When you want to imitate the nuttiness and irreverent humor that is Guardians of the Galaxy, but want to exponentially up the visceral experience, go to the master himself. That is what Warner Bros did when they signed directed James Gunn to reboot The Suicide Squad.
In this sequel – yes, it’s a sequel – Gunn takes the criminals of Task Force X on an outrageously blood-splattered, R-rated wild ride that blends balls-to-the-wall action, in-your-face violence and life-or-death (most likely the latter) situations with jokes that mostly land and even heartfelt moments, all filtered through Gunn’s singular vision.
The Suicide Squad brings back four of the characters from the critically- and audience-panned 2016 hit film – Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and straps them in with a new collection of cons, including Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchoir), King Shark (scene-stealing Sylvestor Stallone) among others.
Davis’ Waller has once again recruited a ragtag group to go to island Corto Maltese where a dictatorship, led by Presidente General Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto) and Mayor General Mateo Suarez (Joaquín Cosío), has aligned itself with the villainous Thinker (Peter Capaldi) on a secret experiment called “Project Starfish.”
The incentive for the team is years off their sentence.
Trekking through a jungle teeming with militant adversaries and guerrilla forces led by Alice Braga at every turn, the Squad is on a search-and-destroy mission with only Colonel Rick Flag on the ground to make them behave…and Amanda Waller’s government techies in their ears, tracking their every movement.
And as always, one wrong move and they’re dead (whether at the hands of their opponents, a teammate, or Waller herself). If anyone’s laying down bets, the smart money is against them—all of them.
While the film takes much of its inspiration from The Dirty Dozen, Von Ryan’s Express and even that Suicide Squad-ish film in space, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Gunn not only brings a fresh and humorous take to war films featuring rejects, but also superhero films in general.
This ain’t a Marvel film.
Gunn juggles the many personalities and their introductions with a smoothness and confidence only a director of his stature could pull off. The heroes aren’t just there, but their personalities mix in with each other. Each actor in the ensemble plays off of each other and in turn, makes each other better. Gunn draws on each of their internal flaws and gives the audience a reason to care about most of the characters.
While it is packed with megastars such as Idris Elba, John Cena and Margot Robbie (in her best turn as Harley Quinn), who each get their own moments to shine, the heart of The Suicide Squad really belongs to Ratcatcher 2 and the dourly dispirited Polka-Dot Man, played by David Dastmalchian, who wears his rainbow-pustuled dermis with all the shame of an acne-riddled teen going stag to the prom.
While the idea of Polka Dot Man sounds ridiculous on paper (and it does), Dastmalchian, who has become known for bringing complex characters to life on screen in film and television, does exactly that here making the character the most sympathetic of the group. Dastmalchian takes us on a character study, exploring the mental illness and trauma he suffered at the hands of an abusive mother.
By exploring the father-daughter dynamic between Daniela Melchoir’s Ratcatcher 2 and Ratcatcher (Taika Waititi), RC2 grounds the film and becomes the heart of it. RC2, who suffers from depression and Narcolepsy, is able to overcome her flaws and literally become the hero of the film when called upon.
Sylvester Stallone, who also appeared in Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2, steals the film’s comedic moments with his characterization of King Shark – a mutated shark capable of talking barely.
But it is the action that we have come to see in The Suicide Squad and Gunn delivers over and over again. From the opening scene, when the Squad parachutes onto Corto Maltese, which is reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket to Harley Quinn’s uber-violent escape set to the tune of David Lee Roth’s Just a Gigolo, the action in TSS is as big and in your face, as the Kaiju they battle in the climax, Starro: The Conquerer.
Music is also a trademark of all of Gunn’s films and his curated mixtape is here on full display. It includes tunes from such classic artists as Johnny Cash, The Jim Carroll Band, Kansas, Louis Prima and Pixies, alongside a handful of today’s rising stars like grandson and Jessie Reyez; in addition to their own songs, the latter two even perform a duet written specifically for the film.
Every note, every frame of The Suicide Squad speaks to Gunn’s passion.
Very few of the jokes, written by Gunn, fail to land and Idris Elba, John Cena, Viola Davis and Margot Robbie are top-notch, making this among the best films to be released under the DCEU banner which began with 2013’s Man of Steel.
This film is rated R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
BOTTOM LINE: The Suicide Squad is a REEL SEE.