Director: James Gunn
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Alice Braga
Run Time: 132 mins
The Suicide Squad is for the most part a giddy, gory and thoroughly adult superhero film. The film is written and directed by James Gunn, whose sensibility for gory horror and dark humour, blend perfectly with the source material, feeling much more akin to his earlier works such as Slither and Super. Gunn originally hit critical acclaim with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, the first film in particular proving a refreshing break from the tired Marvel formula that really allowed his personality to shine through. Despite breaking free of the Marvel formula, Gunn was still constrained to a 12A / PG-13 rating, therefore The Suicide Squad represents him at his most unrestrained.
The Suicide Squad fits into the wider DCEU rather awkwardly in that it is a part-sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad in that it shares a handful of the same characters but it also functions as a part-reboot in that everything about it is completely different to that film. Suicide Squad unfortunately received a critical mauling on its release and whilst it has its bright spots, unfortunately David Ayer’s film was subject to studio interference which is clearly evident in the final picture.
After her solo outing in Birds of Prey, Margot Robbie returns as the mentally unstable Harley Quinn. Viola Davis’ no-nonsense Amanda Waller also returns, who is tasked with running the Task Force X and she assembles two teams to go to the fictional South American island of Corto Maltese for reasons unknown to the teams. The titular squad are all DC villains who are jailed and Waller picks a roster to undertake a mission, in return for the villains having a length of time knocked off their sentence. They each have a chip implanted in their head which Waller has the ability to explode if they go off course on their mission, and being a James Gunn film, this feature is certainly used.
Gunn has proven a knack for picking unfamiliar comic-book characters and spinning a gripping yarn from their background. The Guardians of the Galaxy were very much a lesser known Marvel property and Gunn was able to utilise this to his advantage, especially with characters like Groot and Rocket Racoon, one a tree that can only say one sentence and the other an anthropomorphic, wisecracking raccoon. Gunn introduces characters like Ratcatcher, Polka Dot Man and King Shark, all C-grade comic villains but he manages to successfully develop and establish a backstory to them so audiences can invest in them.
Will Smith’s Deadshot is not a part of the film this time around, rather it is Idris Elba, who is the team leader. He portrays Bloodsport, a skilled marksman who was imprisoned for shooting Superman with a kryptonite bullet. Elba has struggled to cement his career with leading roles and the performance he gives here is refreshingly cynical but humane and makes for a charismatic lead. John Cena is Peacemaker, a vulgar individual who desires to achieve peace through the act of violence. The main core of the team is comprised of returning actor Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag, who has a more convincing character arc this time around, Natalie Belchior as Ratcatcher 2, David Dastalmachian as Polka Dot Man and Sylvester Stallone as King Shark. Other memorable characters include regular Gunn collaborator Michael Rooker as Savant and Sean Gunn as the violently strange Weasel.
Gunn paces The Suicide Squad extremely well and the script is stuffed with quips and wisecracking interplay between the characters. There is violence and gore aplenty – heads are decapitated, blood splatters after characters get shot in the face and King Shark likes to devour people… a lot! This is a film that earns its 15 / R rating and it is all the better for it. Like its predecessor, there isn’t much of a story again this time round, but the characters combined objective acts as a coherent plot and there are some excellent character twists along the way. Gunn does an excellent job in not allowing his audience to get to attached to characters, as life is pretty expendable in this film.
John Murphy’s guitar-heavy score is memorable and fits really well to the film. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn employs a jukebox roster of 80s hits and for the most part, they fit in well. The 2016 film tried to ape Guardians of the Galaxy in its soundtrack but its track picks were all too on-the-nose and uninspired. Henry Braham’s cinematography is excellent – this is a really colourful and visually punctuated world. A fight scene that is portrayed via a reflection is a genius idea and is beautifully captured by Braham.
In a wider context, what impressed me most about The Suicide Squad was its progressive characters for the genre, which acts as a revisionist take on the superhero genre. The superhero genre is overpopulated with generic films that are uncomfortable in breaking the mould and Gunn’s film actively tries to defy conventions, even if it’s not always successful, but the ambition is to be admired.
The Suicide Squad’s main drawback is in its ending, which unfortunately sticks to convention. There is an annoying tendency in superhero films to end the film on a big CGI battle and Gunn was guilty of this in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This is the case again, but the CGI battle is far more coherent and involving but it’s disappointing that unlike the rest of the film, he doesn’t make much of an effort to deviate from the formula. It’s a little anti-climatic when the rest of the film is so entertaining and refreshing.
Ultimately, The Suicide Squad is a blast from start to finish and is up there with Gunn’s best works. Gunn’s personality shines through and through in its tone and his knack for establishing convincing and relatable characters and the film is mesmerising and joyfully startling and chaotic at times. It strikes just the right balance in its humour, rather than being boisterous about its adult rating. I can’t wait to see where this storyline is taken next and this film ranks as one of the best efforts in the DCEU and the wider superhero genre.