Don’t let the the lackluster 2016 comic book movie Suicide Squad prevent you from seeing the just released The Suicide Squad from writer/director James Gunn. While keeping a couple of holdover actors from the first film – Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney and Joel Kinnaman – Gunn has rebuilt the franchise from the ground up. If anything, the new film’s first action sequence is a direct statement of purpose from Gunn, severing The Suicide Squad from director David Ayers’s Suicide Squad and establishing this new iteration as it’s own, ferocious beast.
When there is some dirty, most likely amoral and illegal black ops needs to be done, the intelligence community turns to Amanda Waller (Viola) and her Task Force X, a group of incarcerated supervillains who work time off of their sentences by participating in potentially deadly black ops missions. When Waller sends out one of these “suicide squads” to the South American island nation of Corto Maltese, which had just undergone a military junta, they deal with allies who turn out to be enemies, enemies who turn out to be allies and discover that their mission objective is far larger than they thought.
There is a temptation to draw a parallel between the misfits that banded together in Gunn’s two Guardians Of The Galaxy movies he has done for Marvel Studios abd the ones here, and you would have some valid points. Both groups of characters are in need of some sort of redemption whether they know it or not. And they do manage to find it in their own unexpected ways.
But with The Suicide Squad, Gunn is playing fast and loose with some of the goofier aspects of DC Comics characters and canon – my inner comic book reading, 12-year-old self is stunned that goofy characters like Polka Dot Man and Starro the Conqueror are showing up in a big budget Hollywood film – while not laboring under any need to connect the proceedings with a larger, multi-film franchise storyline. We know that the Squad exists in the same cinematic playground as Henry Cavill’s Superman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and the rest, but what is going on over in this little corner of that world is its own delightfully weird little thing.
Gunn is certainly having a ball here, freed from the constraint of having to cleave to the overall Disney family entertainment ethos while working at Marvel Studios. This is a movie that gleefully earns its R rating, with a darkly comic tone that is closer in spirit to the director’s 2010 film Super than it is to his Marvel output.
But Gunn’s script is not just about crazy action sequences and letting his characters’ freak flags fly. While Idris Elba’s Bloodsport may at first feel like a light rewrite of Will Smith’s Deadshot character from the 2016 film, Gunn’s screenplay explores the character’s relationship with his daughter and how that impacts with certain members of his team. The script also takes time to give solid character arcs to what would normally be considered D-list comic book charactera like Ratcatcher and the aforementioned Polka Dot Man. These characters are broken people and again, family issues abound and are addressed. It is this level of attention and care that gives the film its real heart and humanity amidst all the crazy comic book action, over-the-top gore and jokes. It is a potent cocktail and marks The Suicide Squad as perhaps the best of the DC Comics-based films since 2017’s Wonder Woman if not the entire cureent cycle of films from DC overall.