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James Gunn and company kill it with ‘The Suicide Squad’

August 11, 2021
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If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

That’s the attitude that the powers that be at Warner Brothers have taken with regard to DC’s team of villains-turned-reluctant-heroes known as the Suicide Squad. We first met this collection of reprobates in 2016 via director David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad.” Now, thanks to James Gunn, we have “The Suicide Squad.”

It’s tough to suss out how exactly to refer to this new iteration. It’s not quite a sequel and not quite a reboot, featuring a handful of returning characters and a slew of new ones; it’s not like the events of the previous film didn’t happen, but neither do we spend any time reinvestigating them. Call it Schrödinger’s Sequel – it both is and is not.

But whether or not “The Suicide Squad” is a sequel, one thing is for certain: it’s better. A LOT better.

With a combination of gleeful gore, compelling characters and a wicked sense of humor, this is easily one of the best offerings from the DCEU to date; “The Suicide Squad” manages to find ways to hold onto the grimdark ethos of DC’s cinematic slate while also embracing how fun comic book movies can be. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but few filmmakers – if any – are better equipped to strike it than James Gunn.

The ruthless intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) has once again assembled a team of supervillain convicts for her Task Force X – colloquially known as the Suicide Squad. This latest iteration, led once again by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, TV’s “For All Mankind”), features a couple of familiar faces, such as Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, “Birds of Prey”) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, “Jolt”), as well as some new folks – Savant (Michael Rooker, “Vivo”), Blackguard (Pete Davidson, TV’s “SNL”), Javelin (Flula Borg, “Bad Therapy”), Mongal (Mayling Ng, “Debt Collectors”), Weasel (Sean Gunn, “Agnes”) and TDK (Nathan Fillion, TV’s “The Rookie”). The group has been sent to the island nation of Corto Maltese on a secretive mission.

However, as it turns out, this team is intended to be primarily a very loud (and ultimately very bloody) diversion for the REAL mission, one carried out by a second team – this one consisting of weapons expert Bloodsport (Idris Elba, “Concrete Cowboy), the hyperviolent and jingoistic Peacemaker (John Cena, “F9”), rat-controlling bank robber Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, TV’s “Valor de Vida”), the oddly-powered and nihilistic Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, “Teacher”) and the humanoid shark creature known as Nanaue (Sylvester Stallone, “Rambo: Last Blood”) – involves taking down a secret scientific research facility. With a new regime in power after a military coup, U.S. officials fear that whatever is in there – codenamed Project Starfish – will be unleashed on the world.

Bloodsport is ostensibly the leader of this second team, despite his reluctance to act as such. With the antagonistic attitude of Peacemaker and the bleak neuroses of Polka Dot Man to deal with – not to mention Nanaue (AKA King Shark) kind of wanting to eat everyone on the team – it’s no wonder that frustrations boil over. Even so, they slowly start to coalesce as a team, as much through their missteps and their successes. They’re helped by the addition of Flag and Harley Quinn to their number along the way, but the closer they get to their objective, the more questions are raised.

And when they finally discover what is buried deep beneath the surface of Corto Maltese, the Suicide Squad must fight to save not just themselves, and not just the people of the island, but perhaps the entire world.

Suffice it to say, this is NOT what they signed up for.

“The Suicide Squad” is a bloody good time, one of the best DC movies to date – and 100% the funniest. Despite being absolutely stuffed with characters, we still get a solid sense of their personalities and motivations (leaving aside the absolutely bonkers early sequence where Gunn delights in absolutely annihilating seemingly half his cast in increasingly gory and hilarious ways). It’s a pitch-perfect illustration of the “Suicide” aspect of the Suicide Squad; the everyone-is-expendable ethos is laid out in an engagingly visceral and cheerfully vicious manner.

There are some outstanding set pieces here, three or four extended sequences that offer a tonally-ideal combination of impressive superpowered action and goofball attitude. From the aforementioned opening scenes to the final battle that both subverts and celebrates the standard big bad we’ve come to expect from comic book movies, it’s a load of well-executed action that also offers plenty of knowing winks.

And again – this movie’s got jokes. From tossed-off one-liners to running gags, there are loads of laughs to be had, a perfect blend of smart and stupid. That joie de vivre is something that is largely lacking in many of the DCEU’s offerings, while also happening to be something of a specialty for James Gunn. Putting a deep-cut weirdo like Gunn in charge of this property is a marriage made in heaven; even though the circumstances that led him here weren’t ideal, the end result is a steady outpouring of humor.

The cast is stacked as well, with just about everybody delivering top-notch performances. Elba’s combination of efficiency and exasperation works wonderfully. Cena is a douchey delight. Robbie continues to find nuance and complexity in Harley Quinn; Kinnaman looks to be having more fun this time around. Melchior is sweetly charming and Dastmalchian is weirdly fascinating and Stallone is just exquisitely monosyllabically dim. Peter Capaldi has a nice stretch as the Thinker. Everyone in the brutally bloody opening is wonderful in their limited action. Honestly, everybody in the ensemble kills it (pun absolutely intended).

James Gunn, his crew and his immensely talented cast have made something special here. “The Suicide Squad” is brutal, funny and brutally funny, illustrative of the possibilities that develop when comic book cinema doesn’t take itself quite so seriously. All in all, it’s a hell of a good time.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 August 2021 07:15

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