After stumbling out of the block in 2016, the deeply unsatisfying identity crisis victim Suicide Squad left plenty to be desired. Had it not been for the impressive box office receipts, we may not have seen the continued adventures of a group of violent criminals forced to team up to save the world (well, at least for another 5 to 10 years when the dust had settled and DC felt comfortable re-booting it).
Enter writer/director James Gunn, who has hopped from Marvel’s strictly PG playground to the edgier DC where he gets to retain his goofy humour, but incorporate graphic violence for the grown ups. It is an almost perfect melding of opposing visions that the original just could not strike.
Round two sees no-nonsense head of Task Force X Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) once again recruit a team of undesirable, violent criminals incarcerated at the maximum security prison Belle Reve to save the world. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Among them we get favourite familiar faces Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) returning, but in order to dodge deja vu, this is an opportunity to introduce some new unhinged blood.
Meet mercenary Bloodsport (Idris Elba), ruthless killer Peacemaker (John Cena), team leader Colonel Nick Flag (Nick Kinnamon), rat controller Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), simpleton with an appetite King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) and reserved and unusual Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). Each is chosen based on their own unique abilities to destroy a facility in the island nation of Corto Maltese where experiments are being done on political prisoners under the name Project Starfish, lead by chief scientist The Thinker (Peter Capaldi).
If only they can overcome their bizarre dynamics and get the job done.
While Suicide Squad (2016) struggled to find an identity and balance multiple characters, The Suicide Squad feels far more confident with the task. Gunn delivers something grim yet highly amusing, violent and awesome, yet emotional. It is a balance that few comic book adaptations have managed to nail.
He has a clear style, and yet at the same time, knows not to overwhelm his film with it. There are just enough flourishes in his title cards, edits and action set pieces for it to be able to compete with the recent onslaught of superhero films and shows. But his secret weapon is character.
Gunn allows his characters some breathing room amongst the carnage, providing most of them enough backstory and motivation so that we are invested in their adventure and even start to care about these reprehensible humans just a little bit. Depending on how sensitive you are, this one may even have you wiping away a tear or two. And doing this allows this film to have what so few like it have: stakes.
But Gunn also doesn’t forget that this is about having fun – he has plenty of misdirections, shocks and surprises up his sleeve. And his warped sense of humour of finding the silliness in the savagery and belly laughs in the barbarity gives this a memorably twisted edge. There are even some heavy nods to skin crawling ickiness that is reminiscent of his debut film Slither (2006), which is great to see him be able to recapture after so many years.
7 out of 10