In an industry where imitation is the sincerest form of exploitation, artistry has become an entirely expendable commodity. Warner Bros. has spent the better part of the last decade mired in their slapdash attempt to duplicate the monumental success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most notably, the enterprise cost filmmaker Zack Snyder, and, more pertinently, David Ayer, final cut. Merely the latest above-the-line talent to exit the revolving door over creative difference via termination or resignation.
The infamous post-production dismemberment and subsequent reassembly of SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) and JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) entrenched the DC Extended Universe on already shaky ground – MAN OF STEEL (2013), BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) – created a rift between franchise, and fanbase. Consequently, the flagship oscillated between profit and loss, fresh and rotten; so to speak, suspended in marketability limbo. Even so, in this cinematic day and age, irreparable damage to reputability – nor box office disappointment, for that matter – is the death sentence it used to be.
THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), a villainous gang of juvenile, foul-mouthed hitmen, and women is the most recent piece of intellectual property (Batman, Spider-Man, etc.) to undergo rapid reconfiguration. WB, surely with no more room for error, is afforded a failsafe their second time through the order by none other than archrival Disney. A familiar, salable face behind the camera, James Gunn, the architect behind the Marvel tentpole, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)- and the delightful SLITHER (2006) – is brought aboard to breathe new life into this otherwise ramshackle attraction, after his dismissal from the House-of-Mouse.
Irreverent, coarse, and utterly violent, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is everything you’ve been led to believe, and yes, James Gunn is the perfect man for the job, even if the result is, on the whole, too little, too late. Eager to give Gunn the creative control and R-rated freedom necessary to do the titular outfit justice, the DC brain trust is (finally) able to deliver the SUICIDE SQUAD experience promised back in 2016; now, seemingly an eternity ago. Unfortunately, for this consumer – and, ipso facto, the Polka-Dot Man standalone feature – “superhero fatigue” has been upgraded to a terminal illness.
Separated by more than a definite article, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is reanimated with new blood, plucked from the periphery of DC Lore and the google search engine, ready to hemorrhage for the ruthless puppeteer, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Harley Quinn – once again front and center due in no small part to another unmatched performance from Margot Robbie – Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) are joined this go-around by a ragtag cast ready to provide their punchline when called upon, but not much else.
Led by Deadshot knock-off Bloodsport (Idris Elba), the antihero cavalcade is round out by Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). All of whom, quite frankly, is much more fun than their gun-for-hire kin of yesteryear. Sadly, between the sensorial lobotomy, and emotionally barren narrative, each is reduced to simply a set-piece, subjugated by an exercise more concerned with quotability than any form of resonance. Call me old-fashioned, but I just can’t see myself in the struggle of a humanoid shark, nor do I qualify his character development as pathos.
Admittedly more fun than a sizeable portion of the superhero sludge churned out over the last decade or so, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is, and I admit this reluctantly, another step in the right direction for the DCEU but, more importantly, the fanbase. For some, the “theme park” is worth the price of admission – or an HBO Max subscription – and Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, and Idris Elba certainly provide hope for the future. Still, there is only so much potential and profitability in a character whose superpower is projectile confetti or a well-mannered rat.
If it can be described that way, with each new spandex-laden release, the extent to which DC, and Marvel, affect the outcome of at-home versus in-person entertainment is increasingly evident. If, indeed, a symbol of anything, THE SUICIDE SQUAD is proof WB will soon be able to process content with Disney’s efficiency and cultural impact. Make of that what you will.