Welcome to Off the Cuff, a series of posts where I will be writing about my raw impressions to a film that I’ve just seen. Rather than a review that acts as an overview for many aspects of a movie, Off the Cuff will focus in on an aspect or two. These posts are inspired by the “30 Minutes On” series of writings on Roger Ebert.com, whereby the critic in question would spend half an hour writing about a particular film. Alas, I will not be timing myself with these posts. With that in mind, what did you think of The Suicide Squad? Let me know in the comments below.
Off The Cuff
If there’s one director’s work who I’ve spilled a mighty amount of virtual ink on, then it’s James Gunn. His films have equally fascinated and puzzled me. His Marvel efforts (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1 and 2) have interesting virtues but have kept me at arms length because of their awkward mix of irreverence and sentimentality. But his first feature- Slither worked for me, due to being a thematically on point homage to vintage monster movies. And the less said about Super, the better… However, The Suicide Squad truly surprised me.
Throughout the existence of the comic book movie genre, many filmmakers have feigned about making their movie faithful to the medium they’re adapting from. There have been movies where this intention is effortlessly achieved (i.e Sin City and Into The Spider-Verse). But for every one of these gems, there’s a horrendous misfire of intention (Batman and Robin) etc.
At a fundamental level, The Suicide Squad profoundly understands comic books and their appeal. It has a deep-seated love for the medium. Narratively, it’s constructed like a series of single issues that have been stapled together. There’s many vignettes that are launched by a title, which signal what that section is going to be about. These creative transitions evoke a feeling of watching a single issue play out for a period of time. Gunn’s screenplay is also not afraid to embrace the absurdity of the medium, whether it’s the sheer existence of King Shark or Polka-Dot Man.
By the same token, Gunn understands how the fantastical nature of the medium can be metaphorical. The main antagonist- (Starro) is a giant star fish that keeps growing via taking over the bodies of the local population. The entity is purely adapted silver age fare that becomes a metaphor for how governments cannot hope to contain opposition, be it political or journalistic in nature. The creature also feels thematically aligned with the idea of the collective in Slither, which represented the horrifying gossiping nature of a small town populace.
Gunn punctuates these aspects with many shots that feel like giant splash pages. The most striking being a rain soaked slow motion shot of the central team walking in unison. The Suicide Squad also becomes a fun playground for Gunn’s pendulum swing between classic and modern filmmaking. In the tail end, there’s one moment where he uses Sergio Leone’s cowboy shot and then proceeds to depict a tense gunfight as though its a scene right out of a post Matrix film (with the use of bullet time).
As for the seesaw between irreverence and sentimentality, I found Gunn’s balance here quite well done. Part of this comes from the premise that has an aspect of nihilism, with many of the characters being lambs to the slaughter. As a result, the sentimentality feels earned as opposed to forced like many moments in the Galaxy pictures.