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The Suicide Squad (2021) Review

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The Suicide Squad

Time: 132 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence, offensive language & cruelty
Cast:
Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
Idris Elba as Robert DuBois/Bloodsport
John Cena as Christopher Smith/Peacemaker
Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag
Sylvester Stallone as the voice of Nanaue/King Shark
Viola Davis as Amanda Waller
Jai Courtney as George “Digger” Harkness/Captain Boomerang
Peter Capaldi as Gaius Grieves/The Thinker
David Dastmalchian as Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man
Daniela Melchior as Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2
Director: James Gunn

The government sends the most dangerous supervillains in the world – Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and others — to the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese. Armed with high-tech weapons, they trek through the dangerous jungle on a search-and-destroy mission, with only Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) on the ground to make them behave.

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I enjoyed the first Suicide Squad when it came out, however looking back on it, it was a bit of a disappointment to say the least. The follow up Suicide Squad film has been in development, eventually it was James Gunn, director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, who ended up helming the project. Honestly I wasn’t that excited for the movie, first of all while I enjoy the GOTG movies, I’m not a massive fan of Gunn and his style. Second of all, the trailers weren’t that good, and didn’t do a great job at getting me interested in watching it. Nonetheless, I still decided to check it out. The trailers really didn’t do The Suicide Squad justice, it was better than expected. I still have some issues with it, but on the whole, I enjoyed it.

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First and foremost, you don’t necessarily have to have seen the first Suicide Squad to get into this new Suicide Squad. While it works as a sequel, it is more of a reboot. I will say that as a movie about the Suicide Squad, Gunn’s version does succeed more than the Suicide Squad movie from 2016 (speaking as someone who doesn’t generally read comic books). In these Suicide Squad comic books, there’s usually a large cast of characters, and by the end most of them are dead. Whereas the first Suicide Squad really only had two members of the Squad being killed off throughout the entirety of the movie, The Suicide Squad has a larger amount of people dying. The tagline “Don’t get too attached” is certainly apt. Gunn certainly delivered a lot of deaths, almost to the point of going overboard, but more on that later. The plot like the 2016 movie is pretty straightforward. I do think that it gets a little weirdly complicated at points, with the time jumps, perspective changes, and the like. I was able to follow it fine enough, it was just a bit jarring how it jumps from place to place at points. The movie even surprisingly has too much going on at times. The plot is familiar to a lot of other comic book movies and doesn’t break new ground, but I don’t think it really needed to. The first act starts off pretty well, as it introduces the main characters. The second act is where plotwise I have most of my criticisms, it slows down quite a bit. The movie is long at nearly 2 hours and 20 minutes, while I don’t have a problem with longer comic book movies, The Suicide Squad is one where occasionally you feel the length, and you especially feel it in the middle section. There’s also a section involving Harley which I really didn’t like for the most part, even though it does pay off by the end of it. The third act actually does a lot at making this movie work as well as it does. It is very reminiscent of other comic book movie climaxes with large scale threats that the main characters have to deal with, but of those examples, The Suicide Squad is among the best executions of them. There’s also some surprisingly emotional and impactful moments involving the characters. I would say that it’s worth watching the movie for the climax alone. It is worth noting that there are two credits scenes worth staying around for, the second of which is especially worth watching.

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One of my main two predictions going into the movie was that the humour would be my least favourite aspect, and that turned out to be true. It is strange because although I don’t find the Guardians of the Galaxy movies to be hilarious, they are funny, and are certainly funnier than The Suicide Squad. For every witty line and joke that’s actually funny, there’s a back and forth lines about “an island of dicks”, or a 69 joke. Somehow the R rating actually made the jokes less funny, and most of the time they attempted humour, at best it doesn’t leave much of an impact, at worst it’s annoying. However, if you watched that first red band trailer and found the jokes in that to be funny, you’ll probably have a good time with The Suicide Squad. Effectiveness of the humour aside, another issue with it is that sometimes it undercuts dramatic or emotional moments, something that also appears in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The movie gets surprisingly dark at times, whether it be with characters, or the deaths that occur. With that said, there is a general feeling of Gunn trying hard to be edgy. This was a feeling I had ever since the trailers proudly announced that The Suicide Squad was “from the horribly beautiful mind of James Gunn”, and that feeling was in the movie itself. I don’t have a problem with the violence, gore, etc. However when it feels like it’s being done to get a reaction out of the audience, it does get annoying, and unfortunately The Suicide Squad slips into that at points. Some of it is the violence, which might be surprising and shocking in the first act, but by the halfway point it loses its impact. Some of it was the deaths, specifically who is chosen to die. I mentioned earlier that I thought the movie had killed off too many of its named characters. There were two deaths that I downright hated in this movie. The first was in the first half of the film, it was partly because of how quickly it was executed, and it seemed rather unnecessary outside of it being done for shock value. The second was in the second half of the movie, and it was mostly the nature of the death, how it was done without having any weight to it, and feeling like a joke despite the death being for a major character that we are meant to care about (and do care about).

