The Suicide Squad and James Gunn's Poignant View of Stupid Adults - VRGyani News and Media


Monday, August 23, 2021

The Suicide Squad and James Gunn's Poignant View of Stupid Adults

Editor's note: This article contains spoilers for The Suicide Squad. While The Suicide Squad continues to receive critical praise for James Gunn’s unabashed vision of DC Comics’ wackiest and most obscure characters, the film in many ways is a synthesis of the cinematic tone and style Gunn has developed through all his past films. The movie is gloriously R-rated, full of witty remarks and cursing, creative uses of violence and gore, and pure superhero sci-fi mayhem. Gunn also enlisted some of his regular collaborators to play fun supporting roles, including Michael Rooker as Savant, Nathan Fillion as T.D.K., and his brother Sean Gunn as both Calendar Man and Weasel. In other words, it has his unique stamp all over it.

But The Suicide Squad also shares the thematic unity of Gunn’s overall filmography. Since his debut directorial feature, 2006’s Slither, Gunn has shown a unique portrayal of how adults don’t necessarily act that way adults should. Gunn’s films have a specific worldview, one that insists adulthood isn't at all different from childhood, and that we never really reach the end of coming-of-age. It's a worldview that explores and even celebrates the ironies of adulthood. Whether they're a small town sherrif and a sleazy mayor, a man who becomes a vigilante because of a vision (or more likely a hallucination) from God, a ragtag group of intergalactic space criminals, or an oddball assortment of felons sent by a government agency on suicide missions — Gunn’s heroes, antiheroes, and protagonists aren’t the first people you’d entrust with the fate of the world. They are put into situations beyond their control and expertise, often set up for failure. In short, they’re pathetic.

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Gunn’s first two features, Slither and Super, explore the freakishly absurd consequences of failed marriages. While Slither shows how Grant (Rooker) — after being infected by an insectile alien — terrorizes the citizens of Wheelsy, South Carolina in order to win back the affection of his distant wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), Super tells a similar story about Frank (Rain Wilson), who becomes the amateur vigilante Crimson Bolt in order to save his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) from the clutches of a drug dealer named Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Grant is the perfect example of American machismo who is overly possessive of his wife; while Frank is not at all the masculine ideal, he's just as willing to do anything to save face and uphold his masculinity as a husband. While both films interrogate masculinity and men’s potential to be toxic, they also showcase just how absurdly pathetic they can be.

His next three full-fledged comic book films — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 as well as the recent The Suicide Squad — are about groups of criminals seeking redemption. Before their turn as Marvel’s zany crew of superheroes, the Guardians of the Galaxy were just a bunch of thieves, hustlers, and killers. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a smuggler, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is an assassin, Drax (Dave Bautista) is a vengeful warrior, and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are a pair of bounty hunters. They’re a bunch of low-lives who eventually meet each other in prison. “What a bunch of a-holes,” Peter Serafinowicz’s Supernova describes them. Gunn’s version of the Suicide Squad is just as dysfunctional and deplorable. After his introduction to his fellow squad members — King Shark (Sylvester Stalone), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and Peacemaker (John Cena) — Idris Elba’s Bloodsport remarks, “We’re all gonna die...Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

However, these pathetic characters aren’t fully at fault for their pathetic circumstances. They may not necessarily be wholly relatable, but Gunn gives his characters some sympathy for their traumatic relationships and tragic pasts. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), whose toxic relationship with the Joker (Jared Leto) was explored in the first Suicide Squad, is on “the lookout for red flags” of other potential men with toxic traits. And while Slither and Super explicltly explore similar themes of toxic partners, many of Gunn’s characters have had equally toxic relationships with their parents. Frank was violently disciplined by his father as a child; Quill's father Ego (Kurt Russell) killed his mother and abandoned him; and the father of Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan) is Marvel’s biggest villain to date, Thanos (Josh Brolin). The fact that Gunn’s characters have such similar parent-child relationships is highlighted in The Suicide Squad when Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) gives Bloodsport and Peacemaker the same backstory: “His father was a soldier who trained his son how to kill from the moment he was born.” Bloodsport himself seems to perpetuate this cycle with his daughter, played by Storm Reid. Throughout Gunn’s filmography, the main characters fail as adults because they’ve never had good examples to follow as children.

One message of Gunn’s films might be to “be your own hero.” You shouldn’t have to look up to other adults or authority figures who are just as corrupt and full of faults as anyone else. If you want an example to aspire towards, you should look no further than in yourself. For instance, take David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man. His mother used her children as lab experiments. While some gained superpowers, others died painfully. But by the end of The Suicide Squad, Polka-Dot Man overcomes the trauma inflicted by his mother and exclaims, “I’m a superhero!” Though this is followed up by Polka-Dot Man’s tragic yet hilarious death, the theme of being your own hero rings true. Many superheroes come from tragic pasts, but heroism emerges from one’s self-determination to be better. Own your trauma, be proud of who you are, and be the best version of yourself that you can be. It’s cheesy and cliche, but Gunn’s style has always been full of cheese and campiness.

Another element of Gunn’s films is the concept of found family, that friendship is just as significant as the family one is born into and that familial bonds aren’t always as thick as blood. While this message is obvious in Guardians of the Galaxy — “We are Groot” — and in The Suicide Squad, Gunn’s first superhero outing in Super ends on a similar sentiment. “I thought it was me at the time, the chosen one,” Frank narrates in voiceover, “But it was Sarah all along.” Frank’s ultimate goal in the film was to save his marriage with Sarah, to honor their duty as husband and wife. But they ultimately do end up separating, despite Frank’s rescuing her from Jacques. Still, they remain close friends, even as Sarah marries another man and has three children, who then send “Uncle Frank” drawings of their favorite superhero the Crimson Bolt. Gunn deconstructs the concept of an ideal, nuclear family by demonstrating how friends can become found family.

The adults in Gunn’s films act like children, not because they’re immature per se, but because adulthood — according to Gunn — is not so different from childhood. “I’m 22, but compared to you I’m a kid, right?” Super’s Libby (Elliot Page), aka the Crimson Bolt’s sidekick Boltie, says to Frank. Whether as pretend superheroes or real superheroes, adults never really lose their childlike curiosity, humor, and imagination. Adults still crave the same attention and affection that any infant or child looks for; even the doomed Grant, despite being a hideously-mutated alien blob, just wants to win back his wife’s love. From Slither to The Suicide Squad, Gunn captures the incompetence of many adults, whether they be low-life criminals or those in positions of power. At the end of the day, all they really want are friends and family, to not be alone. That’s adulthood. That’s life. At least, according to James Gunn.

KEEP READING: James Gunn on 'The Suicide Squad' Deleted Scenes, Creating "Harley-Vision," His Filmmaking Process and More

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