On the strength of Gunn’s outré humor and filmmaking sensibilities, The Suicide Squad is nothing less than the most enjoyable comic book flick in a quick minute.
With David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad being roundly considered an abject failure (despite heavy studio meddling) and the so-called DC cinematic universe floundering to one degree or another ever since then, it might surprise you to find that they went ahead and made a sequel (of sorts). Warner Bros. snapped up temporarily canceled Guardians of the Galaxy director (and former Troma wunderkind) James Gunn to work his juvenile magic with their own in-house gaggle of deadly comic book misfits, and believe it or not, the results have paid off. Truly, the rather annoyingly-titled The Suicide Squad is a triumph, of sorts.
Starring a mostly new cast of incarcerated freaks like expert marksman Bloodsport (Idris Elba), commander of vermin Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), murderous soldier Peacemaker (John Cena), a guy who shoots polka-dots and who is appropriately named Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and a giant shark man (voiced by a delightful Sylvester Stallone) are rounded up by mastermind Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to undertake a likely fatal mission to protect dubious American interests in the fictional Central American country Corto Maltese. Additionally, a few returning characters from the original, like Joel Kinnaman’s Colonel Rick Flagg, Margo Robbie’s supervillain Harley Quinn, and absurd Australian weirdo Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), survive the transition to this reboot/sequel/whatever-this-is. But to be honest, much of the accounting is moot, as a great deal of the cast doesn’t even survive the first 20 minutes of this gory enterprise.
What’s left of this crew has to band together against not just the villains — who are supposedly keeping some mysterious alien tech in their stronghold, obviously — but themselves. Competing agendas, psychological trauma, secret orders, and plain old self-preservation endlessly threaten to break up the crew and thwart their mission, not to mention providing endless fodder for Gunn’s profane, absurd sense of humor. Almost every grisly death is both depicted in bloody detail and played for maximum laughs, with our “heroes” massacring the wrong people, succumbing to booby traps, and just merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, room is made for some adolescent stabs at poignance too, with Gunn being the guy who made a talking space raccoon a prime emotional lynchpin of the MCU.
But more importantly, The Suicide Squad moves. Jokes and the bullets hurl constantly, and the film refuses to stop for oodles of exposition; rather, it lets its characters deliver it on the fly, so there’s a real sense of narrative momentum, and as the body count rises, the story feels like it’s purposefully snowballing until the eventual reveal of an unexpected, much weirder villain. Also essential is that Gunn’s action is among the most inventive in the superhero genre. As with his Guardians films, the action sequences here largely avoid simple gunfights or fistfights, instead finding unusual ways to depict events and geography. Harley Quinn double-fisting machine guns turns into a long, luxuriant slow-motion explosion of blood, and a struggle between two of our alleged good guys is shown mostly in the distorted reflection of a shiny helmet. Given the largely pre-vized 2nd unit work that’s become the norm in these kinds of movies, that sort of unexpected ingenuity — and competent execution — feels especially novel. Those particular distinctions, in tandem with the film’s garish gallows humor, mark The Suicide Squad as the most enjoyable comic book installment in quite some time.