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Some of the highlights of the movie were the cast and characters for me, and they shared great chemistry between each other. There were two standouts for me. One is Bloodsport, played by Idris Elba, who is essentially the main character. Immediately there have been a lot of comparisons between him and Will Smith’s Deadshot from the first Suicide Squad. However, Bloodsport is his own character and he’s a great character, from his action scenes, to Elba’s performance. The other standout is Ratcatcher 2, played by Daniela Melachior, who is essentially the heart of the movie. One of the new main characters is John Cena as Peacemaker, a character I was very curious about given that even before the movie was released, it was announced that he would be getting his own spin off tv series. I haven’t seen Cena in a lot of movies but this is definitely the best performance I’ve seen from him, he handled the humour, the action scenes, and even the emotional and dramatic moments really well. I’m not sure that he’s interesting enough to lead his own spin off but I am curious to see how it plays out. Another new main character is David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man, and it really is a credit to the movie that they can make us like a character as ridiculous in concept as him. Another of the main characters of the Squad is King Shark (who’s basically just like a giant humanoid shark), and the second of my main two predictions was that I would really dislike him, mostly because he looked like he would be treated as a mix between Groot in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and any other ‘funny animal character’. However I was wrong, he’s not one of the best characters in the movie by any means, but I didn’t mind him and I surprisingly liked him. Joel Kinnaman returns as Rick Flag and although he basically has the same role as in the first movie, I do like him more in this movie.

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Another major returning Suicide Squad character is that of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, one of the biggest standouts in the first Suicide Squad, who had her own spin off with Birds of Prey last year. I do like Harley in this movie, although there were some decisions involving her I wasn’t such a fan of. There is a segment with Harley in the second act which I particularly take issue with. With that said, it does lead to one of the standout action sequences in the movie. In fact I really liked the action that she was involved with. She is more of a supporting player compared to her past appearances, but I didn’t necessarily mind that, as Suicide Squad in concept is more of an ensemble piece, and she does play off other characters quite well. Another returning Suicide Squad character is Amanda Waller, played by Viola Davis. Waller serves as the same purpose in the first movie as the person making the Squad take on this mission, and Davis as usually delivers her part at the top of her game as always. The character is made way more over the top in this movie, but my main issues with her lie in the third act. In that section, the way she acts, the decisions she makes, and her motivations just made no sense. Her character is really the one part of The Suicide Squad where I preferred the 2016 version more. Other cast members like Peter Capaldi also delivered, as well as the other Suicide Squad members who don’t get that much screentime.

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The movie is directed by James Gunn, and it certainly feels like it, while still feeling different from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It does have a distinct visual style and it is well shot, from the camera movements, to the colours, the costumes, and the production design. Even the CGI is pretty strong throughout. The action scenes are one of the highlights of the movie, all very entertaining, bloody, well shot, and great to watch. The third act is particularly done well, and the final enemies managing to be effectively threatening despite the initially absurd concept. The Suicide Squad also handles its music a lot better than the first movie. In 2016’s Suicide Squad, there was a good score from Steven Price but most of the music that we hear is a ton of random song choices slapped together in so many scenes, and it was just a mess. In The Suicide Squad, we get both a great score composed by John Murphy, as well as a good lineup of pre-existing songs that are utilised well throughout the movie. There are some effective needle drop moments, even if they aren’t as memorable as in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

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The Suicide Squad has its issues. The humour which mostly doesn’t work, some of the characterisation, and some of the plot decisions (especially in the second act) do linger in my mind as parts I really didn’t like. However, I did find myself enjoying it, and what it gets right, it really gets right. The cast and characters for the most part are great and they have great chemistry between each other, the visual style is strong and distinct, and the action is enthralling to watch. The Suicide Squad is also a reminder that the DCEU movies really are at their best when Warner Bros lets their directors deliver their visions, and it would be great to see them learn this from how well their latest movie turned out (not that I’m counting on that happening). Even if you dislike the first Suicide Squad movie, this second version might be worth a look.

F9 (2021) Review

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F9

Time: 145 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains violence
Cast:
Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto
Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz
Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Tej Parker
John Cena as Jakob Toretto
Jordana Brewster as Mia Toretto
Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey
Sung Kang as Han Lue
Michael Rooker as Buddy
Helen Mirren as Magdalene “Queenie” Shaw
Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody
Charlize Theron as Cipher
Director: Justin Lin

Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is living the quiet life off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, but they know that danger always lurks just over the peaceful horizon. This time, that threat forces Dom to confront the sins of his past to save those he loves most. His crew soon comes together to stop a world-shattering plot by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered — Dom’s forsaken brother (John Cena).

