Looking back on the first Suicide Squad, it’s clear that DC were looking to capture some of Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy hype by making their own gang of anti-hero misfits with a rocking 70s soundtrack. The difference being that Guardians Of The Galaxy was crafted to balance the ragtag humor with some well-earned emotional depth. While Suicide Squad was cobbled together by a committee that had heard Guardians and its soundtrack was really good, but didn’t actually see the movie to understand what made them work so well.
After a whole debacle between James Gunn and Disney which saw Gunn fired from the house of mouse for some very old offensive tweets – because apparently personal growth doesn’t exist inside Disney – DC grabbed Gunn and gave him free-reign to remake The Suicide Squad but do it properly this time. The result is not only the best thing to come out of the DCEU to date, but also one of the most entertaining and batshit crazy comic-book films since… well the first Guardians of The Galaxy film.
Spoilers will be kept to a minimum, but since quite a lot happens in the first act, anyone wishing to go into the film completely blind might be better skipping this part.
After a military coup on the island nation of Corto Maltese leaves the government in the hands of an anti-American dictator, Amanda Waller assembles her Suicide Squad – or as they prefer to be known, Task Force X – led by Colonel Rick Flag to sneak onto the island and destroy anything related to a weapon known only as Project Starfish before the new dictatorship can use this weapon on American people.
Naturally the plan goes to Hell and Waller is forced to use a back-up team led by the reluctant Robert DuBois (Bloodsport) in order to rendezvous with Colonel Flag, rescue any survivors and complete the mission to destroy Project Starfish no matter the cost. Among the new team is the aforementioned DuBois who wants as little to do with this as possible, Christopher Smith (Peacemaker) a douchebag Captain America type willing to kill thousands in the name of peace, Cleo Cazo (Ratcatcher 2), a Portuguese immigrant with the power to control rats, Abner Krill (Polka-Dot Man) a sad-sack loser with mother issues trying to work past the dangerous experiments she performed on him and Nanaue (King Shark), human-shark hybrid with a taste for human meat.
With Team 2 is place and none of them even bothering to try and like each other, the second Suicide Squad is underway, falling into a land of resistance fighters, brutal love stories, Nazi-laboratories, and Alien Starfish.
I actually really liked what Gunn did with this story, after a literally explosive first act things calm down for a bit to lend some decent character moments before taking a sharp turn in the third act that touches upon a lot of mature themes while still remaining as bonkers as anything. It’s a strong narrative that on the surface had a simple ‘stop the big thing’ storyline but works in elements of parental abuse, drug addiction, government accountability, American foreign policy, imperialism, and overcoming trauma to craft a story that isn’t afraid to take the film to strange and uncomfortable places. I was genuinely shocked more than once at where things went but none of them felt out of place for what the film was trying to do and I love it for taking those risks.
Character work was strong, not just in the main team but in the whole cast embracing the utterly ridiculous elements of comic-book weirdness. From Michael Rooker’s harsh but caring computer hacker Savant and Pete Davidson’s overly-confident coward Blackguard to Nathan Fillion’s WTF character; The Detachable Kid and Sean Gunn’s madcap turn as Weasel. There’s a level of self-awareness here that allows the film to wink at the audience and say ‘This shit is weird right?’ and then just go along with it.
While the film is a standalone sequel – to best distance itself from the first disaster – there are a few returning characters, Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang was nice to see again, especially since he’s clearly not learned anything and is still the same dickhead he was last time around, just now with a better friendship with Harley. Also returning is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller who, if anything, is even more ruthless and cold-hearted this time around with some of her schemes to get Task Force X to work together being horribly unethical at best and downright evil at worst.
Margot Robbie makes her welcome return as Harley Quinn and is still as perfectly bonkers as ever, due to the events of the first act, Harley spends most of her time away from the squad which actually works in her favor. After the events of the first Suicide Squad and Birds Of Prey, Harley has embraced a more human aspect to her character and is fully her own character now, strong enough to lead her own narrative. And that narrative is usually a wrench being thrown in the face of the larger storyline with Quinn’s insane choices throwing the whole film for a loop more than once but it works. That is exactly who Harley is and Robbie’s gleeful madness is honestly infectious, making her one of the standouts not only of this film but of the whole franchise.
