I probably enjoyed David Ayer’s Suicide Squad more than most, even with the uncertain tone and obvious studio interference. There remained something uniquely badass about a team of supervillains working together to save the world for their own selfish reasons, and Ayer did what he could to make the kind of movie we should be accustomed to from the guy behind End of Watch and Bright. But his kind of movie isn’t what Warner Bros. wanted. They wanted the irreverent slapstick humor of Guardians of the Galaxy and murdered the film to try and achieve it. So when the first movie predictably “failed” (a $700M Oscar-winning failure), they went out and got James Gunn for The Suicide Squad, which is not only everything the studio could’ve hoped for it’s exactly what fans expect from the popular favorite. From the eclectic soundtrack to the over-the-top violence and jet-black humor, this is a movie only Gunn could deliver and it’s easily the best of the DCEU.
Gunn doesn’t completely leave the past behind, either, with Margot Robbie back as Harley Quinn (there’s an allusion to her Birds of Prey status, too), Joel Kinnaman as soldier boy Rick Flag, Jai Courtney as Boomerang, and Viola Davis as Amanda “The Wall” Waller. In her own despicable way, Waller has also recruited Bloodsport, aka Robert DuBois (Idris Elba) by threatening his delinquent daughter (Storm Reid) with prison or perhaps worse. DuBois, who really does seem like a stand-in for Will Smith’s absent Deadshot, agrees to be part of a deadly mission to stop something called Project Starfish. The team is joined by a bunch of on-the-surface losers such a Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), Peacemaker (John Cena), King Shark (voiced by Sly Stallone), Weasel, and a few others, many of which get more than they bargained for once they reach the target South American island.
So the premise is pretty much unchanged, and yet The Suicide Squad feels so different. Right off the bat, Gunn doesn’t fuck around with this band of “expendables”. It’s right there in the name; they aren’t expected to come back from this mission and a bloodbath ensues, both stark in its gore but also hilarious in the ways they get killed off. Think the X-Force scene in Deadpool, but take like ten notches further and that’s the level of comic overkill we’re talking about here. It’s brutal and earns that R-rating with quickness, but also puts Gunn’s stamp on the film immediately. This is not for the faint of heart.
Once all of Task Force X is assembled, Gunn’s plot truly takes shape. He’s often called it his “Dirty Dozen” and the description is apt. I imagine it will get some of the same critical response, calling it too violent and unbelievable in its politics. There is absolutely a political component to The Suicide Squad, although Gunn doesn’t wade too deeply into it. John Cena’s character, ironically labeled Peacemaker, is the most lethal of the group, a nod to the ridiculousness of using war to inspire peace. It’s also a very American thing to do to send a paramilitary force into a sovereign country to essentially do what the corrupt fat cats in Washington want. While you might want to shut out that stuff, they also provide one of the best Harley Quinn scenes yet, where she experiences true romantic freedom for just a moment in time, and…well, she’s Harley Quinn. You know she’s gonna blow it up or something, right?
And what would The Suicide Squad be without Waller having an ulterior motive? Or for a villain to prove themself worthy of being called a hero? There are so many terrific character moments that everybody gets at least one. Cena’s Peacemaker is a damn riot and I can’t wait to see his upcoming HBO Max series; Elba as the beleaguered Bloodsport who can’t stand working with these losers is hilarious. You’ll love King Shark and want him for a pet, and I think this is the best we’ve seen from Kinnaman in a long time as he really makes Flag look like a genuine leader and not the team’s dullest member. But the best to emerge from this is Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher II, who is so much more than she appears on the surface. With her pet rat by her side, she seems like a waste of space. She has a legacy to uphold, though, and an awesome budding friendship to protect with Bloodsport. I want a miniseries or movie with those two and I don’t care how it happens.
There’s just so much going on, and at times it can feel a bit out of control. At well over two hour, Gunn has the time to give his many fans everything they want. If you dug his Slither stuff, there are some creatures in this that would be right at home; and definitely, you can see elements of his superhero film Super, as well. And of course, the irreverent humor of Guardians of the Galaxy is there in full force. I don’t know if it was intentional, but even the final battle, which features the weirdest kaiju-esque catastrophe I’ve ever seen on the big screen, feels like a crazy jab at blockbuster spectacle. Through it all, Gunn manages to make you feel something for this mismatched team of baddies. By the time The Suicide Squad is over, you’ll resent they were ever deemed disposable at all.
The Suicide Squad opens in theaters and HBO Max on August 5th.