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The long running Fast & Furious series just had its latest instalment (technically the 10th if you include Hobbs and Shaw) with F9. They keep getting more over the top with every movie while remaining kind of endearing, and I’m quite entertained by them. So while I wasn’t expecting anything special from F9, I knew that I would have fun, and certainly had that despite some issues.

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The overarching plot with the main goal does feel very familiar, even by the standards of the recent movies. The team have to get this particular world-ending weapon which that the antagonists are after, and the plot just so happens to be more larger scale than the last movie. It already turned into a spy series in Furious 7, becoming a more over the top Mission Impossible with further emphasis on the cars, and so they now have to raise the stakes with every future instalment. With that being the case, I do actually wonder how much they can really do for the last two movies of the series before the plot becomes literally about saving the world from being destroyed. Something that was very apparent when I was watching F9 is that it is absolutely packed with side quests, and that stood out even after having recently re-watched the movies in the series from 5 onwards. Sometimes the characters split off in groups to do different things and somehow it ends up being hard to follow everything that’s happening. At the same time there are some things that don’t make sense even by Fast & Furious standards, and is somehow complicated. That aside, the more recent Fast and Furious continues its interesting mix of not taking itself seriously while being genuine with the way it takes its characters and story somewhat seriously. There is a further emphasis on the story and characters in this movie to a degree, with the soap opera reveal that Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) has a brother that he never mentioned before in the prior films, and whom they are up against in this movie. Not only that, but there are a number of flashbacks which show Dom and his brother Jakob when they were much younger, and what caused their rift and put Jakob where he’s at presently. Not that I don’t appreciate that the filmmakers went through the effort to actually show what happened, but by the end it doesn’t really resonate as much as it was intended to. Overall, the story is very flawed, is sillier than before and even feels formulaic, however I was still interested in it throughout. For those interested, F9 does have a mid-credits scene, and if you’re a fan of these movies I think it’s worth sticking around for.

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F9 has the returning cast of Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, they don’t really have a huge amount to do by Fast and Furious standards but are still enjoyable as usual. It really is lacking Dwayne Johnson from the past few movies but it is nice to see Jordana Brewster back as one of the team in her role as Mia Toretto. After Fast Five she was only making brief appearances and now she’s back as one of the main players. Also as hinted in the trailers, there’s the return of Han played by Sung Kang, who was shown to be killed off in Tokyo Drift, the mid credits scene of Fast & Furious 6, and Furious 7. It’s nice to see him back in the team again, though he doesn’t do quite as much in this movie as you would think. As for the explanation for how he’s back from the dead, it’s a little unbelievable, convoluted and very far fetched, yet still rather underwhelming. However I think I’m fine with it, as long as the series doesn’t pull another one of these retcons again. Kurt Russell and Helen Mirren provide some good supporting work as they reprise their respective roles. John Cena was one of the most advertised actors in this movie, as he’s playing Dom’s long-lost brother. Cena can actually act well, although despite the critical role he has to play in the film, he doesn’t really have much to work with. He has a past with Vin Diesel and that’s it, he doesn’t have much personality really, which is strange considering that Cena is definitely a charismatic actor. Charlize Theron as the character of Cipher seems to be intended to be the overarching villain for the Fast and Furious series from Fate of the Furious onwards. However she doesn’t have as much involvement with the plot of F9 as you would initially think, unlike how the trailers showed it, she’s not teaming up with Jakob against Dom. For much of the movie she just spends her screen time in a plastic prison cell, Hannibal Lecter style. I get that they are trying to connect her to every movie in the series from this point but really, she could’ve been written out of this film, and not changed the plot that much. It’s hard to say Cena’s Jakob is the full on main villain of the film, and Theron’s Cipher certainly isn’t. So if there is a clear cut villain in this movie, then the only one left would be the character of Otto played by Thue Ersted Rasmussen, who’s usually in the background and is incredibly forgettable. If he really was intended to be the main antagonist of the film, than he would have to be the worst main villain in the entire series.

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Director Justin Lin makes a welcome return to the Fast and Furious series, after directing Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6. As expected he brings such an energy to the movie that gives it a lot of life, it’s shot and edited well, and there’s a lot of attention to detail. The action goes into further levels of absurdity, even more so than the past movies. To a degree, it does feel like its running out of steam in terms of what action can be done with cars. However they still manage to be fun, there’s particularly some fun action involving magnets. Then there’s a particular moment hinted in the trailers that may involve outer space, and while I won’t elaborate on that, it is quite the highlight.

