Review: James Gunn lets his blood soaked flag fly in outlandishly fun 'The Suicide Squad'
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Not so much a sequel, but a spiritual companion to David Ayer’s scrutinized 2016 outing “Suicide Squad,” James Gunn’s gleefully irreverent second stab at the infamous DC comics property, “The Suicide Squad” is a better, more realized film in that it understands the type of self-aware zaniness it’s yearning for and isn’t afraid to rip off limbs and feature a gigantic sea creature in a bonkers, unforgettable finale. In fact, “The Suicide Squad” looks exactly like the big-budget comic book movie you’d get from the director who’s career started in schlocky B-movie fare ala Troma Entertainment. However, most know Gunn for helming Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, but his hard R-rated, not-entirely-family-friendly rendition of DC’s C-grade characters (among them is Polka Dot Man) feels like a refreshing dose of sarcasm in a genre that often takes itself too seriously.
You don’t need (nor would you want) to watch Ayer’s 2016 version to appreciate the character dynamics in “The Suicide Squad,” which wears its ultaviolent bloody carnage like a gratuitous badge of honor, and Gunn forgoes awkward intros and gets the action flowing. He opts to bring certain characters back from the previous iteration: chief among them Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg who is fleshed out and given more to do; Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang; Viola Davis’s snarky Amanda Waller, and, of course, Margot Robbie’s fan favorite Harley Quinn, the only salvageable element of 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” Gunn’s plot, more or less, stays true to the source material where a group of hardened, villainous, bad-guys locked away for life are given the ultimate get out of jail free card.
Waller, in a do or die ultimatum for the felons, brings together an unorthodox group of capes, including T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), Blackguard (Pete Davdison), Javelin (Flula Borg), Weasel (Sean Gunn), who is basically the drugged-up version of Rocket Raccoon from the “Guardian” movies, to lead a beach front siege off the shore of a South American island, Corto Maltease. In the same sequence, Gunn shifts to Idris Elba’s front and center general Bloodsport, John Cena’s awkwardly goofy but amusing Peacemaker, David Dastmalchian’s strange Polka-Dot Man (yes, he shoots polka dots), Daniela Melchior’s charming Ratcatcher 2, and who could forget King Shark (voiced by Sylverster Stallone) who walks around and says “nom nom” whenever he’s hungry. But don’t get too attached to these characters, because unlike Marvel where individuals could sustain their own franchise or series thus making any thought of demise mute, Gunn is given creative freedom to lay the axe wherever he sees fit. And folks, there is a-lot of death, a-lot of mayhem, and buckets of blood, but it’s also completely ridiculous and over-the-top in the most refreshing way imaginable.
“The Sucide Squad” doesn’t waste character potential nor do they get stranded in a convoluted narrative either. Whether it’s Bloodsport struggling with newfound heroism (and a disgruntled daughter at home) or Polka Dot Man’s hatred of his mother who we find out injected him with an intergalactic virus, “The Suicide Squad” plays to its strengths, and those strengths are the performers who breathe life into an otherwise wacky property. And their camaraderie comes in handy during the film’s latter stretch which may or may not involve a nefarious plot to control the world population with face-hugging organisms. It’s a silly departure from the realm of most comic book franchises, but it can seem too familiar. Again, we watch buildings get demolished like LEGO’s without much blowback in a series of CGI fueled nonsense. But Gunn, a filmmaker who balances his comedic tone against big spectacle better than anyone, steers the ship towards an eventual conclusion built on emotion rather than worldbuilding.
Not often do creative disappointments get a second wind five years removed from their initial release, but Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” makes the case that perhaps maybe they should. It’s fascinating watching a director at the top of his game reconfigure a franchise on life support and deliver one of the best films in the DC canon. When everyone is having fun making a movie (and you can tell that’s the case here), it bleeds on screen. A feature desperately missing from Ayer’s version, which he now claims was taken over by the studio and didn’t have his blessing. Though it wouldn’t be the first time Warner interfered with a project, there’s a rhythm and attitude in “The Suicide Squad” that can only come from Gunn’s wavelength. He understands these are bad guys, but even bad guys deserve some respect.
THE SUICIDE SQUAD opens in theaters and on HBO Max Friday, August 6th