The Stew Review: ‘The Suicide Squad’ has surprising heart beneath comically absurd violence
TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - You can practically hear director James Gunn cackling as you watch his latest blockbuster about a ragtag group of outcasts slowly becoming heroes.
The Suicide Squad is a two-hour-and-12-minute splatterfest that has absolutely no compunctions about taking the $175 million dollar budget Warner Bros. allotted and smearing it all over the screen via comically absurd violence, humor that would leave a 13-year-old breathless and a CGI creation that’s in some ways the most comic book-y thing we’ve yet seen on a movie screen.
Though technically a sequel, you don’t actually have to watch David Ayer’s Suicide Squad to enjoy or even understand The Suicide Squad. The concept is easy enough to pick up and there are only two recurring characters, one of which (Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)) audiences are likely already fully familiar with. All you really need to know is that this is what a 13-year-old would have likely come up with if asked to write a comic book version of The Dirty Dozen, complete with an avalanche of swear words, gallons of gore and a sprinkling of nudity just because. In other words, if you think you can probably take your kid to see this because it’s by the same studio that makes Wonder Woman and Aquaman, chances are you’ll highly regret that decision before the opening credits finish.
Heck, you may regret it even if you don’t have kids.
If it seems like I’m hyper-focusing on the absurd amount of hard R-rated content, it’s partly because Gunn does the same in the film itself. There are more scenes in the movie where someone or something is shot, crushed, ripped, maimed, chopped, sliced, or otherwise viscerally splattered than there are scenes where no violence is enacted. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie with such frequent use of casual violence for comedic effect. Gunn got his start making z-grade schlock so imagine his delight when Warner Bros. gave him carte blanche to make that same kind of movie but with a bigger budget than 100 of those movies combined.
If that sort of humor is your bag, you’ll more than get your money’s worth. Personally, I could have used a better balance of “actual” jokes to violent humor as I felt it kind of got old after a while that a lot of punchlines were delivered with an explosion of blood and gore.
Thankfully, though, the approach never fully wears out its welcome and overall we get a manic, comic book depiction of the classic “men on a mission” sub-genre, only this time it’s not just men but also rat-summoning women, anthropomorphic sharks and a guy who can shoot deadly polka dots from his hands. The cast of characters really is what makes things sing here. Watching Peacemaker (John Cena) and Bloodsport (Idris Elba) perpetually posture against each other never gets old. David Dastmalchian continues to prove what an invaluable supporting player he is every time he shows up in a movie. But it’s Sylvester Stallone voicing Nanaue, aka King Shark, that steals the show. Nanaue’s arc would be heartwarming on its own as he slowly finds a family with this band of misfit criminals, but it’s the heart and damaged soul that Stallone imbues into often monosyllabic line readings that truly makes this creature come to life.
The cherry on top is that the mission itself revolves around a creature that is, hands-down, the most comic book-y thing I’ve yet seen since this renaissance of comic book movies began. Truly that’s something when we live in a world where a movie starring a sentient tree and a machine gun-toting talking raccoon has made more than a billion dollars (which, conveniently enough, also was directed by Gunn).
The other element The Suicide Squad shares with Guardians of the Galaxy is that Gunn further shows his compassion for the dregs of society. There are literally dozens upon dozens of bad guys Gunn could have chosen to put on this team. Yet he specifically chose Ratcather 2 (Daniela Melchior), a young woman who took on her father’s mantle and used her ability to control rats to not only play a central heroic role, but to convey the (almost shockingly) tender message of how he views these outcasts. All of which to say, the face of the film may be a whole lot of juvenile material, but if you dig deep enough in this chum bucket of a movie you’ll find an actual beating heart.
The Suicide Squad is now in theaters or streaming on HBO Max at no extra charge to subscribers.
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