Principal Cast : Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinneman, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, Taika Waititi, Michael Rooker, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Flula Borg, Mayling Ng, Alice Braga, Juan Diego Botto, Joaquin Cosio, Storm Reid.
Synopsis: Supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X as they are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.
With the bad taste of 2016’s infamous DC disaster Suicide Squad still lingering in the comic-book movie landscape, to hear that Marvel Cinematic Universe wunderkind director James Gunn, who successfully brought the wacky ensemble Guardians Of The Galaxy to life twice before he was let go in a blaze of controversy surrounding decades-old tweets, would be tackling the poisoned chalice of DC’s least accessible property was intriguing to say the least. Given carte-blanche by Warner Bros after a brief courtship, to tackle whichever DC Comics character he desired, it seemed only natural that a director of Gunn’s background in Troma and independent horror would gravitate towards a violent, profane, almost clownish adventure premise like the Suicide Squad, and with the shackles fully cast aside – the film is most definitely for adults – Gunn lets loose upon the world a film equal parts hilariously off-the-wall as it is a heartfelt mantra to friendship.
As with David Ayer’s studio misfire, Gunn’s The Suicide Squad sports a large ensemble of returning and new characters and yet another eye-popping plot to bring this disparate band of reprobate villains together to complete a mission on behalf of the United States Government, hammered into being by the firebrand Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, about as far removed from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom as you can get). Assassin Bloodsport (Idris Elba) teams up with a gang of villains, including the douche-bro Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and King Shark (voice of Sylvester Stallone), as well as returning anarchic clown Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and standup soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), to infiltrate the fictional South American island of Corto Maltese to destroy an old Nazi-era fortress and within it, the mysterious Project Starfish experiment. In order to do so, they must find and recruit the Thinker (Peter Capaldi), who holds the key to Project Starfish and ultimately the salvation of the world.
Laced with Gunn’s trademark humour, The Suicide Squad is an absolute blast of wanton violence, hilarious characters and a genuine sense of heart buried beneath the insane visuals and glorious carnage. Truth be told it’s probably the most straight-up entertaining film yet produced in the modern DCEU, a franchise started with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and more recently expanded with Zack Snyder’s four hour Justice League. There’s oodles of gags, tons of laughs, plenty of gore and body horror, and the combination of all this serves to wash away the sour taste of the Warner Bros cut of David Ayers’ film. That’s not to suggest The Suicide Squad is perfect – far from it, in fact – but it easily springs to the top of the list of a series of dour, often melancholy entries in DC’s superhero film canon by being as colourful, stylish and enthusiastically wanton as it can possibly be. Gunn’s screenplay positively rattles with multiple story arcs and characters, imbuing each with a sense of empathy from the audience despite their rag-tag, often nasty nature. So gleeful is Gunn in despatching his cast in some of the most brutal ways possible, a whole clutch of them are slaughtered within the first fifteen minutes! This achieves two things: one, it pares back the need to find coherent story points for such an enormous roster of players, but is also establishes that absolutely nobody is guaranteed to make it to the end of this film alive. Not even characters you’d automatically expect to.
The film features not only a host of returning Ayer-Squad actors (including Joel Kinnaman, Margot Robbie and Jai Courtney, the latter reprising his role of Captain Boomerang) but a slew of new introductions, not the least of which are film MVP’s Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher, and perennial kookster David Dastmalchian as the hitherto “worst DC Comics character ever” in the Polka-Dot Man. Idris Elba assumes the “group leader” role from an absent Will Smith, as Bloodsport (Smith played Deadshot in Ayer’s film), a gruff and recalcitrant assassin with an literal utility belt of armaments to choose from, and he acquits himself admirably amid the insanity. It should be noted that Elba isn’t a stranger to these kinds of large-ensemble worlds, having worked across the road as Heimdall in Marvel’s Thor franchise, and the glint of fun in his eye indicates he knows exactly what kind of lunacy he signed on for. Margot Robbie reprises her Harley Quinn character once more, perhaps more than ever before solidifying my belief that she remains the perfect casting choice to play a role in any DC film to-date, and her wide-eyed psychotic mess of a performance is a delight, despite being far too limited in on-screen time.
