My relationship with blockbuster movies has been pretty mixed, for the most part; while I enjoy a dumb, action movie from time to time, I also understand the difficulty of what it takes to craft something as gigantic as a blockbuster project. However, I simply absorb the experience presented to me and blockbusters usually feel the same to me. Most go back to the same well, follow the same formula, aim for the same excitement, and I’ve grown fatigued of experiencing the same thing with the details changed. A solution to this issue can, realistically, come in two forms; a movie can simply do the same thing everyone has been doing, but do it bigger, better, and add their own unique style on top; or, they can try something new, like a gorier, meaner, and weirder take on action with less emphasis on CGI and world domination plots. Thankfully, this past week I’ve experienced those two types of blockbusters in Free Guy and Suicide Squad, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed as they both represent one of the two ways blockbusters can appeal to me.
Let’s start with Free Guy and the ‘bigger, better, and smarter’ way of making a great blockbuster. Free Guy was directed by Shawn Levy, written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, and stars Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery, and Joe Keery. It’s about Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a bank teller living a routine life of loops that involve waking up, getting coffee, going to the bank he works at, getting robbed, and going to the beach with his friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) before going to bed; one day he meets Millie (Jodie Comer) and decides he wants more from life, before realizing he’s an NPC in a video game. As far as premises go, this felt very corporate to me, alongside a very uninspired trailer; it felt like someone went “this Ryan Reynolds has a very distinct persona that would work well with this script we have, add a few pop culture references and an indie director and we could make a nice profit”. In reality, Free Guy is a funny, surprisingly exciting, and deceptively smart blockbuster about a man climbing the socioeconomic ladder, trying to be good and win the girl, before a smart and fitting “twist” explores that concept in a new light. Every aspect you’d want from a blockbuster movie is done to perfection; the action is bombastic, exciting, and utilizes both CGI and practical stunts to create a fun mayhem alongside some good set pieces; the jokes cover a wide range of styles, from dumb to smart, and come in rapid succession so that the pace never lets up for too long and finding one a bit too silly or cringey is never a problem as the next joke is right around the corner and may be more of your style. The writing is extremely well done, for a movie that felt like your typical ‘run-of-the-mill’ modern blockbuster. At first, I have to admit that is what my take away was; “this is a fun yet unremarkable blockbuster in the vein of similar offerings”. However, as the movie progressed and characterization started to shine and the wide scope of the intent was revealed, I started connecting with the characters, the writing, and the setting in a way most “pop-culture” inspired movies failed to do; more than any of the references, the cameos (of which there are plenty), and the nods to different IPs, what made me love this movie was its heart and the clear love of other inspirations being a driving force to distinguish it self from them. To put it simply, its bigger, better, and smarter than your typical blockbuster; it just needs a bit of time to win you over.
On the contrary, The Suicide Squad takes no time at all to show you it’s not messing around and that this is a fresh take on the property. Written and directed by James Gunn, starring an ensemble of top actors including Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, John Cena, amongst many others, The Suicide Squad differentiates itself from its unfortunate sibling (the 2016 attempt at the property), by having one of the most energetic, weird, and offbeat openings to a blockbuster of the year; where 2016 went for distracting licensed songs and introductions to all characters that tell you nothing and waste time doing so, 2021 Suicide Squad begins with a licensed song as if to make you worry about watching another tone-deaf superhero movie and then slaps you in the face for thinking of it so lowly. That opening sets the pace and it goes on from there; The Suicide Squad is a furiously paced blockbuster with quirky characters, snappy one-liners, brutal and gory action alongside more traditional set-pieces, but above all, it answers one of my biggest complains with superhero movies: there is nothing on display, written, or performed that feels in any way generic. The characters have stories and…character, they form connections and become likeable without them ever feeling like they are pandering; the action and the story are unquestionably and shamelessly weird. Above all, The Suicide Squad was always meant to be about outcasts thrown into impossible situations because they don’t matter to the people in charge and they can be a solution to those problems; it’s a brilliantly melancholic, disturbing, and inherently quirky, funny, and weird premise. Who better to give it to then than James Gunn whose made a career (quite distinguished at that) out of these stories and being able to provide heart and humanity to over-the-top characters and situations; he brings his best directing to date with imaginative visuals, great action, great performances and chemistry between the actors, and the most bonkers experience from a superhero movie yet. There is also a top-notch soundtrack (alongside a few great licensed songs) and one of my favorite epic battles against a villain whose identity and traits are so bizarre, it would be a shame if I (or anyone else) spoiled it for you. Unlike Free Guy whose nitpick was that the first half was a bit unremarkable and “generic” when compared to what came next, The Suicide Squad’s nitpick is a lot more…nitpickier; I just found the middle part to be a bit bloated. It was for a great reason as a lot of the connections, relationships, weirdness, and all that is great in the movie are allowed to be because of the story taking a back seat of sorts, but it still felt like the crew was wondering and goofing around aimlessly for a large part of that runtime.
Regardless of any nitpicks, it is a great week to head back to the cinema; if you haven’t already, go get you vaccine jab(s), head to your local theater (while maintaining the safe protocols), and enjoy two of the finest blockbusters of the year. Even though I’ve done all of that already, I enjoyed these two so much that I may head to the cinema to give them a second watch.