[Early Review] The Suicide Squad (2021)

Director: James Gunn
Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Flula Borg, Mayling Ng, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis
Screenplay: James Gunn
132 mins. Rated R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.

A follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad has gone through a great many permutations since the original film opened to less-than-stellar reviews and reports of serious studio meddling on the part of Warner Bros. At various times, filmmakers like David Ayer, Mel Gibson, Gavin O’Connor, and Jaume Collet-Serra, were connected to the project before James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Super) stepped on board as a writer and director. Gunn, fresh off the controversy with Disney that led to his firing, put a lot of himself into this new film, and it seems he was given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted. I was very excited to see this film, and I was able to catch a press screening of the film last week. I’m happy to say that The Suicide Squad might be the best installment of the DCEU yet.

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, Fences, Widows) has reassembled Task Force X with some new and familiar faces in an effort to destroy Jötunheim, an experimental laboratory on Corto Maltese. As before, each of these thirteen inmates of Belle Reve have an explosive device in their skulls and, if they survive, they get time removed from their prison sentences. Under the leadership of Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, RoboCop, Edge of Winter), Task Force X begins their mission in bloody fashion, but they’ll soon find that Jötunheim is a much more protected stronghold than they’ve faced before, and it contains some secrets that perhaps should not be found.

There are simply too many characters in this film to spend time on each of them, and don’t assume that, because I didn’t talk about someone, they die earlier or aren’t worth it. I’m going to focus on the particular characters that stood out most to me, and I’ll just say that I enjoyed every single character in this movie. Gunn found a way to give each of them a POP that made them memorable in the film. Perhaps the film’s greatest fault is more of a strength in that I enjoyed all of these characters so much that I didn’t want them to die, but knowing this is a Suicide Squad movie, some of them need to die. Gunn reminds us throughout his screenplay that the odds are heavily stacked against Task Force X, and that makes for a more exciting movie experience because of it.

I would argue that this film doesn’t ignore the original Suicide Squad (or Birds of Prey) as much as interviews and reports have led us to believe. It doesn’t out-and-out reference these previous films, but it certainly isn’t trying to hide them away either. In fact, Gunn does a great job at incorporating some of the legacy characters of Suicide Squad. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street, I, Tonya) is perhaps the best she’s ever been in the DCEU, and part of that comes from a mutual understanding of the character for Gunn and Robbie. Her character arc in this film sensibly builds on what she did in her first two appearances, and there’s the idea of Quinn as a catalyst of chaos, much like her former beau, that works quite well because the film isn’t resting on her shoulders. Even Rick Flag and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, Terminator Genisys, Jolt) feel like natural progressions of their characters, while Amanda Waller is the same hard-ass from the previous film, but I like the added lack of emotion she feels here when members of the Squad suffer or die. She had that in the previous film, but it’s further expanded upon here.

Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation, Concrete Cowboy) is quite spectacular here as Bloodsport, a new addition to the universe who has such a pessimism for the mission but is forced into by Waller. Having seen Elba as an action superstar in other movies, it’s nice to see him play around with the idea that he has no faith in the mission and a complete understanding of his odds. He also has great interplay with the others in the Task Force X team.

Other notable introductions here include David Dastmalchian (Prisoners, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) as Polka-Dot Man, a character with a memorable screen presence and an interesting ability and Sean Gunn (The Belko Experiment, Ordinary World) as Weasel, a kind-of anti-Rocket Racoon, a clumsy and disturbing humanoid creature without any truly special abilities, but if I’m being fair, it is John Cena (Bumblebee, F9: The Fast Saga) who steals the show as Peacemaker, a criminal who sees himself as a hero, a protector of peace, no matter who he has to kill to make it happen.

Therein lies James Gunn’s greatest strength as a director: his ability to pull the best performances from his actors. He made Dave Bautista a better actor through their collaboration, and here again he has found a way to further develop Cena’s talents to make Peacemaker the standout character of the entire film. I never thought I’d be saying that, but it’s impossible to deny.

Gunn has a remarkable directing style that stands out even in studio pictures, and The Suicide Squad feels like a James Gunn movie with a big-ass budget. He’s in his realm, making the kinds of movies he’s always made, but now he has the money to stand behind his vision. As a screenwriter, he’s always been able to embrace the insanity in a way many others have tried and failed. Here, he has a ragtag group of villains that we shouldn’t be rooting for as they do reprehensible things to survive an unsurvivable mission, facing off against some of the weirdest antagonists in the comic book realm, and yet, he accomplished just about everything he sets out to do here. Having seen the film already, I just cannot wait to see it again.

