Marvel has shown us already that when it aims to make a superhero story with dollops of humour, it trusts either James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2) or Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok). DC seems to have learned a thing or two, and has Gunn directing its latest release, The Suicide Squad, while Waititi features in an extended cameo. After the disappointing Suicide Squad (2016), criticised for wafer-thin characterisation and poor plot, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad makes up for it by showing self-awareness and playing to strengths.
Like the first film, the director of A.R.G.U.S., Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), has other-worldly issues to handle, and unlike last time, she assembles two Task Force X teams on this occasion. While the new film sees the return of characters like Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), we also get Bloodsport (Idris Elba) instead of Deadshot, King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) in place of Killer Croc and a host of comic book characters making their live-film debuts, such as Peacemaker (John Cena), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior).
The Suicide Squad, admirably, wears its absurd humour and wackiness like a badge of honour. The film’s lead characters are a group of misfits having to team up for the greater good, an idea Gunn aced with the GOTG films. The difference here is how the filmmaker goes all guns blazing, quite literally, with violence and gore turned up to a level that we have rarely seen in superhero films. The strength of this film is how it integrates the action sequences into its mission-based story that spells danger for the main characters (the title makes this plenty evident). The deaths, however, are designed to amuse. Unlike in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, Gunn doesn’t kill time by getting into character’s backstory and given that this film is a sequel/reboot, many characters don’t need such a setup in the first place. The characters that do need one, are shown to be victims of a tragic past and this helps bring in some heart and warmth to an otherwise crazy film.
The film establishes the mood and motive for each main character, even if it doesn’t do this like Ayer’s film did. Bloodsport is in for his daughter, Peacemaker is a patriot with probably the national anthem for a ringtone, and Rick Flag is all professional this time after his stint with the Enchantress in the first film. Polka-Dot Man, meanwhile, has unresolved mommy issues, King Shark is a man-eating fish-human hybrid, while Harley Quinn is at miss mayhem as always. I won’t spoil it for you, but to see the superpowers in this film is quite a trip.
Our unlikely heroes team up with rebel soldiers, led by Sol Soria (Alice Braga) who want to bring down the governing body of the fictional South American island nation of Corto Maltese that’s working on a secret program called Project Starfish. The ways in which the squad infiltrates the island make for the film’s best scenes. While the men take a rather traditional approach, Quinn takes the unconventional romantic route. With costumes that seem to be inspired by the Batman: Arkham City video game, Robbie’s Quinn sets the screen on fire with her charming yet cunning ways. Elba excels as Bloodsport, a mercenary turned squad leader who brings all the oddballs together. The crowd pleasers though are Peacemaker, a jingoistic killer who would go to any lengths, and King Shark who, er, fishes out humour at the darkest of moments.
My only grouse with this film is the rather sudden tonal shifts that act as speed-breakers. The final showdown too feels repetitive as it is, once again, the ‘wrecking a city to save the world’ trope. On the whole though, The Suicide Squad is a crazy, gory action extravaganza that DCEU desperately needed. It’s a film that also pays tribute to some DC comic book characters who might otherwise have never seen the light of day. Given the post-credit scene that gives a glimpse of what is planned for the future, fans can perhaps finally make ‘peace’ with DC’s rocky past in recent cinema. Exciting things, it seems, are in store.
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis