When it was released in 2016, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad definitely left a lot of mixed opinions. Despite some good performances, fans were mostly disappointed in the fact that it just didn’t have the proper tone for the group. That, and, well, Jared Leto’s “creative” take on the Joker, which we didn’t think was that bad.
Fast forward five years later, however, and we have a film that’s more in line with the bloody zaniness that the comic books are known for. That’s because director James Gunn “gets it”, as he’s proven with the previous Guardians of the Galaxy films he did for Marvel. The Suicide Squad not only feels like a genuine reprieve from the previous film but a delightful reminder that, with the right people behind the movie, there is fun to be had in the DC Cinematic Universe. (As if James Wan and Patty Jenkins didn’t already prove that.)
The film kicks off with Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, reprising her role from the first movie) gathering a team for a special mission on a small island. It looks like a military coup and a mysterious operation called Project Starfish could spell trouble for the world, and she wants it squashed. So she sends in a ragtag group of criminals – retro-fitted with explosives in their heads, mind you – to do what they do worst.
Though a number of members pop up in the group – played by Gunn favorites like Pete Davidson, Michael Rooker, and Nathan Fillion – the focus soon shifts to a particular few. This includes Joel Kinnaman as a returning Rick Flag, alongside newbies like Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Bloodsport (Idris Elba, smoldering as always), and Peacemaker (John Cena, in one of his most engaging – and hilarious – roles yet). Oh, and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is in the mix as well, getting into trouble like always.
The plot soon comes into focus on an unlikely foe, a deadly starfish that wants nothing more than to rule the universe with his smaller, mind-controlling minions. But getting there is part of the fun, as Gunn focuses more here on characters than Ayer ever could. That’s part of the magic of The Suicide Squad. You actually give a damn this time around, and the members are having just as much fun as you.
Take one particular scene where Bloodsport and Peacemaker get into a contest to see who has the most stylish kills – just because they look “dope as f**k”, as Cena puts it. It’s hilarious and, at the same time, something we were hoping to see from the first film. And if you thought Harley’s beatdowns in previous movies were something, you haven’t seen her dispatch a group of soldiers, as she does here to the original “Just a Gigolo” (no, not the David Lee Roth version). It’s incredibly fun to take in.
Some parts of the movie do drag a little bit when it comes to story exposition, and the time jump thing could be slightly confusing in spots. But damn it if Gunn still doesn’t make a good time out of The Suicide Squad. He directs with a deft, yet fun-loving, hand so that audiences get the most out of their material. And some of the laughs are truly genuine, even if it’s at the expense of several soldiers getting splattered something fierce. This movie is definitely rated R for a reason, and how.
Performances are excellent throughout here. Robbie continues to have a field day as Quinn; Elba makes an outstanding addition as Bloodsport, even showing a less-than-human side at times; Melchior is emotionally wonderful as Ratcatcher 2 (and has some terrific scenes with her dad, played by Taika Waititi); Cena looks like he’s having a field day as Peacemaker (with a terrific turn towards the end); and King Shark is a real romp of a character, voiced to great aplomb by Sylvester Stallone. You’ll never hear “nom nom” the same way again.
Even smaller performances shine, particularly David Dastmalchian as the unlikely hero Polka Dot Man. His trauma is something else, but it pays off in unexpected ways. It’s also great to see Steve Agee play a government hacker (of sorts), as well as Sean Gunn getting some great work in as the questionable Weasel.
While it has its problems, The Suicide Squad feels like a redemption film, especially coming off the troubled 2016 production. Warner Bros. wisely lets Gunn do his thing, and it pays off in spades. He directs without holding back, and he’s got a talented crew to back him up along the way. I wouldn’t mind seeing these guys make a return somewhere in the future – even if they bring ol’ Joker along. Who knows, Gunn just might make him fun again, too.
The Suicide Squad is in theaters now, and can also be watched on HBOMax for a limited time.