Joel Kinnaman also returns as Rick Flag but a slightly different version from last time, he’s still the straight-man of the team but he’s less serious this time around, he’s removed the stick from his ass and he’s all the better for it. Compared to the rest of the insane cast, Flag isn’t as much of a standout but his loyalty and friendship with Harley makes for some fun moments and he gets a solid ‘To Hell With This’ moment in the third act when he starts questioning what the hell he’s just been through and for why. It’s a nice turn away from the uber-serious role in the first film and allows Kinnaman the chance to interact better with the Squad.
Out of the new blood, the only ones who come up short are the villains who are just sort-of there, General Mateo Suarez was your typical power-hungry army-guy who just wanted his boss’ job. His boss Silvio Luna was your typical dictator, suave and charming but hiding a bloodthirsty side – although the pay-off for his scenes with Harley is well-worth the inclusion. Sadly this also applies to Peter Capaldi as Gaius Grieves, a super-intelligent Thinker who had been working on Project Starfish for decades, while Capaldi gives his all to the role, channeling a lot of Malcolm Tucker into Grieves outbursts whilst maintaining a perverted sense of self-preservation, he’s sadly sidelined a little too far.
Which given the quality of the Squad itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, every new member of Task Force X makes a fantastic first impression and I can see a lot of people arguing over who their new favorite character is and they’ll all be right. First up is Idris Elba as arguably the main character, Robert DuBois, a mercenary raised by an abusive father who trained him to use anything as a weapon. DuBois has been approached by Waller several times to not only join her Task Force, but lead it on occasion, always saying no because he straight up doesn’t want to. That is until his estranged daughter Tyla gets in trouble with the law and Waller blackmails Dubois into working for her to keep her out of prison. DuBois is a classic case of The Reluctant Hero, his motive are purely selfish, he doesn’t care who knows it and he doesn’t believe there’s anything good about him left. And yet in Elba’s hands he makes that work, as much as DuBois is a prick trying to get the job done and get out, he has moments of genuine care – especially in regards to his friendship with Cleo – but never sacrifices that mentality of making tough choices in order to survive. This is a fun role for Elba and one that should hopefully be the comic-book character he’s remembered for.
Working alongside Dubois is John Cena as Peacemaker, a mercenary raised by an abusive father who trained him to use anything as a weapon. Yeah the film makes reference to their similar histories as well and uses that to build up a dick-measuring contest between Dubois and Peacemaker, often resulting in brutal and bloody deaths for anyone around them. Cena is pretty goddamn hilarious here, his straight-laced ‘peace at any cost’ attitude works so well for the character and Cena owns the ridiculousness, he embraces how terrible his character is and how righteous he is in that terribleness to create the best Anti-Captain America around. Where Cena really shines though is in the third act, without wishing to spoil, Peacemaker has a fairly serious turn-around at a point in the film and when it comes, Cena’s turn makes the character and his performance even better with some of the film’s best moments coming from Peacemaker’s hands.
Pulled from the depth of Batman’s silliest villains is Abner Krill, the Polka-Dot Man played by David Dastmalchian. Already being such a laughing stock villain – up there with Kite-Man and Condiment King as some of the bottom barrel DC villains – the film takes a different approach and embraces the depressing nature of being Polka-Dot Man, giving Krill a rough back-story with his scientist mother infecting him an inter-dimensional virus in the hopes of turning him into a superhero. The results have left Krill broken, pained and traumatized to the point of seeing his mother’s face in every person he kills – leading to some disturbing but brilliant visual gags. There’s a thin line between sympathetic and just straight up pathetic and Dastmalchian walks it well, often leaning to one side of the other depending on the situation but out of everyone – aside from Cleo – he makes Krill out to be one of the nicest villains, someone who doesn’t like to hurt people and just wants the chance to make friends in a way that won’t mess up when his virus flares. He might be a bad guy, but that doesn’t make him a ‘bad’ guy and the film works with that to make Krill genuinely worth caring for.
