Project Starfish

The Suicide Squad does exactly what Suicide Squad did, but better. Although it was a financial success, almost every sequel or spin-off idea didn’t pan out. Birds of Prey was the closest thing to a Suicide Squad sequel, but it was just an excuse for more Harley Quinn. The DC Extended Universe has always been a mess despite making relatively smart decisions like releasing Zack Snyder’s Justice League. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is a lost cause, so I never expected him to return as director. Since Suicide Squad was already blatantly copying Guardians of the Galaxy, they might as well make it official by hiring controversial director James Gunn. Everyone knows the story of Gunn being fired by Disney after his past “edgy” tweets resurfaced. I knew Gunn’s hard R reputation long before directing Guardians of the Galaxy, and although I never understood taking a chance on him, it’s hard to argue with the results. Warner Bros. were quick to use the horribly beautiful mind of James Gunn.

His unrestrained vision makes The Suicide Squad the closest thing to a soft reboot in the DCEU. Ever since Justice League, the DCEU gradually became less dark and more optimistic with greater comic book visuals. Gunn drew inspiration from 80’s Suicide Squad comics and 70’s war films. An R rating was another calculated risk, but it makes more sense for a Suicide Squad movie than a Birds of Prey movie. Without studio interference, Gunn was free to kill whoever he wanted in the most over-the-top violent way possible. Like Wonder Woman 1984, The Suicide Squad was forced to release simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. My brother and I saw it in theaters, while our parents stuck to HBO Max. Some people blame the Pandemic or a lack of bankable stars, but I know it was the R rating that led to the movie bombing at the box-office. Even though The Suicide Squad is a vast improvement, I’m not always on board with James Gunn’s R rated material…

21. The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad in Corto Maltese

The Suicide Squad is different in more ways than just the “The” in the title. Suicide Squad looks R rated with aggressively dark visuals and gritty character designs. The Suicide Squad looks PG-13 with bright visuals and colorful comic accurate character designs. Proving a movie doesn’t have to look edgy to be for adults only. Titans and Doom Patrol are a good example of DC shows that are unapologetically TV-MA despite staying true to the source material. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn chose a roster of C-list supervillains that even the most hardcore DC fan never heard of. Including Robert DuBois/Bloodsport, Christopher Smith/Peacemaker, Nanaue/King Shark, Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man, Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2, Brian Durlin/Savant, Gaius Grave/The Thinker, Richard Hertz/Blackguard, Corey Pitzer/T.D.K. (The Detachable Kid), Gunter Braun/Javelin, Mongal, and Weasel. I was fine with the obscurity since I didn’t expect everyone to live. An R rating meant a genuine suicide mission where Task Force X could have their heads exploded at any minute.

The only returning characters are Amanda Waller, Colonel Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and of course Harley Quinn. Viola Davis wasn’t given the best material to work with before, but she’s always been ideal casting for Amanda Waller. Waller has always been the woman behind the Suicide Squad, so it was important to leave her in. The tone may be comedic, but Davis is somehow funnier with a straight face. Joel Kinnaman isn’t the best actor, but Rick Flag has always been the A.R.G.U.S. approved field leader of Task Force X. Kinnaman is more laidback and Flag finally wears his comic accurate yellow t-shirt with a less accurate picture of a cartoon rabbit on it. The forced gangster look is thankfully gone, but Jai Courtney is the biggest reminder of the first movie. I think they chose to bring back Captain Boomerang, because it would give Harley Quinn someone familiar outside of Flag to return to. The only actor DC specifically requested to bring back was Margot Robbie. Harley Quinn has had so much attention in the DCEU, but she never feels the same in any of her appearances.

Suicide Squad was her most sexually charged portrayal that was mostly reliant on her obsessive love of Mr. J. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) gave Harley independence from the Joker and a team of women that she never joins. That R rated portrayal carried over into The Suicide Squad, but she never explicitly mentions events from her past. Harley finally wears a tactical red & black jester costume that was inspired by Batman: Arkham City. Her pigtails are braided and her “Rotten” tattoo is removed for obvious reasons. We can however see the words “Live fast, die clown” on her jacket. Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and Harley Quinn are sent on the first mission with a motley team of misfits. The Suicide Squad opens with a classic song hand selected by James Gunn. Nothing can compete with Guardians of the Galaxy, but the off-beat soundtrack makes a lot more sense than the first Suicide Squad. We hear “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash in solitary confinement with Savant. Yondu may be gone, but at least Michael Rooker could continue his collaboration with Gunn by playing the lesser known villain. Savant is an expert shot who establishes the movie’s tone by killing an adorable bird. His appearance is comic accurate with long white hair, goggles, and a red shirt.