If I’m looking for a flaw, and there are so few, I would have to say the only frustrating part of the film is a nitpick. I really like how the film presents its title cards almost like chapter headings, but a few of them were tough to read in the style they chose. I know, it doesn’t seem like a big deal because it isn’t, but it’s truly the only problem I had with this movie. Perhaps a tightening up of a few minutes in that transition from Act II to Act III, but again, nothing that I feel is ultimately a large problem for this film.

I had loads of fun with The Suicide Squad, and while I’m not ready to call it the best film in the entire DCEU yet (I’m still torn between this one and Shazam!), I have nothing but praise for this movie and the terrific work of its cast and crew. It’s batshit crazy in all the right ways, producing one of the most unique cinema experiences I have had in a long time, especially for a film fitting within a larger cinematic framework. The Suicide Squad is the kind of movie that the DCEU, the superhero genre, and the theater needs right now, and it’s unlike anything the DCEU or the MCU have done yet. See this one as soon as you can (because there will be spoilers abound on release weekend), and if possible, go to the theater to see it, because the big screen experience matches the big bombastic movie that James Gunn has crafted here.

4.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe


  • For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.
  • For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.
  • For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.
  • For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.
  • For my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Theatrical Cut), click here.
  • For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!, click here.
  • For my review of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

The Death of Superman (2018)

Director: Jake Castorena, Sam Liu

Cast: Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara, Rocky Carroll, Patrick Fabian

Screenplay: Peter Tomasi

81 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action including some bloody images.

 

I remember seeing Superman: Doomsday when I was younger. The animated movie sounded incredibly exciting to me, even though I had not read The Death of Superman, the comic it was based on. It was, to me, probably the most famous Superman run that I could remember, and it was incredibly intriguing as an idea. The animated film version wasn’t very good. I remember finding it slugglishly boring, and that was that. Probably wouldn’t see another version of that story play out, especially with the reception of the most-recent live-action Superman film, Superman Returns. I just figured that was the end of it. To my surprise, DC’s animated films have decided to play this out again, and this new incarnation, The Death of Superman, is thankfully much better.

Clark Kent (Jerry O’Connell, Stand by Me, Boy Band) is struggling internally to tell the love of his life, Lois Lane (Rebecca Romijn, X-Men, TV’s The Librarians) his biggest secret: that he is really Superman. He can see that his secrecy about his past is straining things in their relationship, and if he plans to move forward with their courtship, he needs to figure out how to deal with his identity. He sees fellow Justice League members Batman (Jason O’Mara, The Siege of Jadotville, TV’s The Man in the High Castle) and The Flash (Christopher Gorham, The Other Side of Heaven, TV’s Insatiable) moving forward with their real lives and he wants the same thing. Meanwhile, a team of astronauts led by Hank Henshaw (Patrick Fabian, The Last Exorcism, TV’s Better Call Saul), on a mission aboard the Excalibur space shuttle, witness a boom tube opening and unleashing a meteorite toward Earth. When it crashes, a giant creature is released from the wreckage, and it has a trajectory for Metropolis.

I like the voice cast for The Death of Superman. I feel as though the star players involved really understand their characters and I like how they brought them to life. I also wouldn’t have been able to peg a lot of these performers without having looked at the cast to write this review. The only true standout is Rainn Wilson (The Meg, TV’s The Office), who is woefully miscast as Lex Luthor.

The action is much better in The Death of Superman because it takes the time early on to establish its characters and their motivations. Superman spends the whole of the film fighting with himself to open up and be a normal human. Even The Flash describing his normal life makes Clark pine for one of his own, and yet he is the only meta-human capable to taking down the creature, Doomsday. It’s his internal conflict that makes the external conflict so intriguing.

There’s still some pacing issues in the film, especially with the large-scale fight with Doomsday. It is broken up quite nicely but the narrative does tire out earlier than it should. It’s the same problem that Man of Steel had. Superman is such a powerful guy that the stakes don’t feel like they are there, even knowing how this one is going to end, and perhaps that’s part of it. This is very clearly The Death of Superman, and perhaps it would be a stronger outing to focus on the fact that this is the first part of a two-part story or even just smash it all in one film, a bit of a lengthy film, but perhaps one that doesn’t sputter so close to the finish line.

Overall, though, The Death of Superman is a strong DC Animated film. It stumbles a bit as it builds momentum, but for fans of these animated superhero tales, I think there’s a lot to like on display here. It definitely sets up the sequel really nicely and made me all the more excited to see the conclusion. This is a Superman film for Superman fans.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay: James Gunn

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.

 

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is now available on home video and streaming platforms, and this film was universally liked but not universally loved. I took another look at it to see how I really felt.