While Krill inhabits the tortured soul of the film, it’s heart easily belongs to Daniela Melchior as Cleo Cazo, Ratcatcher 2. In a film surrounded by blood, trauma and vindictiveness, Cleo’s heartfelt beliefs in the good of all creatures made her positivity stand-out from the crowd and she was desperately needed to off-set the harsher elements of the film. Raised by her loving but drug-addicted father – Taika Waititi in a tiny but memorable role – Cleo has an affinity for all living creatures, as evidenced by her pet rat Sebastian, and believes that even the smallest being has a role to play in life. It’s a welcome breath of friendship between the swearing and the killing and Melchior is honestly adorable in the role, when she’s befriending Nanaue despite him trying to eat her in her sleep – she is a VERY heavy sleeper and the film plays with that quite well – you believe that she can trust this monstrous creature as her friend, and on the other hand, when she’s pleading for her life your heart just goes out to her because she’s a precious little thing and you want no harm to come to her. Personally speaking, Cleo ended up as my favorite character in the film, she wasn’t the smartest or the funniest, but she gave the film an emotional core as well as arguably its most triumphant moment that solidified her as the beating heart of the film.
Rounding out the cast as Nanaue, or King Shark as most people know him. With more and more CGI characters being integrated into films, it takes something special to stand out and thankfully, Nanaue is special alright, part loveably dumb man-child, part flesh-eating shark. The dichotomy between the two aspects of his character is what makes him such a great addition to the Squad and frequently you’ll be caught off-guard when this adorable sea-puppy with a dad-bod goes from laughing like an idiot to ripping a man in half with no warning. The combined efforts of the CGI team creating such a cute yet menacing creature and Sylvester Stallone’s brilliantly goofy vocal talents work in tandem to make Nanaue work as well as he does, giving him more personality than just being the typical animal mascot of the team. Even if he does try to eat his friends every now and again.
The film is brought to us by the aforementioned James Gunn who realistically, was one of the only people able to do a film like this justice, not just because of his work on Guardians – although that does help – but also his origins in Troma Films allows Gunn to take the film to some batshit places without it feeling disingenuous to the film as a whole. And there are some weird places the film goes to, the opening beach assault is just absolute carnage, Harley has a strange Pretty Woman-esque sequence as well as an ultra-violent escape scene complete with automatic weapons and Harley’s broken psyche putting a flowery spin on her murder-spree. And that’s saying nothing about the film’s final act which is weird, beautiful, brutal and one of the most original sequences I’ve seen in a comic-book movie, the last 15 minutes of the film are incredible to witness and elevate an already stellar film into utter greatness.
What really sets the film apart though, aside from the batshit insanity and the constant F-Bombs, is that Gunn isn’t afraid to touch upon some real mature themes. Harley’s trauma from her abusive relationship with Joker still flares up despite her independence, most of the Squad have issues with their parents be they abusive (DuBois), neglectful (Krill) or even loving but damaged (Cleo). Horrific experiments are shown with disgusting results and are implied to have been used on children, the military coup that starts the film leads to a whole family being killed, then explained that that whole family massacred other families and suddenly the whole things is awash in shades of moral greyness – fitting for a film about anti-heroes. But what I appreciated most was the surprising but welcome Political edge that the film is given, more than once the Squad is compared to western imperialists who come in, screw everything up in the name of freedom and piss off again once their job is done, and it’s not too far from the truth, especially in the third act once Project Starfish is revealed and certain truths are brought up. It’s a brave decision for the film to make but it’s one of the aspects I loved most about it, that not only did the film decide to take that route, but actively built itself to make that route work , leading to some very shocking and well-earned story subversions.
After five years, Suicide Squad isn’t even funny to joke about anymore, the hula-hooping villain, the half-baked storyline, the tragedy of Darth Slipknot The Useless, all the jokes have been done to death and it’s only remembered as the introduction to Robbie’s perfectly cast Quinn. It was DC’s answer to Guardians and the answer was wrong. Now though, The Suicide Squad takes that formula, adds in an unhindered James Gunn and not only makes it work, but makes it work THIS well. From it’s madcap story equal parts ridiculous and surprising, to it’s plethora of oddball characters with Robbie’s insane Quinn, Melchior’s heartfelt Cleo, Cena’s dickhead Peacemaker, Elba’s gruff DuBois, Dastmalchain’s sympathetic Krill and the adorable people eater Nanaue all being amazing stand-outs of an amazing cast, all of whom can be argued as the best part of the film and all would be the right answer. And the whole thing handled with the carefully crafted madness of James Gunn who delivers hilarity, politics, shocks and an emotional core altogether with room for all to have their moment to shine. This isn’t just the best DCEU film to date, this is one of the most entertaining comic-books films out there and a clear indication of what DC needs to be doing, embracing both the adult themes of their reality as well as the campy nature of comic-books and playing both against each other.
I am giving The Suicide Squad a 4 ½ out of 5 Hairpieces !