Working as a combination of big-budget studio apparatus combined with gross-out independent filmmaking, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad provides laughs and action aplenty while providing an odd detour from the rote familiarity of today’s superhero films.
Featuring an ensemble of performers, the titular squad is formed by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) who intends on destroying an experimental laboratory in the fictional country of Corto Maltese. The first team is led by Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) while the secondary team is led by Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Peacemaker (John Cena). The Corto Maltesian government has been overtaken in a coup and Waller wants to control the country in favor of American interests.
Other squad members include Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) and the mastermind behind the laboratory, the Thinker (Peter Capaldi). Along the way, they meet Corto Maltesian rebels led by Sol Soria (Alice Braga), who are attempting to overthrow the newly installed government.
If all that sounds like a lot, it is…but that’s the point. Gunn’s film is all about excess and gore and humor. The jokes are big, the personalities are big, the villains are big, and the locations are big. This is not a film about subtlety, which the opening 15 minutes clearly establishes. Those first 15 minutes are the most important of the film. They establish lots of characters and take them in different places with brash conclusions. By the time we see a flashback with the words “Three Weeks Earlier” written in bubbles on a stainless steel toilet, everything else that happens doesn’t stretch the imagination.
The large cast has some definite standouts. Elba works as the de-facto leader of the group and provides the grounded reality of a human situation on top of the comic-book inspirations the squad have to face. It is a true moviestar performance. Kinnaman, Davis and Robbie all reprise their role from the 2016 film, but all vastly improve on their original incarnations, with Kinnaman getting the most material to chew on. Robbie’s characterization a;so continues to evolve through her third film in the role.
New faces Dastmalchian and Cena are very well cast in their roles to suit their personalities. King Shark’s viciousness paired with his simple-mindedness is a welcome each time he is on screen. Melchior gets the juiciest and most tender role which she embodies beautifully. Ratcatcher 2 is the heart of the film and without Melchior in the role, the film could have reached a much darker place than the tone it balances.
Jokes and blood fly aplenty as the action is well-choreographed and easy to follow. There is a particularly brutal and effective fight with plot implications in the later parts of the film which I won’t spoil. Robbie also gets a chance to show off her physicality in a prolonged action setpiece.
The Suicide Squad doesn’t reinvent the superhero genre, but it does set the DC comic film universe up for success going forward. I had a blast watching it and I will look forward to watching it again. That’s as much as you could ask for in a film like this.