Flag introduces his team with no unnecessary backstory. Walking punchline Pete Davidson only plays Blackguard, because the character’s real name is Dick Hertz. His maskless mercenary outfit looks nothing like his ponytail costume from the comics. Nathan Fillion is another frequent Gunn collaborator who finally gets to play a DC superhero. Although Green Lantern would’ve been better than original creation T.D.K. The Detachable Kid has the appearance and ability of one of the dumbest superheroes in DC comics history. Arm-Fall-Off-Boy is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes with the useless power to use his detachable arms as clubs. It’s so lame that it gets one of the biggest laughs in the movie. German YouTuber Flula Borg plays the aptly named Javelin. He has comic accurate blonde hair, a bright blue & yellow costume, and a javelin as a weapon. Though Mayling Ng has the physically imposing stature to play an orange alien mass murderer, Mongal is probably the most forgettable villain. She doesn’t say much, but she is ripped straight out the comics with a purple costume.

There’s no shortage of obscure comic characters, but the anthropomorphic Weasel is easily the most useless member of the team. He’s basically a stretched out version of Rocket with Sean Gunn once again performing motion capture. I kind of hate Weasel’s idiotic appearance, but he is good for a few laughs. Gunn can also briefly be seen in prison as the modern version of Calendar Man. James Gunn’s signature writing style is apparent right off the bat with casual conversations on a plane to their destination. Javelin flirts with Harley and everyone assumes Weasel is a werewolf. Jokes are hit or miss, but anything is better than the cringy dialogue from Suicide Squad. Instead we have Gunn’s frequent use of penis jokes. The only instances of nudity are blink & you’ll miss it shots of a pantless man and topless woman. Waller is now entirely behind the scenes with a team of A.R.G.U.S. agents betting on who dies first. Steve Agee and Gunn’s future wife Jennifer Holland play important A.R.G.U.S. agents John Economus and Emilia Harcourt respectively. The destination is Corto Maltese, a fictional war-torn South American island nation first featured in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

SPOILER ALERT! The Suicide Squad storm the beach, but the R rating officially kicks in with the brutal death of almost the entire team. Blackguard betrays the team and gets his face blown off. Harley fires a rocket at the enemy and Captain Boomerang slices through someone’s skull. I had to look away from some of the gore, but T.D.K. having his floating arms shot is a hilarious visual. Mongal dies in a helicopter explosion and Captain Boomerang surprisingly dies when he’s impaled by debris. It’s a devastating loss for Harley, but she’s given purpose when a dying Javelin bequeaths his javelin to her. Savant freaks out and is made an example of when Waller detonates his explosive. All of this before the creative opening credits appropriately set to “People Who Die” by The Jim Carroll Band. Title cards are equally creative with words written in the environment. Turns out Team 1 was just a diversion for Team 2 who safely enter Corto Maltese undetected. The official team consists of Bloodsport, Peacemaker, King Shark, Ratcatcher 2, and Polka-Dot Man. Belle Reve inmate Bloodsport is a black weapons specialist and expert marksman with a daughter to protect. If that sounds exactly like Deadshot, it’s because Will Smith was too busy to return.

Instead Idris Elba turns Bloodsport into a genuinely compelling reluctant leader. Bloodsport first appeared in the 1987 Superman #4 with a commando outfit and red bandana. Like the comics, Bloodsport is in prison for shooting Superman with a Kryptonite bullet. His orange & blue costume is more padded with a skull helmet and specialized weapons that Bloodsport creates himself. Storm Reid plays DuBois’ troublemaking daughter that Waller uses against him in order to enlist him in Task Force X. F bombs are expected, but they feel especially lazy when the father and daughter are saying “f*** you” over and over again. Peacemaker does exactly what Bloodsport does, but better. He’s also a ruthless killer trained by his father at a young age. You can learn more in his 2022 HBO Max series, but at the time Peacemaker was not a household name. Peacemaker first appeared in the 1966 Fightin’ 5 #40 as a patriotic superhero turned deadly vigilante. Like the comics, Peacemaker believes in achieving peace no matter how many people he has to kill to get it. His red, white, and blue costume, metal helmet, and weapons are all very accurate to the comics.

