Michael Rooker

The Suicide Squad

03/08/21

Cineworld

DC’s increasingly desperate attempts to rival the success of The Marvel Universe seem to be exemplified by this muddled and over-inflated offering from James Gunn. Not to be confused with David Ayers Suicide Squad, this is The Suicide Squad, but, much like its predecessor, it suffers from a bad case of #toomanysuperheroes. While it’s surely a more successful attempt to put those titular antiheroes onscreen, it still feels overlong, overcomplicated and, quite possibly, just over.

It starts well enough with the ruthless Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, playing it straight) recruiting convicted hitman Savant (Michael Rooker) for a dangerous mission. She offers him an opportunity to reduce his prison sentence if he manages to survive, but adds the pesky complication that, if he tries to bail, a device in his head will explode. We then meet the rest of the team, one of whom we know from the first film and the rest of whom seem expendable. The familiar face belongs to Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and it soon becomes clear that his team only exists to serve as a distraction, while the real squad, led by Bloodsport (Idris Elba), gets on with the actual mission. He’s joined by another character we’ve met before, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and by some very odd newbies, including Peacemaker (John Cena), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), King Shark (a man with a shark’s head voiced by Sylvester Stallone) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) who… well, suffice to say if you suffer from a fear of rodents, this film may not be for you.

There follow two hours and twelve minutes of fights, explosions, stunts and some explicitly bloody dismemberment, sailing very close to the wind considering the film’s 15 certificate. We’re treated to several shots of King Shark eating his opponents, which is probably meant to be comical, but is way too graphic for comfort. There’s also a sort of plot here, though it’s frankly bananas. The squad are sent to a South American country, where – in a ‘secret’ laboratory – scientists, under the supervision of Thinker (Peter Capaldi), are rearing a… giant starfish called Starro the Conqueror… yes, I know, at times it feels like a hyperactive six-year-old wrote the screenplay.

Like many of these big budget spectaculars, it’s a game of diminishing returns. There are too many punch ups, too many silly one-liners and too long a running time. Around the hour and a half mark, I’m starting to glance at my watch. Robbie’s Harley Quinn is by the far the best character, and she gets the film’s finest moment, an extended sequence where she escapes from prison to the tune of Just a Gigalo, the copious blood spatter replaced by flurries of animated flowers. It’s delightful and, if the rest of it were up to this standard, this would be a more positive review.

As it stands, it’s hard to be enthusiastic. A post-credits sequence which appears to offer a spin-off featuring one of the story’s less likeable characters is hardly an alluring prospect. Maybe I’ll give that one a miss.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

17/05/17

Amidst the plethora of movies featuring characters in spandex and capes, the original Guardians of the Galaxy stood out from the competition. Funny, self-deprecating and soundtracked by a collection of 80s classics, it was an enjoyable space romp. It was, however, hampered by a couple of not-so-positive notes – a needlessly complicated plot and an evil villain who seemed to have wandered in from Casting Central. But the film was a huge hit and it was never in doubt that there would be a sequel. Director James Gunn is clearly on a roll – Volume 3 has just been announced.

It’s clear from the get-go that Volume 2 is going to be fun. The prologue is set in 1980 and features a young, fresh faced Kurt Russell (how the thump do that do that?) as an extra-terrestrial canoodling with an earthling woman. Then we jump twenty-eight years into the future and see the Guardians, battling a hideous space beast, which is trying to get its sneaky tentacles on some very powerful batteries. This film has a secret weapon, which its not afraid to deploy with lethal effect – and that weapon is Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel, in what must have been the easiest voiceover  job in film history). This tiny offshoot of the original Groot is so downright adorable only the flintiest hearted viewers will be able to resist him. (Even the most heinous villains in the universe find themselves unable to dispose of him, which generally proves to be their undoing.)

Next up, the Guardians are visited by Ego (Kurt Russell, his real age now), who, in the best Star Wars tradition, announces that he is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s father and he’s been trying to reconnect with him for years. He whisks Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) off to his home planet, which he has modestly named after himself and tells Peter that he is willing to share his super powers with his long lost son. He also introduces the team to Mantis (Pom Klimentieff), an empath, who can tell things about people simply by touching them – and who is clearly destined to be a member of the Guardians herself. But Gamora isn’t happy. She senses that something isn’t quite right about this set up. Meanwhile, back at the spaceship, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is being pursued by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who has a few Volume 1 scores to settle…

Okay, once again, this isn’t a perfect film. The central message – the importance of family love – is as unremittingly cheesy as any of Disney’s most cloying output – but, once again, it’s saved by the deliciously snarky dialogue and some genuinely funny jokes.  I particularly enjoy Drax’s spectacularly clumsy conversations with Mantis. There’s another classic rock soundtrack, and any film that has the good taste to use Cat Stevens’ Father and Son in a key scene is sure to earn some brownie points from me. If the movie’s final confrontation becomes too much of a pixel-fest, well, it’s probably to be expected of the genre, but for my money, this once again works best when it concentrates on the engaging interplay between the characters. Overall, I feel Volume 2 works better than the original.

Make sure you stay in your seats throughout the closing credits. There are not one, not two, but five short clips to whet your appetite for Guardians 3 – plus, the by now obligatory cameo for Stan Lee.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney