The Suicide Squad
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DC Comics’ most nefarious super criminals are once again forced to save the world. A reboot—or sequel, depending on who you ask—of 2016’s oft-maligned Suicide Squad, the new movie is fun, and bats**t crazy. You can be forgiven for watching most of it with your jaw dropped open. It is also very, very, VERY Deadpool 2– level violent.
Returning cast members Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, and Viola Davis are joined by Idris Elba (Avengers: Infinity War, Hobbes and Shaw), John Cena (Fast 9), David Dastmalchian (Ant Man, Ant Man and the Wasp), Daniela Melchior, and Sylvester Stallone. Too brief appearances by Michael Roker, Sean Gunn, Nathan Fillion, and Pete Davidson. Gleefully and malevolently written and directed by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy).
Since the DCEU launched with Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel, audiences and critics alike have compared it unfavorably to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. DC’s films lack a clear sense of humanity, choosing to pit Gods against monsters, with writing that’s a half-step up from a CW series. There have been a few exceptions along the way, sure, but DC has mostly taken two steps backward for every step forward—think Wonder Woman vs. Joss Whedon’s Justice League vs. Aquaman, lord help us.
The Suicide Squad dares to wonder if the solution is to throw a little MCU chocolate into DCEU’s peanut butter and see what happens. Start with a director who’s got 2.5 Marvel films under his belt, add four veteran MCU actors to an already decent roster, and give them all a good script and a storyline that focuses more on the humans than the Gods or the monsters. What you get is a pretty decent piece of entertainment.
Whether you consider it a reboot or sequel, this Suicide Squad—commander Colonel Rick Flag, played by Joel Kinnaman explains to new recruit Savant (Michael Roker) that they prefer the less “derogatory” name of Team Force X— has been around for a little while. Flag and returning members Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) greet each other casually as they explain the rules to the rest of the team, composed of C-level supervillains such as Blackguard (Pete Davidson), and Nathan Fillion’s The Detachable Kid (has to be seen to be believed). Survive the current mission and they get 10 years off their prison sentences. Run away or disobey and a chip in the back of their head explodes. The mission? The island nation of Corto Maltese has been taken over by an anti-U.S. military coup, and Task Force X must invade and destroy the Jötunheim, an American run laboratory that houses the super-secret and deadly Project Starfish (which also has to be seen to be believed).
Gunn wastes no time in letting you know the stakes here are real and bloody. The head-exploding chips are still controlled by hard core and stone cold Intelligence officer Amanda Waller, played by Viola Davis. She has a small crew to monitor the mission once it starts, but in the meantime, they’re busy betting money on which of Task Force X is going to live or die. When the task force is ambushed on the beach by military forces, chaos ensues and heads explode. What they don’t know is that Waller has hung them out to dry so the “A” team, led by Idris Elba’s reluctant Bloodsport and John Cena’s uber-patriotic Peacemaker, can land on the opposite side of the island undetected.
Team A consists of some obscure yet wonderfully weird super villains, and it’s obvious that Gunn had the best time pulling them together. Bloodsport is serving a life sentence for putting Superman in a coma with a Kryptonite bullet. Peacemaker says disturbing things like, “I believe in peace and freedom so much I’m willing to kill every man, woman, and child to achieve it.” The Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), all sad eyes and severe mommy issues, exudes deadly polka dots out of his skin. Ratcatcher 2, played like a wistful and soft Billie Elish song by Melchior, has the ability to control rats. Rounding out the group is King Shark, voiced by Sylvester Stallone, a half man, half man-eating shark who is as dumb as a box of rocks. See? Craziness.
Gunn creates a mesmerizing mixture of wackiness and chaos, underlining a feeling that not one of these characters is safe from being ripped in half, beheaded, electrocuted, flattened, or skewered on their way to Jötunheim. This could have easily become more video game than movie, but it’s written to make you care about each one of these people, so that every death feels like a real loss. Like, I’m still getting over two of them.
The key to a good comic-book film is hiring good actors who commit to and elevate the material. Kinnaman is given much more character breadth this time around, doing a deeper dive into his portrayal of Flag as a good soldier committed to a very bad situation, while Robbie’s Harley Quinn continues to be our favorite psycho with a big heart, but with more self-realization. Turns out that even if you have the absolute worst taste in men, you can use that to save an entire country. Who knew? Elba is a great addition here, as a world-weary assassin who agrees to join the squad to save his daughter from his current fate. Cena was a little bit of a weak link for me. I enjoyed the chemistry he had with Kinnaman and Elba, but they carry him to a large extent.
I also really dug how Waller’s minions served as a sort of Greek chorus, reacting to both Team Force X’s progress and Waller’s growing megalomania as she realizes that she is very much losing control of the squad. Luckily, they get to provid some karmic justice for her Suicide Squad crew, just in time.
The Suicide Squad is a crazy entertaining ride, and a great next step forward in the evolution of the DC Extended Universe. Let’s hope that they build on it.
James Gunn brings his own particular blend of irreverence and ultra-violence to the DC Universe with his take on The Suicide Squad. Fans of the original should appreciate the upgrade.
This is for comic-book movie fans, particularly ones who aren’t squeamish. The Suicide Squad is an uppercase, boldface R rated film, so keep the kids out of the room.
DC is getting into the mid-credit scene game, so stay in your seat or fast-forward, depending.