One Gets it Right, One Doesn't: A Look at Guardians vs. Suicide Squad
OK, if you have not seen Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 or Suicide Squad, stop reading right now. If you are one of those namby-pambees that cannot stand to know what happens in a movie and enjoy it for what it is, then go away. See the films and come back. Cuz SPOILERS ahead.
Great. So, I saw Guardians just last week and while the movie is flawed and a bit long (I found myself checking my watch a few times during the end battle sequence wondering when they were going to end it already), but my fondness for the film has only grown upon reflection. Funny, smart, exciting, Baby Groot dancing, the awesome soundtrack! It was a total blast and I had fun even if it wasn't exactly perfect.
The next day, I called up my HBO app and watched Suicide Squad. It had the same vibe, I thought, as Guardians and might be more fun than the critics said it was. That happens in the superhero world. Sometimes critics get it and sometimes they don't and I had had enough friends tell me SS was better than the critics said I figured, why not?
Holy crap. Holy crap! I found SS almost unbearably and unwatchably tedious. I did not care about any of the characters, was bored by the story, found the villain totally uninteresting, found the jokes flat, and several times found myself on my phone looking up things instead of watching. I hated it.
So, what happened? In the week since I have put on my "movie critics" hat a few times (remember, I'm certified with a certificate in Movie Theory and Criticism - I'm a pro here, folks) and thought about it. I think these two movies just show the very different approaches between Marvel and DC and how
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
OK, let me stipulate that I am not entirely an idiot. I get that this is a sequel, whereas Suicide Squad is not. It may be unfair to compare an origin tale with an established team, but the fact is that Guardians 1 and 2 both worked where SS fell flat on its face. Yes, I also know that the Squad is supposed to be a team filled with villains, so automatically it is darker in nature.
However - the fact remains that after Guardians and Deadpool became a huge success, a real effort was made by the filmmakers of Suicide Squad to make it more of a romping, smart-ass, snarky, funny and fun film instead of the constantly dark and grim thing it was to start with.
Guardians starts off with what has to be one of the most joyous and wonderful sequences in recent movie history. It is the one scene everyone talks about and where Baby Groot steals the movie. BG dances!
The set up is that the Guardians have been hired by this group of snobbish people called The Sovereign who want them to protect these special batteries they have from some alien octopus beast thing that is attracted to them and wants to - I dunno - eat 'em or something. This sets up a scene wherein Baby Groot dances to Mr. Blue Sky by ELO in one continuous shot while the rest of the team gets their ass kicked by this many-toothed Octo-beast thing in the background. It is hilarious. It is adorable. It is heart-warming. It is pure joy. It tells you that this is going to be a fun ride and not like something else you'll see.
The rest of the movie is about Star Lord finding out that his dad was an immortal alien being called a Celestial - and is actually a goddamn planet! Of course, he also wants to take over the universe and use Star Lord's help. There's action. There's suspense. There's tons of humor. There's edge-of-your-seat sequences and fights and the characters bicker and they fight and they act like a family.
Afterward, my wife and I discussed the movie and we both feel like we enjoy spending time with the Guardians than we even do the Avengers. There's just something so damn likable about the Guardians. They are like a family, fighting and on each other all the time, but they respect and love each other.
The movie is juts a blast. A great way for the summer to start. Funny, irreverent, action-packed and a great time at the movies. It's what you want if you want a superhero flick. You want it to remember to have some fun and not beat you over the head with grimness (looking at you Superman vs. Batman).
Now let's look at the other film.
Suicide Squad opens in prison. We meet the villains that will become the team and each of them has a story so sad that it tugs at your heart, but not in good way. Whereas Guardians opens with sheer joy, Squad opens with grim. While Harley is kind of amusing, the fact is she's sad and scary and not really all that endearing. Scorpions glow a beautiful blue under black-light, which makes them cool, but they will still sting you if you get too close.
Once we meet our team - something happens. A villain called The Enchantress escapes and sets about trying to conquer the world. How? I have no clue. She wants to "build a machine." What does the machine do? I have no clue. It is never really explained. It's just kind of there. How does she assemble it? She's magic so- I dunno, she kind of wiggles around and it appears? If that's all it has to do to come together, why does it take an interminably long time to get built? No idea.
So, these are all villains and they have explosives implanted in them and if they get out of line - BOOM. We kind of get to know them, the Joker is there for some reason, doing Joker-ish things and those are at least mildly interesting scenes. Why wasn't he the main villain? Got me.
The villains are snarky. They do make jokes and fight with each other. They have a scene at a bar where I guess they all sort of bond, but it feels fake and it's way too late in the film to care. There are jokes and a few are kinda OK, but most of them fall flat. All the while the Enchantress is doing - something. What? Again, no clue, you're just supposed to know she is, it's bad and our team has to stop it. Don't ask questions.
While with Guardians, I cared about even the most tangential character (like Yondu and Kraglin) and wept when one of the died, all of the Squad could have immediately fallen into a pit and been eaten by wild wolverines and I would have barely blinked.
It quickly got boring. A bunch of characters I do not care about, chasing a villain I don't find interesting who is doing something that makes no sense and provides no sense of real danger or worry for me, makes for a very long, tedious movie. Only when Jared Leto showed up as the Joker did I sit up and notice, but even that got boring as he didn't have enough screen time.
Guardians was so much fun that it made me forget the flaws in the story and editing. Suicide Squad plodded along so sadly, from one boring and forgettful action sequence to the next, that I cannot, just a week later, remember what happened in any of them. Snore.
The funny thing about SS is that DC gets wrong in the big screen ventures what they get right about their TV versions. I love watching Supergirl and The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. Why? Because they all have a sense of fun, even when dealing with serious stuff (although Arrow has been a bit of a drag and downer this season). Supergirl in particular is like cotton candy, with fresh performances and interesting characters thrown into fun and crazy situations. Yeah, it drifts to campy sometimes - but so what? It keeps me coming back season after season and week after week.
Marvel, meanwhile, has been hitting it out of the park over on Netflix, but they go the opposite way there, too. Those stories tend to be relentlessly dark and grim. They are serious, where the movies still have a sense of fun.
Somehow it comes down to the writing. Marvel has it, DC just does not. Throwing in the Joker is not enough to make up for the flaws. Dancing Baby Groot, 3D characters and a plot that's fun, makes up for the flaws in Guardians.
By the way, go see Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 if you haven't. It's a blast!