squaddies aren’t on par with the Justice League. Starro’s hosts die once it’s slain so there are even consequences.

The conclusion is a bit of a Phyrric victory. They rebel Squaddies were going to leak Project Starfish but instead use it to blackmail Waller. So arguably Flag died for nothing. It’s unclear whether the terms free them from both Task Force X & Belle Reve. A third movie might need a brand new cast despite the survivors being incredibly endearing. Golf club-wielding Flo Crawley (Tinashe Kajese-Bolden) is the day’s unsung heroine because she’s unnamed in the movie. The Corto Maltesians finally get democratic elections but a big chunk of the island & its citizens were destroyed. This could’ve been depressingly dour under a less deft director.

The meta-narrative of Suicide Squad comics was that kooky supervillains were expendable to DC Post-Crisis. Gunn refutes this through the sympathetic duo of PDM & Ratcatcher 2. He’s saddled with crippling depression thanks to his mother & discovers his self-respect by embracing his freakishness. She is likewise thought to be the insignificant yet her rats end up defeating an intergalactic monster. The movie is a showcase for why culture needs oddballs more than the umpteenth Batman flick.

I thought Oscar-winning Suicide Squad was decent, but I’ve had no desire to watch it a second time despite stanning Killer Croc for clear skin. (Although flawed, Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay was much better than Assault On Arkham & the theatrical movie because it had the sense to steal from Gail Simone’s Secret Six.) The Suicide Squad is such a colossal improvement that I’m going to re-watch it ASAP on HBO Max! I’m so glad we’ve moved past the “it’s good, comparatively speaking” to the “it’s legitimutantly great” phase of DC’s cinematic universe. It’s kind of a buzzkill that the current film-going environment means that this will probably preform much worse than its predecessor when this is the one worth dying over.

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McFarlane Toys is only making Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Polka-Dot Man, Peacemaker, & BAF King Shark. That’s a lot of Squaddies unaccounted for. I’m still not over Cheetah being snubbed, & now I already have to rage against Ratcatcher 2’s omission? (Todd would make us double dip to get masked & unmasked heads.) We want Weasel too! The likenesses for the unmasked versions aren’t up to industry standards, which is a shame since McFarlane led the pack in likeness back in the day before digital sculpting & face printing took off. Apparently DC won’t let the toys have guns now, even if they’re not realistic like Bloodsport’s? (Meanwhile Mezco insists its John Constantine will still include guns because Constantine without firearms would just be unthinkable.) At least the swords & axes they’re packed with are used in the movie. SH Figurarts is doing Quinn’s better costume.

Severed limbs are fine for Walmart’s exclusive King Shark though. He’s missing the bloody mouth as originally advertised. If the $5 price bump reflects his BAF parts, getting King Shark with his Squaddies costs half as much as buying him by himself from Walmart. All versions’ jorts frustratingly hinder his leg movement. He looks good in a lavalava. Hot Toys King Shark will eat up even more of your budget & space!

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Title cards & mortality thematically link TSS to the other equally superb movie I saw that day, The Green Knight. Let me know if you’re interested in a separate blog on that.

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