The Suicide Squad

Harley Quinn screams

The Suicide Squad, not to be confused with Suicide Squad from five years ago, fixes the mistake made by the 2016 movie, which got bogged down in plot. The Suicide Squad does that by not really having one. Or if it does it treats it as something to be vaguely referred to now and again, like a map by a driver who knows his way.

The driver here is James Gunn, who does just about everything right in this super-sequel follow-up to the Dirty Dozen of comicbook movies. The first film was quite simply terrible, though bursting with great things, a kind of satire on Marvel movies, if you wanted to see it that way, which not only lost its way in arcane storytelling but got weighed down carrying the baggage of its stars, Margot Robbie and Will Smith.

Smith has gone this time round, to be replaced by Idris Elba, as Bloodsport, boss of the Squad, and Robbie has been put slightly back in her box as the psychotic Harley Quinn – still important as a character, still brilliant as a performance – joined by John Cena’s Peacemaker (the “peace” of the graveyard rather than of “peace, love and understanding”), Ratcatcher 2 (Portuguese actor Daniela Melchior effective as a woman who controls rodents), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, underused, perhaps because the character’s ability to spray the world with killer polka dots is too out there, even for this film), and shark-with-legs King Shark (played by Steve Agee, voiced by Sylvester Stallone). Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, craggy, pumped, looks like he’s been gorging on human growth hormone) joins them later, along with Alice Braga as the leader of a group of South American rebels trying to storm the enclave of the junta that’s taken over her tiny island country of Corto Maltese.

The Suicide Squad
Meet most of the team

A military coup in South America isn’t really the territory for superheroes, even ones this shonky, so add in some Nazis and a malevolent extraterrestrial, the connection between the junta, Hitler refugees and outer space being a mad-scientist character called Thinker (Peter Capaldi with what look like old radio valves stuck on his head).

Back at base, doing for the Squad what Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury does in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Viola Davis, again a standout as the badass with a “motherfucker” for every situation. Funny. The tone is relentlessly Guardians of the Galaxy, which Gunn also wrote and directed. Quippy rather than hilarious, but non-stop quippy, and with a focus on detail that really makes a difference. At one point the Squad go to a nightclub and every one of the extras looks exactly as they should, like sweaty and slightly skanky party people having such a good time they look almost bored with it all. And if you loved Groot’s vocabulary consisting of about one word (“Groot”), chances are you’ll also warm to King Shark’s command of the monosyllable.

As said, Polka-Dot Man feels a bit surplus to requirements but the rest of the cast interact brilliantly as Gunn runs the Squad through the superhero movie playbook – gunfight, fistfight, Reservoir Dogs slo-mo group shot, one-against-many encounter – with everyone bantering, bickering and quipping as they go. Robbie and Elba get the best of it, as you might expect, Elba being particularly good, and partly because he’s using his own London accent, a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone which makes every “For fuck’s sake” ring true.

It’s not really what it is, it’s how expertly and relentlessly well it’s done. Gunn is having fun, and breaks the fourth wall repeatedly, and in different ways. At one point, when the giant starfish Starro breaks free from his confines and starts menacing the city, Gunn deliberately references Godzilla, just because.

I thought I detected, in the sweatily exotic location where criminals rule the roost and the outlaws are the good guys, a whiff of Casablanca too. Fanciful, maybe, but The Suicide Squad also has Casablanca’s fantastic pace and plot compression. That, really, is what makes it so good.



The Suicide Squad Soundtrack – Buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and Gys de Villiers as FW De Klerk in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

27 April

 

 

Freedom Day, South Africa

Today is Freedom Day in South Africa. It marks the day in 1994 when South Africa went to the polls in the first national elections open to all races. Voting lasted for three days, with people lining up patiently in long queues to take their turn and get their hand stamped in indelible ink. The African National Congress won the election, with just over 62% of the nearly 20 million votes cast and, Nelson Mandela became the country’s president, its first black leader.

