James Gunn goes for broke in the soft reboot/sequel The Suicide Squad— a bloody delight which, in its bloodletting and cynicism, has more in common with The Boys than The Avengers. Here’s Steve Newall’s review.
The recent return of Marvel movies with Black Widow saw the resumption of their serviceable but increasingly unexciting fare—the MCU arguably divided into two categories, “cool ones to watch while you are stoned, and the hat ones”. Meanwhile, Snyder snooze aside, DC’s willingness to tear up its plan for a rigidly structured filmic universe has had highs and lows, the benefit of this inconsistency being a willingness to let individual films find their own paths and retain the ability to surprise. Now The Suicide Squad steps up to embrace that notion with as much cinematic chaos as it can.
I can’t think of anyone better than James Gunn to have served up this hilarious mayhem without letting the whole thing slide into nihilism or lose touch with actual emotion amid the body count. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people (and, er, things) get killed, often for comic effect, and the film embraces both a grubby tone and an enjoyably creative absurdity—but there’s an emotional depth to The Suicide Squad, with stakes and robust storytelling accompanying its big-budget violent splatter and spectacle.
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As you’d expect from the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn’s got a great handle on juggling an ensemble and staging action scenes big and small. Plus, the Troma-y ethos that pervades his filmmaking (Super, writing The Belko Experiment) proves enjoyably persistent here. It’s not lost on me, for example, that this is an action film following a dirty dozen(ish) as they go on a bloody mission to a South American island ruled by a military dictatorship, echoing the narrative of many formative B- and C-grade action movies.
While it might have more in common with The Boys than The Avengers, especially when it comes to bloodletting and cynicism towards patriotism, The Suicide Squad is seldom mean-spirited and not mired in bleakness (as if Snyder wasn’t bad enough, heaven help us, Mel Gibson was mooted to direct a sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad at one point, hoo boy).
Gunn’s gone for broke, populating his film with a hugely expanded cast of characters ranging from well-known to not-so-much-at-all. Not all of them will leave you scratching your head for long—chiefly because many will find themselves costumed cannon fodder in short order.
Making a pleasing return to an action ensemble is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn who, post-Birds of Prey, gets to exist onscreen out of the shadow of the welcomely absent Joker. Fellow 2016 Squad castmate Joel Kinnaman gets to play a funnier, more human, version of Rick Flag this time out, while Viola Davis is as rivetingly no-nonsense as ever as Amanda Waller, sending all her super-powered prisoners off on their likely short-lived mission.
New to the Squad is a duo whose screen-time provides a lot of the film’s oomph—Idris Elba’s world-weary mercenary Bloodsport and John Cena’s psychopathic American patriot Peacemaker. Their bickering and dick-measuring are responsible for a ton of laughs as Elba’s gruffness repeatedly comes into contact with Cena’s hilariously douchey “heroism”. Cena’s straight-faced comedy chops, particularly contrasted with his utterly absurd costume, are sure to be some of the film’s most crowd-pleasing moments. The dude’s an absolute riot.
Other strong new additions to the team who merit a mention include Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher II (her father played in flashback by Taika Waititi, showing us just how slim an amount of screentime is needed for an actor to feature on a poster); David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man (“I literally put into Google who is the dumbest super villain of all time,” Gunn told us); and Sylvester Stallone voicing scene-stealing shark-human hybrid King Shark (apologies, Stallone should be titled here as Mr. Sylvester Stallone, as he is in the credits).
Satisfyingly embracing its men-and-women-on-a-mission movie nature, swinging for the fences at every turn, The Suicide Squad is a bloody delight you should rush to discover for yourself. Just don’t get too attached to anyone.