CAST: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Flula Borg, Mayling Ng, Steve Agee, Joaquín Cosío, Storm Reid, Julio Ruiz, Tinashe Kajese, Jennifer Holland, Taika Waititi
RUNNING TIME: 132 mins
BASICALLY…: A group of incarcerated super-villains are drafted for a suicide mission across the globe…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
It was only five minutes into 2016’s Suicide Squad when my curious face morphed into one of sheer fright, as I thought to myself, “Oh boy, we’re in trouble”. You can’t blame writer-director David Ayer, whose vision for the project was completely overridden by a panicked Warner Bros following the backlash surrounding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it thus far remains the worst entry in the DC Extended Universe for its awful hack-job editing, a soundtrack crammed in to match the upbeat tone of the trailers, and the less said about Jared Leto’s Joker, the better.
Flash-forward to almost five years later, and it is only five minutes into writer-director James Gunn’s take on The Suicide Squad when my curious face morphed into one of sheer delight, as I thought to myself, “Thank God, we’re in safe hands”.
Taking full advantage of Gunn’s (temporary) exile from Marvel following the resurgence of some old and non-family-friendly tweets, DC – and to an extent Warner Bros – has made the incredibly smart decision to let Gunn just be Gunn when it comes to their soft reboot of the IP, which means letting him do things that Marvel never would like insert gruesome violence and pitch-black humour into a fully-functioning superhero world. The gamble more than pays off, for not only is Gunn’s rendition of The Suicide Squad an infinite improvement on whatever the hell that one from 2016 was, but it sets a brand-new high bar for DC’s continuously rocky venture into movies.
The set-up is essentially the same – prison warden Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) recruits a bunch of incarcerated villains for a dangerous mission where each and every one of them is expendable and could be killed at any moment, either by their opponents, each other, or Waller’s explosive device implanted in their skull should they try to run off – but the mission is entirely different, i.e. no terrible CGI witches in sight. This time, her group must infiltrate a South American island, currently under occupation by militaristic dictators, and destroy any evidence of a Nazi-era laboratory containing something only known as “Operation Starfish”. Among the recruits this time round – aside from returning members Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and team leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) – are lethal assassin Bloodsport (Idris Elba), jingoistic Peacemaker (John Cena), oddball with mommy issues Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), kind-hearted controller of rats Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and an anthropomorphic shark known as Nanaue or King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone).
It’s hard to know where to start with what this film does insanely better than the other Suicide Squad movie. Perhaps we should begin with how it actually feels like a movie, one that has consistent editing, good writing, actual humour, and the sense that there is a director behind the camera that actually has a voice. Obviously, this being a major superhero blockbuster written and directed by James Gunn, comparisons will be made with Guardians of the Galaxy, but the two of them are literally galaxies apart, this one sharing way more DNA with some of Gunn’s earlier movies like Slither and Super, in terms of how gruesome and darkly funny they could be. This is an incredibly violent film, where people are just left for dead every direction you turn; heads are chomped off, faces are blown in (not “off”, but “in”), throats are slit, and entire bodies are just pulled apart like they’re slow-cooked ribs. It’s also a very funny film, with the dialogue, sudden bursts of violence, the slightest inflictions in actors’ deliveries, and key soundtrack choices all combining for laughs where you almost feel guilty for busting a gut as a slaughterhouse is unfolding right in front of your eyes. It’s definitely Gunn’s film, and unlike his Guardians movies (as fun and delightful as they are) he has been let loose to the never-ending delight of audience members with tough stomachs.
Despite the carnage, you also get to really know and really love these characters, to a point where you seriously don’t want any of them to get killed (though, in a film called The Suicide Squad, anybody is game – even some of the recurring characters). Margot Robbie is great as always, with her Harley Quinn getting to do some things that put her in a far better light than Ayer’s fetishizing version (she is central to a major fight sequence that may well be one of the main highlights of the whole film). As for the newcomers, you have great, comedically-gifted actors like Idris Elba and John Cena locking horns with each other which is always fun, but the standouts are easily Daniela Melchior as this permanently burnt-out young pied piper with the most adorable rat sidekick since Ratatouille, and the Stallone-voiced shark Nanaue who is basically just this giant toddler but with the body and killer instincts of an actual shark; both are absolutely adorable even as they’re devouring people left and right (her with rats, him with his giant teeth). Gunn does such a fantastic job of making these characters feel so three-dimensional and fun to be around that you genuinely want to see most of them succeed, and when some of them do start getting picked off you’re alternatively laughing at how extreme their deaths are, but also genuinely sad that they’re no longer around.
It’s just an overall blast of a movie, with great characters, a fun and uncomplicated story, some really good special effects – the third act goes deep into monster-movie territory in the most bizarre way possible – and the overall sense that there is some heart and love put into making it. Between this and Zack Snyder’s Justice League from earlier this year, DC seems to be on the course-correction path yet again, but in ways that legitimately make things better instead of worse, and with next year’s The Flash set to shake things up even more, it appears as though DC, and Warner Bros, might finally be close to a position to compete with Marvel. All of that is thanks, in part, to James Gunn and his rather amazing new take on The Suicide Squad.
Who would’ve thought that the best way to save a dying franchise would be to hand it a fully-loaded Gunn?
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Suicide Squad is not only a significant improvement on the much-maligned 2016 version, but is also a legitimately great DC action movie with outrageous violence, strong humour, great characters, and an overall sense of passion and heart from writer-director James Gunn.