3.5 out of 5
The humour is dark, the gore is bloody, the body count is high, superheroes die, the finale is just plain bonkers but I liked James Gunn's first foray into the DC Extended Universe with a film that injects new life into the mis-firing DC comic book films. This tenth installment in the DCEU is a fast-paced, blood-soaked, wildly irreverent escapade that skillfully balances gore and goofiness, with equal amounts of irreverence and sincerity.
The Suicide Squad is not a direct sequel to the 2016 film directed by David Ayer. Gunn wanted to take the franchise in a new direction and introduce new characters however Joel Kinnaman and Viola Davis do reprise their 2016 roles as Col. Rick Flag, the squad's understandably jaded field leader, and Intelligence Officer Amanda Waller, respectively. Steve Agee plays John Economos, prison warden and aide to Waller. and as with the 2016 film, the titular squad is composed entirely of criminal supervillains, led by Flag, under the authority of Waller. Waller plants nanite bombs in their necks to keep them reasonably under control, promising to shorten their sentences if their missions are successfully fulfilled.
In addition to fan favorite Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the squad this time around includes Bloodsport (Idris Elba), aka Robert DuBois, a mercenary with military training who is in prison for shooting Superman with a kryptonite bullet. Gunn has said he modeled many of the squad characters after different film genres, and Bloodsport channels the 1960s action hero Steve McQueen. He has a a bickering rivalry with Peacemaker (John Cena), another military veteran. Jai Courtney reprises his role as Captain Boomerang. There's also Ratcatcher 2, aka Cleo Cazo (Daniela Melchior); vigilante hacker Savant (Michael Rooker); Nanaue, aka King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone); Blackguard (Pete Davidson); Javelin (Flula Borg), Weasel (Sean Gunn, James' kid brother); alien mass murderer Mongal (Mayling Ng); TDK (Nathan Fillion), a metahuman whose arms detach from his body; and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who is far more deadly than his trademark polka-dot suit would imply.
That is a jam-packed ensemble cast, and anyone familiar with The Dirty Dozen knows that many of them are bound to become cannon fodder. Gunn had hinted as much in pre-release interviews, expressing his delight that the studio gave him permission to draw deep from the DC Comics archives and kill off characters as he saw fit, thereby ensuring the film lives up to its name. It is one of the things I truly liked about the film: it is not afraid to kill off its superheroes in a way not previously seen before. This an brings an edge to proceedings and a welcome tension. Gunn's willingness to sacrifice characters ensures that there are very real stakes for this squad, and while some are obviously doomed to die, there's a few genuine surprises in the mix. That alone is a welcome change from your average superhero movie, where heroes are almost always protected by the plot (if only to ensure a possible sequel).
The Squad's mission this time is to infiltrate a high-security prison call Jotunheim—a former WW2 Nazi stronghold—and destroy all evidence related to the mysterious "Project Starfish." The squad must kidnap mad scientist Gaius Grieves, aka The Thinker (Peter Capaldi with vacuum tubes stuck to his head), to gain access to Jotunheim. There is also a sub-plot where the current president is President Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto), who has only just assumed the role in the wake of a military coup, led by Major General Mateo Suarez (Joaquin Cosio).
Harley Quinn gets a twisted narrative arc that includes a literal Cinderella story when President Luna becomes enamoured—if Cinderella were a crazed, wildly unpredictable psychopath. It ends about as well as you'd expect, given Harley's terrible taste in men. Birds of Prey played up a certain bubble-gum sweetness to the character, despite her violent outbreaks. There's still some of that sweetness here, but Robbie also shows just how dangerously unhinged her character is, switching emotional gears on a dime and perceiving all the carnage she inflicts through a burst of Technicolor flowers and butterflies.
Gunn proved with Guardians of the Galaxy that he could take an ensemble cast of B- and C-list comic book characters and still produce a wildly entertaining, action-packed blockbuster with tons of irreverent humour and a touch of heart. He brings a similar slyly self-aware sensibility to The Suicide Squad, but the 16 rating (R in the US) meant the director could pull out all the stops on the blood and gore front. This is not a film for the squeamishly inclined. The humour is darker, the body count is higher, and the finale becomes truly bonkers with the appearance of a giant alien starfish (Starro the Conquerer, another deep cut from the comics). In Gunn's capable hands, it all comes together to give us the group of supervillains-turned-unexpected-heroes that we all wanted to see.