I remember when David Ayer's 'Suicide Squad' was released in 2016 and the head-scratching reactions it got. That's not to say it didn't have its fans; it made plenty of money back, won the DC Extended Universe it's first (and so far only) Academy Award, and recently spawned the #ReleaseTheAyerCut movement. But for the most part, Ayer's film was quickly dubbed the black sheep of the budding DCEU, a gritty morality story that got lost in way too much studio inference and leaving the IP dead in the water.
That was until two seemingly out-of-left-field announcements got out: Warner Bros. was actively perusing a sequel without Ayer's involvement and, after an extensive director search, 'Guardians of the Galaxy' architect James Gunn, who had recently been fired from Disney, was going to be the one to direct and write the project.
As someone who really didn't care for the 2016 film but really liked a lot of the comics, I was ecstatic that WB was giving the property a second chance. Beyond that, it was going to be shepherded by the creativity of a guy like James Gunn; you know, the guy that made Rocket Raccoon a household name?
*As a fun tidbit, Gunn's resume also includes writing the 2004 'Dawn of the Dead' remake, the first film of the DCEU's very own Zack Snyder, and if that's not destiny, I don't know what is.
But now, five years to the day that its predecessor was released, we now have 'The Suicide Squad,' and I am ecstatic to report that the title's extra word is absolutely earned. 'The Suicide Squad' has all of the team banter, morality questions, and no-holds-bar action of the source material, only heightened by everything James Gunn and his team splash onto the screen with ferocious glory. It doesn't all work, and it's certainly not the crowd-pleasers Gunn's 'Guardians' movies were, but it earns every second of spectacle with enough surprises to really stand out.
Task Force X, better known as the Suicide Squad, is developed as a U.S black ops team comprised of supervillains who would be otherwise expendable, led by field leader Colonel Rick Flag (played by Joel Kinnaman) and operations director Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis). For their newest mission, the team is sent to destroy "Project Starfish," a supposed doomsday weapon in the hands of Silvio Luna (played by Juan Diego Botto), the newly appointed dictator of the island of Corto Maltese.
Waller recruits a number of incarcerated villains to her team, including, but not limited to:
- Robert DuBois, or Bloodsport (played by Idris Elba), is a mercenary responsible for shooting Superman with a highly advanced weapons suit.
- Christopher Smith, or Peacemaker (played by John Cena), is a trained killer motivated by a twisted sense of duty to national peace.
- Cleo Cazo, or Ratcatcher 2 (played by Daniella Melchior), is a bank robber who inherited her late father's technology to control rats.
- Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), the famed criminal who is back on the squad's radar after a grand theft auto incident.
With the massive team assembled, Flag and Bloodsport work together to rally the team in Corto Maltese. In the process, they abduct Dr. Gaius Greives, or The Thinker (played by Peter Capaldi), a mad scientist with enhanced intelligence who works for Luna, as well as aiding revolutionaries led by Sol Soria (played by Alice Braga).
James Gunn's direction and writing makes a massive difference this time around. Beyond the giddy excitement on display, Gunn recognizes the two tenets of a good Suicide Squad story: building juvenile, but endearing relationships between characters we know are expendable, and never forgetting the very clear, very urgent stakes at work beyond the main mission.
For the most part, everyone here are villains, and Gunn revels in the opportunity to push the envelope of morality, questioning are these people worth saving and for what reasons. As for those characters, I don't even know where to start with that because...well...there's a lot of them. At the risk of delving too much into spoiler territory (spoiler, people die in this movie), I'll stick to the two that I found the most interesting.
The first is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn who, whether or not you appreciated the character's previous DCEU appearances, is an absolute lightning rod here. I've always appreciated Robbie's gift for delving into Harley Quinn's time bomb aesthetic and it's totally on display here, shifting between murder happy rampages and vaudeville comedian flawlessly (including a particularly great hallway fight sequence).
The other one is, weirdly enough, Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2, and I would go far enough to say that the film doesn't work without her. Much like Jay Hernandez' El Diablo in the 2016 film, Ratcatcher 2 is the wide-eyed tragic figure of the group, much more concerned with her father's legacy and finding her own purpose than the more dubious motivations of her cohorts. Melchior herself leans right into that role, fierely protective of her companion, Sebastian the rat (who, if my screening was any indication, will be a fan favorite), and sharing an equally funny/charming dynamic with Bloodsport.
There are a few other character moments I'd like to mention. Idris Elba does a lot to try and differentiate Bloodsport from a generic mercenary, and shares one of the best scenes in the movie with Viola Davis' Amanda Waller, who is once again a fascinating character foil. Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag is infinitely more interesting and likeable this time around, and if you didn't think John Cena could act, his turn as Peacemaker will more than likely change your tune in surprising ways.
The motley crew of villainy come together in really fun and engaging ways against the frankly terrifying world Gunn sets up for them. On the one hand, there's the excessive yet tempered body horror and the ramifications of the final villain (no spoilers if you haven't watched the trailers). But on the other, more realistic hand, Gunn actually frames a lot of the movie around a surprisingly frank commentary on U.S foreign policy, imperialism, and how that ties together with the current mass incarceration system.
While it isn't the scathing indictment it probably could've been, I was genuinely surprised by the film's dedication to that idea, especially factoring in that aforementioned scene between Bloodsport and Waller, acting as a gaslight-esque visual of how those in power will send those deemed "expendable" to clean up their messes.
*Yup, all the same film with talking shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone, told you this wasn't run-of-the-mill.
'The Suicide Squad' is absolutely worth your time, certainly on HBO Max, but definitely in theaters if you are willing and able. Again, I don't know how broad its appeal will get, but if you were looking for the DCEU to take cues from the weirder, over-the-top elements of the comics, this is going to deliver in spades.
Its characters are constantly interesting and complex, the action is well-shot and doesn't hold back, and the story is not only high stakes, but knows where to frame them. In other words, its an excellent action movie and an even better superhero movie (if you can stretch that definition). It's difficult to say how much this will affect the DCEU going forward, but when lightning hits the bottle like this, it's worth supporting, especially when that shock is surprisingly enjoyable.
Overall, I give 'The Suicide Squad' 9/10.
'The Suicide Squad' will be available in theaters and on HBO Max beginning on August 6th.
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