There are so many physically imposing superheroes he could’ve played, but charismatic wrestler John Cena is surprisingly perfect as Peacemaker. His immature sense of humor is balanced by his bloodthirsty sense of virtue. The man-eating King Shark is a suitable replacement for Killer Croc. He’s basically the Groot of the team with a limited vocabulary and great physical strength. King Shark from the comics is a lot more vicious looking than the pudgy Great White that they went with. Steve Agee does stand-in for the CGI King Shark, but Sylvester Stallone steals the show with his innocent voice performance. This was Stallone’s second collaboration with Gunn after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Ratcatcher is another obscure Batman villain who can control an army of rats. Ratcatcher 2 has the comic character’s green hood and rat mask, but this version is the daughter of the original Ratcatcher. Beneath the mask is cute Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior. Cleo is young and perpetually tired, but her rat controlling is more than a one-note power. Her rat companion Sebastian is another tiny scene stealer.

Polka-Dot Man may be the goofiest Batman villain ever created, but James Gunn somehow found a way to make him the most tragic figure in the movie. Like the comics, Polka-Dot Man wears a silly white jumpsuit covered in multicolored polka dots. Polka dots are used as a weapon, but they’re also a virus that Krill has to expel in order to survive. Although David Dastmalchian has appeared in many superhero movies and shows already, Polka-Dot Man may actually be his best character yet. It’s a dysfunctional team where Bloodsport is afraid of Ratcatcher 2’s rats, Peacemaker and Bloodsport have constant gun measuring contests, King Shark tries to eat Ratcatcher 2 before befriending her, and Polka-Dot Man remains closed off. They do end up sharing some of their backstories as the movie progresses. DuBois reveals his past trauma with rats and Cleo reveals how her homeless father found comfort with rats and died of a drug overdose. Taika Waititi has an unexpected cameo as the original Ratcatcher. Krill’s polka dot virus is the result of his mother who worked at S.T.A.R. Labs and wanted him to be a superhero. Everyone looking like his mother is a good joke taken a bit too far. Waller debriefs the team with a mission to infiltrate and destroy the Jötunheim research facility in Corto Maltese before the nation’s dictator seizes control of it.

The Suicide Squad has a political slant, but it’s hard to say whether the message is Anti-American. Interfering in foreign affairs was inspired by real world events. There are so many characters in the movie that you almost forget about Harley or Flag. Harley is captured by Corto Maltese soldiers and has her own side story where the hunky dictator Silvio Luna wishes to marry her. She’s dolled up in a red dress and has a romantic montage with Luna that’s bizarre even for her. Luna is no Joker, but Harley knows enough to shoot him before things get serious. Harley is taken prisoner while Major General Mateo Suárez assumes control. Meanwhile, Task Force X finds Flag in a rebel camp that they brutally murdered. It’s an excellent bit of dark comedy disguised as a badass action scene. Brazilian action star Alice Braga plays original rebel leader Sol Soria who assists Flag and the Suicide Squad to complete their mission. The Thinker is a super intelligent villain primarily based on the New 52 version with plugs in his head. Peter Capaldi is a nasty piece of work since the Thinker is the lead scientist behind Project Starfish.

The last thing I ever expected to see was a faithful live-action adaptation of Starro the Conqueror in a hard R DCEU movie like The Suicide Squad. Starro is well known as the first ever villain the Justice League fought in the 1960 The Brave and the Bold #28. He’s basically a giant colorful alien starfish that controls minds with his smaller offspring. Task Force X needs the Thinker in order to erase any trace of Project Starfish. They find him incognito at a nightclub where we can see a brief cameo from Pom Klementieff. Half of the team captures the Thinker and the other half finds out about Harley while being taken prisoner. When they escape, they decided to rescue Harley first. Harley’s escape is similar to the police station scene in Birds of Prey, but it’s a little more bonkers with Harley seeing cartoon flowers and birds. She reclaims Javelin’s javelin and treats it like a spiritual quest. Harley officially joins Team 2 on their way to the research facility. Elba ironically returns to Jötunheim, but this is very different from his time in Thor. The entire sequence is split in 2 different perspectives with Flag and Ratcatcher 2 taking the Thinker underground to discover the harsh truth behind Project Starfish.

