Synopsis – Super-Villains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X where they are heavily-armed and dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.
My Take – Released in 2016, director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, the third entry into DC’s uneven cinematic universe, was without a doubt a financial success but that never took away the fact that it was also a muddled, frustrating and intermittently enjoyable experience that never lived up to its true potential considering the talents aboard.
While reports later on confirming that the final product was heavily compromised by studio interference as the final cut was taken away from director Ayer and handed to trailer production company, Trailer Park, Inc., who cut 40 minutes from the film, edited characterizations, and even changed parts of the original score, among other things, resulting in the final theatrical product, it was not enough to take away the sore memories of the experience.
Understandably director Ayer chose not to return to helm the sequel, instead choosing to work on the now probably dead Gotham City Sirens, passing on the mantle to first director Gavin O’Connor, who left upon realizing that Birds of Prey (2020) had a very similar story to the one he wrote, then director James Gunn, writer-director of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films, after he was temporarily let go when some of his decade old tasteless tweets resurfaced.
To make up for past mistakes, director Gunn was not only given the responsibility of creating a sequel that acted as a soft reboot, but was also given free rein to take the lessons he learned about building a team from Marvel and run wild it. Hence, resulting in a gleefully irreverent, ridiculously violent and frequently very funny not-quite-superhero film that is a non-stop joyride from start to finish.
It not only undoes most of its predecessor’s errors but also manages to be exactly what the first film was expected to be. Expertly switching between various tones to create a truly cohesive and full story, the film’s unpredictability certainly delivers on the endeavor to raise the stakes of the genre, especially when it shamelessly kills off characters left, right and center in true James Gunn fashion.
But most importantly it has so much heart that it ends up being a special experience for DC fans, old and new, by truly setting itself apart from the vast roster of the superhero genre.
Similar to its predecessor, the new film once again follows Task Force X, a secret division of the government consisting of a group of expendable supervillains who are all coerced by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the director of A.R.G.U.S., to carry out dangerous black-ops missions that are mostly expected to fail for reduced sentences.
Their latest mission is to get into Corto Maltese, a fictional South American banana republic, which recently ousted its American-backed government in a military coup, and use the access of The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), a meta-human scientist to destroy Jötunheim, a Nazi-era laboratory that holds a secretive experiment known as Project Starfish.
While the new iteration of Task Force X is frankly huge mostly to accommodate the high body count the premise demands, the focus of the story mainly lies on returning Squad members, kewpie-doll psycho Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and newer members, a world-weary sharp-shooter Bloodsport (Idris Elba) with daughter (Storm Reid) troubles, a patriotic assassin Peacemaker (John Cena), a reclusive weirdo Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), the strong-but-dumb King Shark/Nanaue (performed by Steve Agee, voiced by Sylvester Stallone) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), who can control the rats population of the area.
As expected, everything doesn’t go according to plan, bodies pile up and all hell breaks loose. The plot is basically the standard Dirty Dozen inspired behind enemy lines mission that takes a glorious dive into pure comic-book territory in the final act, with the reveal of just what Project Starfish entails, but director Gunn, who is known for his inventive narrative style that rejects many conventions of the superhero medium, makes the large part of the fun come from the bickering interaction between the Squad members, as well as the unexpected and surprisingly touching connections they make.
It’s barely worth mentioning how the new film compares to the first film, as this one maintains a cheeky sense of plausible deniability when it comes to continuity. It neither confirms nor denies the events of the first film, which some cast members return from, nor does it address its status in the wider now scattered DC Extended Universe. Refreshingly designed as a standalone film that’s new and invigorated with Gunn‘s writing style, it allows the audience to become completely immersed in, without worry of how things tie into other former and upcoming entries.
Here, director Gunn also displays a talent for visual unpredictability, a knack for seeing ludicrous visual premises through till their breaking points.
From each character’s attire seemingly ripped directly from the pages of comics, to the unapologetic colorful and outlandish Starro the Conqueror appearance, the film feels more like a love letter to DC nerds everywhere, willing to engulf its main cast in the wacky regalia of their comic counterparts, where many other films of the genre would typically shy away in favor of tactical jumpsuits and modernized armor. On top of that it is hyper-violent and messy in both its gore and its ideas, ultimately amounting to a quasi-criticism of the superhero industrial complex while still indulging in some of its most played out tropes.
But for all of that, director Gunn simply wants us to enjoy the ride. Yes, film often provokes laughs, especially from the dumb but adorable King Shark, Weasel (Sean Gunn), and Peacemaker, who is getting an HBO Max series of his own. But when you boil it down, just like the Guardians of the Galaxy films, it’s the emotions what makes the film work, as we end up caring the most about the mommy and daddy issues of the Polka-Dot Man and the Ratcatcher 2.
There are just too many characters in the film to give them all their due, however, some performances do stand out. Idris Elba is remarkable as Bloodsport, a noticeably gruff upgrade from Will Smith’s excellent take on Deadshot from the first film. John Cena is consistently hilarious in a way that underlines just how wasted his talents were in Fast 9. Margot Robbie was born to play Harley, a role she has already perfected in two films, and continues to knock it out of the park.
Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is noticeably reworked to be much more sporting than he was the first go-round. Daniela Melchior leaves a strong impression, as David Dastmalchian gives heart to probably the most bizarre comic book character in history.
Sylvester Stallone is very funny as King Shark, essentially the film’s equivalent of Groot, but with a slightly better vocabulary. Viola Davis has probably made Amanda Waller as DCEU‘s most despicable villain, while Peter Capaldi is disappointingly underused.
In other roles, Taika Waititi, Michael Rooker, Jai Courtney, Alice Braga, Nathan Fillion, Jennifer Holland, Flula Borg, Storm Reid, Sean Gunn, Julio Ruis, Pete Davidson, Joaquín Cosío, Juan Diego Botto, Mayling Ng, Steve Agee and Tinashe Kajese are also good. On the whole, ‘The Suicide Squad’ is a relentlessly wacky, violent and thrilling superhero flick that is juggling heartfelt character moments with thrilling action throughout with ease and tact.
Directed – James Gunn
Rated – R
Run Time – 132 minutes