The Suicide Squad
Run Time: 2 hours 12 minutes
Stars: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis
Writer/Director: James Gunn
Facebook isn’t usually the place to go hunting for profound personal insights, but about a week ago, on one of the many film buff pages I frequent, there was a post that brought me up short.
It was one of those word-only memes; white type on a red background: “Can anybody tell me a movie where someone kills a dog?”
You can imagine the uproar that ensued: “Why would you want to see something like that?” “You are one sick individual!!!!” “I’m reporting this post to the authorities!!!!!”
Minutes later, the original poster added a comment of his own: “So, how many movies and TV shows have you watched in the past week where someone killed another person? Or 10 other people? Or 1,000 people? Why is THAT okay with you, but you are repulsed by the idea of the fake killing of an actor dog?”
It was one of those rare social network moments when everyone dropped their stones and walked away in silence.
I’ve thought about that little exchange frequently over the past week — but it rang in my ears for virtually every minute of The Suicide Squad, the latest installment in the Warner Bros. DC Comics series.
The Suicide premise is simple: A motley gang of marginal superheroes-gone-bad are offered time off their prison sentences if they will undertake perilous missions to seek out and kill bad guys on behalf of the U.S. government. In this case, they are tasked with storming a former Nazi fortress in a Central American city, where the banana republic leaders are hatching some nefarious plot against the world. Destroy the building, everything inside, and all documentation, they are told.
I’m not going to burden you with the fanciful names and powers of these characters; the only one you’ll care about is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the pale-skinned, sweet-faced, bat guano-crazy ex-girlfriend of Batman’s Joker who will flash her billion-watt smile one second and decapitate you the next. This is the two-time Oscar nominee’s third turn as Harley, with another in the works, so we might as well get used to her.
From the get-go, we understand that what most of these jailbirds have in common is their unhesitating willingness to kill people. And that they do, with Grand Guignol flamboyance, for the better part of two hours. They slice off heads. They gut enemies like fish. They impale people, three or four at a time, like screaming shishkabobs. They rip them in half and hurl the still-squirming rendered remains against brick walls and windows.
And, mind you, it’s all for laughs. The jocular élan with which the Squad dispatches victims is a trademark of the franchise. And they don’t just slaughter bad guys: In one extended scene, the team infiltrates a jungle village where they believe a comrade is being held captive. They proceed to shoot, blow up, set fire to, eviscerate, and electrocute a dozen or so victims, men and women, one by one.
Then comes the punchline: Their pal wasn’t being held prisoner at all. In fact, these people had saved him from dying in the forest.
Now, I’m not going to get on my high horse here and tut-tut the movie industry over depictions of violence. I’m as big a fan of Scorsese and Tarantino and Kurosawa as you will find. Film is a mirror, and sometimes there’s value in holding it up to our darkest selves.
Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to watch a giant starfish comically kill the population of a city; or an x-ray view of a glass shard piercing a guy’s heart; or a bomb, embedded in a fellow’s brain, explode. Maybe The Suicide Squad — energetically directed by James Gunn and enthusiastically performed by a first-rate cast including Idris Elba, John Cena and Viola Davis — just caught me on a bad day.
All I know is, the answer to that guy’s meme is Old Yeller. And I’m still traumatized by that one.
Featured image: Scene from The Suicide Squad (Warner Bros./DC Comics)
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now