Turns out the American government had been secretly using Corto Maltese citizens as test subjects for 30 years. Starro is understandably angry with humanity. Gunn gets away with a lot, but I think he only crosses the line with Starro controlled mutilated corpses. Flag finally has enough and plans to expose the truth from a hard drive. Until Peacemaker tries to stop him. Peacemaker is already a villain, but the betrayal is no less shocking. Following Waller’s orders is his misguided way of keeping the peace. An explosion causes Starro to escape and kill the Thinker while Flag and Peacemaker fight to the death. I never thought I’d care about Flag, but his brutal death at Peacemaker’s hands is surprisingly impactful. He turns his attention to Cleo, but the rest of the sequence is shown 8 minutes earlier from the perspective of King Shark, Bloodsport, Harley, and Polka-Dot Man. King Shark finally finds colorful mutant fish friends in an unusually beautiful sequence. Meanwhile, DuBois, Harley, and Krill have a lengthy discussion about Milton the bus driver who gets killed. When the aforementioned explosion goes off, Nanaue’s friends turn on him and he goes on a violent feeding frenzy.

The rest of the very human team members escape unharmed except Peacemaker who is seemingly killed by Bloodsport’s smaller bullet. The climax is the Suicide Squad vs. Starro the Conqueror. Starro plans to conquer Corto Maltese by mind controlling its civilians. Unlike the comics, people are basically dead the moment a starfish attaches to their face. Waller is the true villain of the story by refusing to allow Task Force X to save the country. Similar to the first movie, they go off mission in order to save the world. Waller intends to detonate everyone in a profane tirade that ends with unassuming A.R.G.U.S. agent Flo Crawley finally knocking her out. Remaining A.R.G.U.S. agents assist Task Force X in defeating Starro. Bloodsport breaks out the big guns, King Shark nom noms on Starro, and Polka-Dot Man takes out a leg by imagining his mom. I didn’t see a lot of the deaths coming, but the death of Polka-Dot Man after declaring himself a superhero was the most telegraphed. Ratcatcher 2 unexpectedly saves the day by unleashing millions of rats on Starro.

The sight of rats eating Starro from the inside and Harley diving into his eye with her javelin is not something I ever expected to see in a comic book movie. In the end, Corto Maltese is back in civilian hands, DuBois’ daughter is proud of him, the surviving team escape punishment by threatening to leak Project Starfish, and Bloodsport finally warms up to Sebastian. The mid-credits scene is just Weasel surviving the beach massacre, but the after-credits scene ties directly into Peacemaker. Agents Harcourt and Economous find him alive in the hospital where they need his help to save the f***ing world. James Gunn managed to find some coherency in the messy DCEU, but the R rated approach isn’t gonna work for everyone. I’ll admit I was nervous when I saw the mostly incoherent red band trailer. For a movie with so many characters, plot points, and tonal shifts, it’s honestly impressive that they didn’t repeat the mistakes of Suicide Squad. The Suicide Squad doesn’t save the DCEU, but it’s enough just to have a bloody good action adventure.

22. The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad on their mission

Preceded by: Suicide Squad

6 thoughts on “Project Starfish

  1. I strongly disliked this movie in large part because it felt like I was watching a Marvel movie with DC characters. I found the costumes crappy, the plot bad, and the humor forced and at times unnecessarily highlighting the absurdity of the situation which is what Marvel films do with their humor.

    I feel Suicide Squad was a better film despite its flaws.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I first saw the title I thought “Is there a Limp Bizkit film no one told me about?” 😉 and then realized you were talking about a DC film. James Gunn is certainly a loose cannon and a crazy maverick, but sometimes you need that kind of mentality to do an off the wall action film, and of course I would take him over some other of today’s filmmakers any day. I’m a big John Cena fan so I’ll give this one a try down the lane one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t care at all for Suicide Squad, but this film had a few good moments for me. The ironic thing is I didn’t like the Peacemaker character at all in this movie, but after such glowing reviews of the Peacemaker series I gave that a watch, and now the character is among my favorites. Can’t wait to see more of him. Cena really shines in that series.

    Liked by 1 person

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