“The Suicide Squad” and “Jolt” movie reviews. One thing I discovered this summer is that the cinematic universe is large enough to accommodate two terrific ‘superhero’ films at one time.
“The Suicide Squad”
I spoke about Marvel’s “Black Widow” at length in a recent review, and now from DC comes James Gunn’s cheerfully graphic, consistently clever, and over-the-top “The Suicide Squad.” I will admit I had some trepidations about the film. It’s not that I didn’t like the previous version (from 2016); I just didn’t have strong feelings either way (though I did enjoy Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn—and she’s even better here) and didn’t see the need for another incarnation. However, as a huge fan of “suicide commando” films like “The Dirty Dozen” and “Where Eagles Dare,” I can say that “The Suicide Squad” (the 2021 edition!) is a worthy successor, a little more kinetic, graphic and profane, perhaps—but also with some unexpected depth and some poignant moments.
The film starts off with a bang, as Viola Davis’ no nonsense, badass Waller sends a “suicide squad” of convicts (complete with superpowers—and the incentive to have their sentences reduced, should they survive) to a South American island in order to destroy a heavily guarded lab (and all traces of “Project Starfish.”). You’ll see some familiar faces (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Nathan Fillion, Pete Davidson, Joel Kinnamann’s Captain Flag) initially, but as their mission goes south quickly (and we are shown how ruthless Davis’ Waller can be), the stage is set for the main action. Bitter, surly convict Bloodsport (Idris Elba) is recruited by Waller (some might say blackmailed) to lead a second team, including his lethal rival Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Daltschmanian) and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) who is none too bright and very hungry—especially for human flesh, which could pose a problem for the team.
It seems that the film-savvy Gunn was given carte blanche for “The Suicide Squad” and there are many pleasures to be had—not the least is how the film gleefully subverts certain commando mission/superhero tropes with both vigor and wit (though not for the squeamish). From the opening ill-fated foray to the island to the “take no prisoners” infiltration of an enemy camp to rescue Flagg from his supposed captors (and beyond), Gunn toys with the viewers’ expectations and provides crowd-pleasing moments at the same time—all the while providing occasional food for thought in terms of both United States intervention and individual responsibility toward the greater good. Along the way there are many satisfying action sequences, especially Robbie’s Harley Quinn taking on what seems like an entire army (to the strains of an iconic Louis Prima vocal). The interactions among this unlikely team of heroes are also marked by wit and occasional tenderness, including Bloodsport’s fondness for Ratcatcher 2 (nicely portrayed by Elba and Melchior) and the reluctant rivalry between Bloodsport and Peacemaker (nicely deadpanned by Cena). “The Suicide Squad,” which is both in theaters and on HBO Max, provides plenty of action, wit and laughs—the dead spots are few, the rewards are many. Well worth seeing.
“Jolt,” available on Amazon Prime, is a very entertaining action comedy, with another dynamic, somewhat mercurial heroine who doesn’t suffer fools—or anyone—gladly. Kate Beckinsale stars as Lindy, a young woman with rage issues (“intermittent explosive disorder” with superior strength and speed being a by-product) that manifest themselves at the slightest provocation. Though she has been institutionalized and given an experimental treatment (consisting of self-inflicted jolts), Lindy is generally unable to maintain normal relations with people. On a whim (and goaded by her “doctor” Stanley Tucci), Kate’s Lindy does go out on a date with a “nice guy” accountant (Jai Courtney), who is later found murdered. Though Lindy insists she is not his girlfriend (one amusing running gag is her trying to delineate what exactly the relationship was), she takes it upon herself to use her ability to “smash and dash” to get his murderers. This in spite of the efforts of two detectives (gruff but kindly Bobby Cannavale, acerbic and volatile Laverne Cox) to either dissuade her or arrest her.
There are some twists and turns late in the narrative, but the bulk of “Jolt” finds Kate Beckinsale’s Lindy barreling head-on into the underworld (which is decidedly more mortal and lethal than in her “Underworld” films)—and taking advantage of her opponents’ tendency to underestimate her because of her gender. The action sequences come fast and furious under Tanya Wexler’s direction, with Beckinsale doing many (but not all) of her own stunts and effortlessly carrying the film with energy and timing; she is ably supported by Cannavale (as a cop who develops a fondness for her), Cox and Tucci. Though there are few surprises, the straight-forward narrative, together with some good lines (courtesy of writer Scott Wascha) and effective action scenes, makes “Jolt” a worthy entry into the genre of films in which female empowerment is bone-crushingly literal.