Set a few months after the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Passengers) and the team find themselves on the run from the Sovereigns when they come across a being known as Ego (Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) who announces that he is Peter’s father and has been looking for him. Peter takes off with Ego and brings along Drax (Dave Bautista, Spectre, Enter the Warriors Gate) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Live by Night), leaving Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, Furious 7, Riddick)  to fix the ship and keep an eye on their prisoner, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus, The Circle) who is very much alive. While Peter learns much of his heritage from Ego, there is something strangely perfect looming over their time on the living planet while Rocket and Groot are hunted down by the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker, Cliffhanger, The Belko Experiment). With the team split up, they soon learn that they are at their strongest when they stick together in this sequel helmed by James Gunn (Movie 43, Super).

Is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 an improvement over the original? No, but does it have to be? No. I’m tired of these comparisons that say that a sequel or follow-up is not successful unless it surpasses the original. It doesn’t have to. But there are some things that are better. First off, I think the film’s coverage of its secondary characters is better. We get a much better look at Yondu that’s more than the somewhat one-dimensional character we had in the original. Michael Rooker is a masterful and often forgotten character actor and he absolutely shines here.

I also think the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is the best one in his entire filmography, which, at this point, is a pretty impressive feat. James Gunn’s choice to overload the end credits with five mid and post-credit scenes is brilliant and it adds to the insanity. I think overall, Gunn’s choice to embrace the flavor of what he brought to the screen is the winning element of the Guardians of the Galaxy series. You probably saw the music video for Inferno, the Guardians theme, recently, and I love that this kind of marketing and viral social meeting presence is available to fans.

I also felt that the relationship between Star-Lord and Ego is an interesting and complex one. Chris Pratt said in an interview that this film helped him to get over the death of his own father. Theirs is the driving force of the film and everything feeds off it. In fact, this is a film about fathers and the families we create, whether by blood or not (oh, and the de-aging of the devilishly handsome Kurt Russell is pretty impressive).

Things that altogether weren’t as good as they should have been? Really, it’s a small list, but I wish Mantis (Pom Klementieff, Oldboy, Hacker’s Game) could’ve done more. I think we will see more of Mantis later, but I felt like she was underused. I also was never a big fan of the Nebula/Gamora dynamic and I hope more relevance comes to this when Infinity War hits. Then there’s the loss of Nathan Fillion’s terrific cameo. I wish there had been a place to squeeze him in, but the film is rather bloated. Maybe that’s it. There’s so much going on that the film feels a little bloated. Yeah, that’s it.

“I am Groot.” -Groot

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a fine film and a fine addition to the MCU. I love these characters and treasure further adventures with all of them. The soundtrack is subtle and important and stays with you long after the film ends (I’m still humming it). Yeah, it’s just a damn fun time at the movies and in that respect, it’s a beautiful experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
  • For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
  • For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

 

 

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31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 20 – Monsters University (2013)

 monstersuniversity2013a

Director: Dan Scanlon

Cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren

Screenplay: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon

104 mins. Rated G.

 

Pixar sequels scare me. I wasn’t a big fan of Toy Story 2. I hated Cars 2. Toy Story 3 was great, but it felt like the exception that proved the rule. When Pixar announced that my favorite property Monsters, Inc. was getting a prequel, I was both shocked and intrigued by the concept. When I discovered that we would be seeing the story of Mike and Sully meeting in college, I was still very confused. Then, I saw it…

monstersuniversity2013b

In Monsters University, we get another look into the unique universe that Pixar created where monsters exist and get energy from the screams of children, where a young monster named Mike Wazowski (TV’s The Comedians, When Harry Met Sally…) experiences disapproval by his peers in his attempts to become a professional scarer. But he finds a new rival in fellow student Sully (John Goodman, TV’s Roseanne, The Gambler). When both students are kicked out of the scaring program, they decide to join Oozma Kappa, a failing fraternity, in an effort to win the Annual Scare Games and earn their way back into the scaring program, proving to their judgmental Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, The Queen, Woman in Gold) that they have what it takes.

Pixar has great timing. Releasing Monsters University at a time when fans of the original film are entering the college portion of their lives is perfection, much in the same way they did with Toy Story 3 a few years previously. Great working of their audience.

The voicework here is phenomenal, getting great work from the veterans as well as new additions Helen Mirren and Nathan Fillion. Charlie Day absolutely steals his scenes.

"MONSTERS UNIVERSITY" (Pictured) SULLEY amongst other MU monsters. ©2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Monsters University is a perfect prequel, rarely feeling the need to fall back on referencing the original. For the most part, it blazes a new trail and knows it doesn’t have to embrace a cliché finale.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Pete Docter’s Monsters, Inc., click here.

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