 

 

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013, dir: Justin Chadwick)

On the day that this film had its world premiere in London – just as the screening was about to start, in fact – two of Nelson Mandela’s children, who were attending, learned that their father had died. The screening went ahead and when it had finished the audience were also told what had happened. There was then a spontaneous two-minute silence as a mark of respect for Mandela’s life. That sort of thing is fine in real life, but does no favours for a film, which needs to keep moving forwards and to stand on its own merits. More to the point, Mandela’s death eclipsed the film about his life. Which is a pity because it is a very good film – unusually good for a biopic. Reasons why are various, but director Justin Chadwick’s experience directing period drama for TV must be a big factor. He made the BBC’s Bleak House, an adaptation of Charles Dickens, so understands how important it is not be awe-struck in the face of the iconic. Idris Elba also seems to get this too. His Mandela is a very human person, even if he is forced, due to time restrictions, to jump quickly through the hoops and age very quickly – attractive partying lawyer in the late 1940s to political firebrand in the early 1960s to defiant prisoner to greying statesman in waiting – and Elba gets the voice (surely the most recognisable on the planet) just right. Chadwick meanwhile is in Richard Attenborough mode – crowd scenes, period detail, extravagant speeches, big events seen from a personal perspective – and for some the lack of more “politics” and the broad brush is going to seem like an opportunity missed. What exactly prompted white South Africa to start making overtures towards a man who was essentially tucked away out of harm’s way? Was it the international campaign to free him? The fall of the Iron Curtain? The sporting bans and pariah status of the country? We don’t find out.

To compensate we see more of Winnie Mandela’s story than a more timid film would have dared to cover. Winnie the fighter, who made some terrible decisions, is portrayed as the one who got her hands dirty while her husband had, to some extent, the easier option of being removed from that sort of dirty daily compromise – it’s easy to be virtuous when you’re out of the way of temptation. Naomie Harris is an amazingly good Winnie; better than Elba in fact, and in a far tougher role.

If you don’t know who Nelson Mandela is, or what he did, this film won’t fill in many gaps – it is necessarily an episodic jaunt through largely familiar territory. Where it excels is in its portrayal of the forging of Mandela’s noble character, how it was entirely infectious and won over the most sceptical, bitter foe. And it makes a slightly unfashionable case for leaders leading from the top down. It’s a tough genre, the biopic, with serial killers usually getting a better go of it than people like Mandela, who usually end up being treated as saints. It is to the film’s great credit that it doesn’t do that. Instead Long Walk to Freedom is, like the man himself, firm but fair.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Idris Elba and Naomie Harris’s great performances
  • An epic biopic beautifully handled
  • The taut screenplay by William Nicholson (Gladiator)
  • Justin Chadwick’s brisk unsentimental direction

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – at Amazon

 

 

 

RocknRolla

Gerard Butler and Idris Elba in RocknRolla

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

06 September

 

 

Idris Elba born, 1972

On this day in 1972, Eve Elba gave birth to Idrissa Akuna Elba, who shortened his name to Idris after starting school in London’s Canning Town. A big kid at school, Idris had the status that went with it, was good at sport, interested in music, keen on acting, where he found he had the self-confidence to “disappear into the character”. At 14 he was a pirate DJ. At 16 he was a theatre stagehand and also did night shifts at Ford’s Dagenham factory. In his early 20s the acting took off and he went from playing the rogue in Crimewatch reconstructions, to picking up regular bit roles in long-running British TV series such as The Bill and The Ruth Rendell Mysteries before moving to New York. In 2002 he got cast in The Wire, as Stringer Bell, and his life changed. Since then he has played Luther in the BBC series – TV’s angriest cop – and has worked in film with directors such as Tyler Perry, Danny Boyle, Guillermo Del Toro and Ridley Scott. He is about to play Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom. With Elba, you suspect his best work is still to come.

 

 

RocknRolla (2008, dir: Guy Ritchie)

It’s not big, but it is clever, Guy Ritchie’s film about London gangsters and Russian mobsters getting in a lather about a painting is an exercise in straight-faced hard-boiled laughs. Not unlike his other films in fact. But this time out Ritchie has the confidence to more or less dispense with trivial detail such as believable plot or character. Rocknrolla is the sort of film where you know the cut of a man’s jib from the style of his syrup (that’s wig, in rhyming slang), or his dress sense, where the aforementioned painting is introduced as the most transparent of Macguffins, and has just enough presence to compress the many characters together into something resembling a story. This is an exercise in preposterous characterisation, with Idris Elba and fellow Brit contingent Tom Wilkinson, Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Tom Hardy doing the majority of the work. Meanwhile the US contingent – the likes of Jeremy Piven and Ludacris – are stapled in, the most obvious of “one morning’s work, honest” contributions which Ritchie, again, does nothing to hide. Can you make a coherent film like this? No, but you can make one that’s a lot of fun.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Mark Strong’s ridiculous hair
  • Another great criminal mastermind role for Tom Wilkinson
  • Thandie Newton playing an accountant
  • Ritchie’s best cockney, mockney, whatever film since… possibly ever

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

RocknRolla – at Amazon