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I do actually wonder how much there’s really left in this series, with the absurd twists and retcons, the physics breaking action and the like. There’s a fine line that the series has walking, and while they haven’t crossed it yet, with F9 it’s pretty clear that they are pretty close to doing that. Speaking of the movie by itself though, I did enjoy it. I think at the very least, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7 are better than F9. However I can’t deny that I had a lot of fun watching it, and I’m looking forward to watching the next movies.

Bumblebee (2018) Review

Time: 114 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence & scary scenes
Cast:
Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie Watson
John Cena as Jack Burns
Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Memo
John Ortiz as Dr. Powell
Jason Drucker as Otis Watson
Pamela Adlon as Sally Watson
Director: Travis Knight

On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee the Autobot seeks refuge in a junkyard in a small California beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the brink of turning 18 years old and trying to find her place in the world, soon discovers the battle-scarred and broken Bumblebee. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns that this is no ordinary yellow Volkswagen.

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Bumblebee was a movie I was curious about. I watched the first three Transformers movies many years ago and while I liked some of them, they were mostly just dumb action movies. However with Hailee Steinfeld but most of all Travis Knight, who directed Kubo and the Two Strings, involved, I was somewhat looking forward to it. Bumblebee is rather formulaic with its story, but it does a great job at what it is.

Now to get it out of the way, Bumblebee has a rather familiar story, it can be compared to The Iron Giant and E.T. and so it follows similar beats to those movies. Not that this is a huge negative but you can sort of tell which direction the story will head in, with not many surprises. The movie is rather straightforward, mainly driven by the relationship between Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and Bumblebee. It also features the Decepticons hunting Bumblebee, the military trying to find Bumblebee, and that’s it. I bring this up because some of the Michael Bay Transformers movies could be overstuffed at times with plotlines and characters, unnecessarily so, Bumblebee however keeps things simple. There is nothing unnecessary in this 1 hour and 50 minute runtime. Something also really refreshing is that it feels very personal and not large scale. To get the idea about what I mean by personal story, The Iron Giant and E.T. comparisons are pretty accurate. This is really the first Transformers movie I saw really I actually care about the human characters, and the tone is very sincere and genuine. This film is set in the 1980s and throughout there is a feeling of nostalgia. For much of the movie it’s just focussed on Charlie and Bumblebee and their interactions, with much of the large scale events not necessarily being in the forefront of the movie. The stakes become world ending towards the end of the movie, but even then it still feels smaller scale and not overblown. So the third act doesn’t feel like a betrayal of the rest of the movie or anything. On top of that, while the ultimate antagonists of the film are Decepticons, it’s really just 2 of them (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux, didn’t know that while watching), and none of them are Megatron (refreshingly he doesn’t appear in the movie at all). The writing itself was really quite good, nothing groundbreaking but it felt right for the story it was telling. Not to bring up comparisons to Michael Bay’s movies yet again … but the humour here works and isn’t like Bay’s disastrously hit or miss humour. As for the connections to the other Transformers movies, I’m not quite sure whether Bumblebee is a prequel to the Bay films or if it’s essentially a reboot. I guess we’ll find out as later films come out.

Hailee Steinfeld is the lead character and as usual she’s great. Her relationship with Bumblebee is one of the driving forces of the movie. Yes, the relationship does follow beats from Iron Giant and all that, but it nonetheless works really well. Steinfeld essentially has to sell it on her own as she doesn’t even have a voice to play off of, and she is great with it. John Cena plays the main military guy and he’s pretty good in his role, however he’s a little better at the more comedic aspects than the serious aspects.

Travis Knight’s direction is great and added a lot to the movie. Almost all of the CGI is great and really works, it definitely helps that it doesn’t use an absurd amount of CGI, only when it’s necessary. I think there were a couple shots in the climax where the green screen looked noticeable, that’s it really. The work on Bumblbee was particularly fantastic. Not only does he look like he’s there when he’s on screen but there are times where Hailee Steinfeld actually physically interacts with him, so you can tell that they probably built part of a seemingly real looking Bumblebee and made it look seamless. The action was also great. The Michael Bay Transformers movies can feature some great action scenes, however it can be very shaky, too up close, or completely not shown on camera, leading to some of the scenes being incomprehensible. Bumblebee’s action scenes on the other hand show everything and it’s really smooth and works well. Along with that, we do get to see some scenes featuring Cybertron and looks really great.

Bumblebee is by far the best Transformers movie. The direction and effects are great, and the story despite being familiar, feels personal and genuine and is done well overall. I know some people really don’t like the Transformers movies and that might put them off watching it (along with the fact that December is packed with plenty of movies), but I really do recommend checking this one out in the cinema because it’s really good, and I’d love to see more of these movies, especially with Travis Knight at the helm of them.