Peter Capaldi plays the baddest of the bad in new supervillain action movie The Suicide Squad

Cinema is back. Even as the situation remains highly changeable from country to country, as vaccination rates climb many nations feel comfortable enough to cautiously reopen movie theatres. And so in a socially distanced screening Blogtor Who sat down to watch The Suicide Squad. The new DC Comics movie features Doctor Who’s very own Peter Capaldi as the dastardly Thinker.

Capaldi may be playing a villain here but he’s far from the only one. For those unfamiliar, the Suicide Squad (officially known as Task Force X) is a group of hardened supervillains. But they’re criminals whose super-powers and skills the US government refuses to allow to go to waste in prison. Instead they receive ten years off their sentences for every covert mission they successfully complete. There’s a catch, of course; by definition they go on missions too impossible – too suicidal – to throw away good men and women’s lives on. In fact, it seems at times that as far as their ruthless recruiter Amanda ‘the Wall’ Waller (Viola Davis) is concerned, the more of these murderers and thieves die in the attempt the better. Just so long as those left standing succeed.

 

Mongal (Mayling Ng), daughter of an alien warlord, and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in Suicide Squad (c) Warner Brothers
Mongal (Mayling Ng), daughter of an alien warlord, and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in Suicide Squad (c) Warner Brothers

Director James Gunn follows the comic’s example and loots DC Comics’ back catalogue for its most disposable characters

In assembling his team for the movie, writer and director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), has followed the tactics of the comic book’s original writer John Ostrander. (Ostrander cameos here in a morbidly sardonic roles as the doctor who injects each Squad member’s skull with a bomb. One Waller can set off at will as the ultimate remote control). As in the comic, Gunn delves deep into DC Comics’ endless library of villains. With an eighty year history, hundreds of titles, and a dozen monthly issues a year to fill with story, DC has more bad guys than it knows what to do with. Some of them only appearing a handful of times. Characters Ostrander, and now Gunn, was free to kill off without legions of fans complaining.

So the Squad assembled here includes minor Gotham City villains like Savant (Michael Rooker), or Superman adversary Mongal (Mayling Ng). Even Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) leaps straight from the weirdness of 1960s Batman comics to the silver screen. Meanwhile, Idris Elba’s Squad leader Bloodsport would send many comic book fans scrambling to the DC wiki too.

 

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is both funnier and tougher than ever in The Suicide Squad (c) Warner Brothers
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is both funnier and tougher than ever in The Suicide Squad (c) Warner Brothers

Alongside the new characters, old favourites like Harley Quinn return

But what they lack in familiarity, these characters make up for in heart. The film may have  incredibly stylish visuals, brilliantly choreographed action, and viciously dark humour. But the most impressive thing is how much we care about all these ne’erdowells despite the sprawling cast. Even more so considering Gunn begins pruning the numbers almost immediately, with some getting only a handful of lines before losing half their faces. “Don’t Get Too Attached” warns the poster tagline, but we do. Whether it’s Elba’s permanently grumpy misanthrope, Mastmalchian’s emotionally and biologically damaged experiment victim or Sylvester Stallone’s surprising cute, if shockingly violent, shark god, we feel for them as Waller puts them through the meat grinder. Even Weasel (Sean Gunn), a feral creature that’s killed twenty-seven children, becomes strangely sympathetic. Possibly not even human, the panicked beast isn’t intelligent enough to know what’s going on, or why.

And, of course, there’s Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, now in her third DC movie appearance. Despite the crowded cast, she still remains an absolute highlight. The first Suicide Squad film cast her as a victim, unable to break free of the Joker’s hold on her. And then Birds of Prey showed her adrift, trying to find her own path without him. But this is Harley gone to war. She’s no less scatty or irreverent than before (she interrupts one gun fight to argue about what their dead colleague’s name was.) But she knows and accepts herself, and she’s no longer any man’s fool. And in one of the film’s finest action sequences, she battles her way through an entire building, using every weapon and fighting skill at her disposable, before being genuinely touched by discovering the Squad of would be rescuers outside.

 

Peter Capaldi as the Thinker - not quite the Biggest Bad in The Suicide Squad (c) Warner Brothers Doctor Who Twelfth Doctor
Peter Capaldi as the Thinker – not quite the Biggest Bad in The Suicide Squad (c) Warner Brothers

Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi excels as a skin crawlingly evil, but fiercely intelligent, dark mirror to his Twelfth Doctor

But with these many characters, and so much death and destruction, many Doctor Who fans will be asking them – how much is Peter Capaldi actually in the film? In truth, as suggested by the trailers and the posters, he’s very much a secondary character. Technically his Thinker’s not even a member of the Suicide Squad but rather the man they’ve been sent to intercept and force to help them.

But despite appearing in little more than half a dozen scenes it’s easy to see why he was chosen for the role. In a film about bad guys that questions if good guys even exist, Capaldi expresses it in a towering speech. He rages about the naivety of good and the inevitability of corruption like a dark mirror of some of his finest moments as the Twelfth Doctor. And if the film’s great strength is to make you care deeply about deeply terrible people, Capaldi’s Thinker stands on top as the true villain of the piece. He’s the one you can practically feel make the other supervillains’ flesh crawl and whom they seem to instinctively back away from.

 

Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior) faces the end of everything, but she won't do it alone (c) Warner Brothers Suicide Squad
Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior) faces the end of everything, but she won’t do it alone (c) Warner Brothers

Learn to love your inner rat

Though if Peter Capaldi’s far from wasted in a smaller role, the true heart of the film are the rats. Oh, yes. Because it’s the pets of the sweet young Ratcatcher that reveal The Suicide Squad’s surprisingly touching theme. Along with her evolving surrogate father/daughter relationship with the ratphobic Bloodsport, they anchor the film. Because rats don’t lie to themselves about who they are or what they have the potential to become. They accept themselves and their role in life. They’re a fundamental, necessary part of every city, and no less worthy of love and affection than anyone else. And if the Suicide Squad are the rats of the superhuman world, they may just be the rats to save us all.

Learn to love your inner rat. Not the message you expect from a comic book movie. But among a thousand cookie cuter ‘Believe in Yourself’ stories, it may be one of Blogtor Who’s favourites.

Heartfelt, hilarious, and visually stunning, with the type of eclectically brilliant soundtrack you’d expect from Gunn, The Suicide Squad is a film you deserve to see to life your weary spirits. Just make sure you can see it safely and responsibly.

 

The Suicide Squad (c) Warner Brothers
The Suicide Squad (c) Warner Brothers

The Suicide Squad is in cinemas in the UK now, and will be on screens and on HBO Max in the US from the 5th of August.

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