“We almost pulled it off, despite what everybody thought.”
-- Floyd Lawton, Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad is so achingly close to working as a movie that I quite enjoyed it when I saw in theaters back in August. But watching it again as part of the Suicide Squad Extended Cut Blu-ray release, available today from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, it is easier to see the seams in the storytelling and the conceptual errors that drag it down into a film that almost pulls it off.
I’ve never quite understood the aversion many people have to film musicals (or stage musicals for that matter). One of the biggest reasons people give for going to the movies in the first place is a desire for escapism from everyday life. The movie business boomed during the Great Depression, as people wanted a retreat from the hardships of that era. What could be more escapist than people bursting into spontaneous song and dance numbers accompanied by an invisible orchestra? Yet the same people who revel in the unreality of Star Wars, people who will literally go out in public dressed as aliens, reject the unreality of a musical. It makes no sense to me. For whatever reason, audiences seem more inclined to accept musical numbers in animated films but not live action. (Incidentally, “How Far I’ll Go” from the recent Moana is a pretty good example of a song that informs both her character and advances the plot of the film.) Even one of the most successful musicals form the past 15 years, Bill Condon’s Chicago, worked to hide the production numbers and, in a way, apologize for them – they all took place in Roxie Hart’s imagination and not in the real life of the film.
I find comedy sometimes hard to write about. It’s difficult to explain why something did or did not make you laugh. I like to think of myself as at least a somewhat cultured person with a sense of humor to match, but I have been known to laugh hysterically at internet fail videos which teach the valuable lesson that overweight people should never go anywhere near rope swings or trampolines.
The alien invasion picture has been a staple of the movie business since the space race of the 1950s opened people’s minds to imagine what may be out there in vastness beyond our solar system. These films can often be filled with a sense of awe and spectacle, along with the contemplation of our place in the universe. Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is probably still the high water mark for spaceship awe, with its slack-jawed vision of alien grandeur (The Devil’s Tower finale still holds up beautifully.), most recently imitated by Stranger Things. But sometimes an alien invasion movie can be simply ludicrous. With their B-movie origins, the alien invasion picture is more often than not pretty ridiculous. In the '50s, the threat of an invasion was played up Cold War generated hysteria, like in the classics The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But lately, as this summer’s recent Independence Day sequel demonstrated, they can also be largely stupid and void of any real subtext.
Forget everything you think you know.
So speaks the Ancient One to Mister...forgive me, Dr. Strange. It's also a good reminder for the audience, as well, though judging by my theatre, everyone was ready for a new kind of trip. Marvel's doing something hard, something almost more difficult than tossing RDJ into a powered suit and seeing what shakes out. They have to build it again, but in a world where we already have so many pieces and a comfortable sense of what's happening. The success and shine of Winter Soldier and Civil War have spoiled us with solidly continuing storylines that have built upon everything that came before, with Ant Man and Doctor Strange opening up new worlds (the Quantum Realm and, well, the entirety of the multiverse, respectively) that are harder to ground in reality. The only current franchise that has attempted that has been Thor, and it's not an uncommon belief that those films tend to be the weakest of the offerings we've have over the last decade. This is the ground that Marvel has to win to bring Infinity Wars to the screen, and, honestly, Phase 3 looks to be shaping up pretty well.
The current cycle of sword-and-sandal films has been riding the wave of the success of Gladiator since 2000, and its end has been projected many times. In the introduction to his edited anthology Of Muscles and Men: Essays on the Sword & Sandal Film, scholar Michael G. Cornelius projected that these films, hereafter referred to as neo-peplum films, were already seeing a periodic decline in 2010/2011. After Gods of Egypt (2016) had performed poorly at the box office, Pamela McClintock of The Hollywood Reporter noted that other recent neo-peplum films such as The Legend of Hercules (2014) and Pompeii (2014) had also performed under expectations, thus also mimicking Cornelius’ thoughts that the cycle was in a rut.