Wrestler-turned-actor John Cena plays the ironically named Peacemaker, a complete asshole who sees himself achieving peace through any means, even if that includes slaughtering a whole island of innocent people to achieve his aims. That Gunn and Cena were granted a limited series spin-off for HBO Max is indicative of the status of the character for future DC properties, and Cena gives the role his all in a pleasing, semi-serious take that Gunn masterfully exploits to the film’s success. Viola Davis’ ruthless Amanda Waller stands firm as the DC franchise’s least likeable character, surrounded by a small group of task-force operatives who oversee the mission via computer screens and Giant Red Buttons, and I can’t wait to see her ambitions and machinations play out in future film and television projects. She’s too valuable a talent to waste if this is the end of her journey. The film’s resident all-CG character is the instantly identifiable King Shark, aka Nanaue, a childlike monster half-man, half-shark with a penchant for killing people without compunction, and he is voiced by Sylvester Stallone in one of the most amusing characters the film offers. Also, one of the most frightening – at one point he tears a poor dude in half! – and Stallone’s vocal work is hilarious. As mentioned, Daniela Melchior, in her first English-language film, is superb as the young Ratcatcher, who assumes her identity upon the death of her father (cameo to Taika Waititi) and integrates into the squad using her mystery hand-wand to control rats to do her bidding, much to Bloodsport’s chagrin. Melchior is the audience’s way “in” to the film, she’s our attachment to the squad and remains a beacon of good among a gaggle of bad in Gunn’s story. David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man, an afflicted anti-hero who suffers as much as he succeeds, is also quite the character, the actor offering a melancholy, almost tragic underpinning to a role that could have been quite the disaster.
Rounding out the extraordinary cast is a gaggle of supporting actors both new and familiar; former Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi sports a mind-blowing (ha!) skull prosthetic as the Thinker, Michael Rooker plays Savant, a super-intelligent hacker, Pete Davidson is fun as another mercenary in Blackguard, while Sean Gunn plays a CG-replicated humanoid Weasel in one of the film’s early sequences. Alice Braga has a brief turn as a rebel against Corto Maltese’s fascist dictatorship government, and Storm Reid (A Wrinkle In Time) briefly appears as Elba’s on-screen daughter with sweet affect. It goes without saying, however, that not all of the characters in Gunn’s wildly violent film survive to the end. The fun is figuring out which ones do, and equally fun is watching those who don’t meet their gory, body-shredding end. Gunn subscribes to the theory that you can’t just kill a character – even a minor one – when you have the opportunity to absolutely annihilate each one in increasingly bawdy, bloodthirsty ways. People are squished, sliced, diced, pulverised, shredded, shot, drawn-and-quartered, incinerated, flayed and gorged upon by an avalanche of rodentry, making The Suicide Squad an assuredly adult-oriented film with no compunctions and absolutely no limits.
Yet, for all the positivity heaped upon it, at time The Suicide Squad does lean too heavily into being a touch to silly at times, and the off-the-wall humour plays fast and loose with any real sense of familiarity with the majority of characters being so slight, so aggrieved of depth that I can’t help with that the film had slowed down just enough to spend time with more than just Melchior’s Ratcatcher. The opening half also suffers from some pacing issues, while the film overall feels overstretched (or overstuffed) with ideas and concepts enough to fill ten more films. The film’s climactic sequences, in which DC Comics’ Starro The Conqueror finally makes his/her big-screen debut, is a dizzying onslaught of visual effects spectacle and a plethora of alternatively amusing and weird character beats. Gunn’s penchant for extravagance is unrestrained; perhaps it ought to have been in The Suicide Squad, sadly, because beneath the glitzy blood and gore is practically an empty vessel of loneliness and absence of soul. The film is awfully clever with itself, often too much so, and I found myself occasionally wishing for more time with maybe fewer characters. Maybe I’m too cynical to get wrapped up in the jump-cut style of The Suicide Squad’s frantic action and narrative expediency, but aside from the great characters there’s really very little here providing a solid foundation beneath. Am I asking too much of a film like this to bother with a depth of character expanding beyond just one of the lesser characters? Probably; The Suicide Squad exemplifies the visceral “action at the expense of emotional truth” style of filmmaking that runs itself ragged by the time the movie crescendos. There’s also a question of the film’s running time: clocking in a little over two hours, the film does feel like it a bit here and there, due mainly to the scattershot pacing of the opening half, and there are certainly a couple of scenes and sequences that go on a little more than necessary.
Still, there’s an awful lot to love about The Suicide Squad and nothing moreso than its soaked hubris lavishing extravagance upon us. James Gunn has concocted a heady brew of blood, laughs and hell-yeah moments to savour, raising the bar for future DC films and setting the benchmark pretty damn high. The Suicide Squad may lack the gravitas of Snyder’s Justice League or the Sunday-afternoon cartoon style of Aquaman, but it more than makes up for these inadequacies with flamboyance and gleeful humour. Led by Idris Elba and John Cena’s gut-busting turns, as well as the catharsis of Margot Robbie’s Harley doing her best heroic insanity, The Suicide Squad is a buoyant, over-the-top homage to both superhero films and bawdy heist films, throwing a little dash of The Expendables into the mix. While it has its problems, The Suicide Squad is considerably the most outright entertainment I’ve had with a DC-badged film since Batman Forever. James Gunn has excelled himself.