The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad ★★½

Don't think anybody's quite prepared for how bad the Discourse for this one could get. It's interesting to track the ideology of recent blockbusters, the way they increasingly try to meet criticisms halfway and embody tumblr-friendly politics. They always fail, and they fail in very revealing ways. In The Suicide Squad, our titular Suicide Squad is tasked with eliminating a mysterious scientific program within some Caribbean banana republic which is a very, very obvious analog for Cuba. Faux-Cuba has recently deposed its Batista-esque dictator thanks to a military coup led by one man who comes across as a very overt Castro stand-in and another guy who comes across as a Che Guevara-alike, if more by association than due to his traits (Harley fucks him and comments on her enjoyment of his impressive endowment; size queen Harley confirmed). Meanwhile there are also democratic freedom fighters who resemble more what the Cuban Revolution actually was, and hint-hint, before the end of the film one of them excitedly talks about Faux-Cuba having democracy for the first time in 90 years, which is the same length of time ago that Cuba had a government not run by Batista or the Castros. This makes the film a sort of pisstake on the Bay of Pigs wherein it succeeds after a fashion, which is complicated somewhat by the film attempting to also comment on American interference, our hypocritical usage of tinpot dictators like Batista, our tendency to engage in medical experimentation with vulnerable populations, etc, etc, etc. Because while it demonizes our enemies, the film is very clear that hey, America is the bad guy, and we cause the most problems. It's just that also, America's geopolitical enemies are also very bad if not worse, and they all have organic movements for freedom and democracy that should be supported regardless of whether it's in America's interest. The film makes it easy for us to root against America, and also against oppressive foreign governments, embodying a politics of easy moral purity that's very fashionable online. Regardless of context, there's always a correct stance, a nobler path that doesn't require picking sides, and because there's such a stance, the particularities of real-life struggles can be handily ignored because there are, after all, no real good guys. That's what I, personally, find troubling about Suicide Squad's politics, the way it peddles ostensibly Anti-American ideology while sneaking our foreign policy goals under the hood. It's not the goals, it's the methods, and if the Peacemakers and Amanda Wallers weren't so darned mean, why, America could very well spread the pleasant vibes of democracy the world over. After all, the people of Faux-Cuba want democracy, don't they? The sort of doubletalk this movie engages in is rather endemic to big movies these days, which always succumb to the desire to be seen as progressive, which always have explicit politics of the variety that might inspire some good articles and thinkpieces but always ring like the Cliff's Notes version of actual ideas and actual ideology. Come and get your bog-standard progressive memes, served reheated. At the end of the day The Suicide Squad is a film that can't really puts its money where its mouth is, that wants to be edgy and button-pushing and transgressive but can't help packaging these things as softly as possible. The film *does* take the time to lead the viewer to wonder if it isn't rather immoral for the Suicide Squad to be slaughtering dozens of not-Cuban soldiers to fulfill American foreign-policy goals, but it isn't willing to do anything with that reflectiveness. It shows us with unflinching brutality how coldly Peacemaker and Bloodsport dispatch these ostensible foemen, and in one scene they murder a whole lot of freedom fighters under the impression they're killing not-Castro's death squads. We're meant to go "damn America fucked up forreal though" and then go right back to viewing these characters as lovable buddies and eventually cheering on the fruits of this Morally Ambiguous Violence™ (the installation of Democracy™). I'm not a schoolmarm, but I mislike when a film tries to have it every way. The Suicide Squad wants to be button-pushing and transgressive, and it wants to be joyous dumb-fun. You can do both, but you better be real fuckin smart to pull it off; James Gunn is a libertarian. Suicide Squad wants to embody earnest emotional sentiment, naughty bad-widdle-boy-ism, Serious Political Commentary, and being a brainless action thrillride, and with each goal it succeeds, at most, maybe 60%, some much less than that. The writing isn't sharp enough and the direction isn't focused enough to pull off the balancing act, none of the threads of intent coming together or interweaving in a thoughtful way. All I see is one scene where Gunn wants to fire off some asinine quips, another where he tries for his usual corny found family heartstring-tugging, another where, oh boy, it's time once again to juxtapose gruesome action with some upbeat pop song of the past. Too many people bought that damned Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack because now Gunn's need to do this schtick is downright pathological. For all my many, many problems, I don't hate this movie. There's a fair amount of stuff I like....but it's isolated scenes and moments within a haphazard assemblage of crap, a guy having too much fun, not bringing near enough craft and discipline, and pretending he has something to say. The action isn't all that good either. Gunn is good for gags, he's good for little money shots and gore effects, but as an action *filmmaker* there's not a lot here. Some decent CQC. I will say I *really* liked Starro, both conceptually and as a special effect, definitely one of the best CGI creatures ever, a real sense of tactility and weight, as well as personality. Also like Ratcatcher, hard not to. And John Cena is a blast, until the film decides Points need to be made with him. Michael Rooker shoulda been in this more, and I think the film should have included the first wave of loser Squad fodder in the main group and let them get picked off instead of throwing em all away in scene one, but that complaint goes hand-in-hand with Gunn's inability to stick to a sensibility. I like cynical splatter, I like freewheeling goodhearted fun, and again, he doesn't have what it takes to combine em. And I don't really need *any* Whedon quippage, something the first half of this film does an egregious amount of. Gunn's writing seemed a lot more clever and funny in Guardians, maybe I need to revisit, or maybe being able to indulge his every whim is bad for his craft. I don't know, but I do know I was looking forward to this so much and all it amounts to is a lot of ping-ponging between "fine" and "wildly ill-advised". It's incredible how these movies keep stepping right into being exactly what their most snobbish and left-leaning critics accuse them of, and in this case it's so cartoonishly overt I wonder if Gunn did it on purpose just to poke the hornets' nest. James Gunn is a better filmmaker with more personality than a lot of the guys making this stuff nowadays, but this is still just an impression of a real movie.
A final note, and here I spoil a pretty good gag so beware: something I genuinely respect is that after the attempted cancellation of Gunn for admittedly-dogshit pedophile jokes, after spending a whole movie where characters explicitly fret over the safety of children in Not-Cuba during all these unstable goings-on, after one character is stated to be a *serial child murderer* before being dispatched at the beginning as a joke...after all this, it's revealed that Weasel, said childkiller, is in fact alive, and will be free to roam on the island of not-Cuba, presumably going right back to preying on children now that he's off Waller's radar. Oh, and Weasel is played by James Gunn's brother. About the most tasteless spit-in-the-face at one's critics I can imagine in a wide-release film, Gunn rubbing noses in the fact that he gets to keep making these big playset movies even after going through the worst newscycle anyone can. If the whole film were willing to be *that* ghoulish instead of vacillating between ghoulishness and corn, I'd like this movie a whole hell of a lot more. This is a case where were I being a little more objective I'd probably give this a lower score for being so damned sloppy, but I enjoyed the moment-to-moment experience a little too much for that. God, I wanna see a big tentpole I can unambiguously cheerlead again.

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