Warner Bros. Pictures’ first stab at a live-action “Suicide Squad” may not have been well-received due to studio interference, imitating a successful IP from a comic book studio rival, and mishandling of the editing process. But “The Suicide Squad” proves that if the film is in the right hands, it can be a pulse-pounding kaleidoscope of bloody chaos and mayhem layered with gratuitous violence, comedy, heart, and music. And the irony of it all is that the sequel/soft reboot about a bunch of misfit characters who go on black ops missions to get their prison sentence reduced comes from the mind of James Gunn, the person the first film tried to emulate.
Once again, the US Government needs the Suicide Squad, a secret black ops team comprised of supervillain convicts, to go on a dangerous mission in exchange for reduced prison sentences. This time Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Harley Quinn (Margo Robbie), Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), Peacemaker (John Cena) King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and others to infiltrate the remote of island Corto Maltese to kill an alien entity known as Starro the conqueror. Led by Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), the Suicide Squad comes to find out that this mission is full of dirty little secrets and hidden agendas. Despite that, they go against their criminal behavior to save the world from certain doom.
It won’t take too much to surpass the original, directed by David Ayers, since it set such a low bar that all it takes is to step over it. But James Gunn raises the bar so high that it will be nearly impossible to reach. That’s because “The Suicide Squad” is this wonderfully layered rainbow that shines with layers of action, music, comedy, heart, and unpredictability. Finding that balance of tones isn’t easy, especially when it’s filled with supervillains. However, Gunn finds us empathizing with these villains by adding an emotional element that gives them depth and allows the audience to connect with them on a deeper level.
That resonance is almost impossible to achieve considering that these supervillains commit crimes ranging from robbery to murder. Still, Gunn takes the time to flesh out their stories and reveal what put them on this path. Not only that, but for a film that’s full of crazy, nearly unheard of villains and classic alien baddies, the film recognizes how absurd all of it can be and has no problem taking itself too seriously or be self-deprecating.
Gunn was given free rein to do what he wanted with this cast of characters, which meant many would meet inevitable (glorious and very gruesome) deaths. Of course, as the team watches their members die in a style that only befits a film like “The Suicide Squad,” we get to see the survivors’ dynamics and personalities. Harley Quinn is back, and she is as deranged yet wholesome as ever. Given that DCEU fans have spent the most time with her, it only makes sense that she has the most development. This time around, she recognizes the red flags that trigger her because of her past traumas. Then there is the battle of egos between Bloodsport and Peacemaker. The two may have different goals – Bloodsport kills for the money. While Peacemaker will do anything to achieve peace, even if that means killing babies or eating a beach full of dicks, their characteristics are similar. King Shark is just an endearing but also terrifying walking shark looking for a friend. Ratcatcher II is the atypical millennial who can control rats with a device given to her by her father (Taika Waititi).
Honestly, a team comprised of D-list villains and lesser-known criminals works in a film like this because it lowers our expectations of their live-action portrayals. Some of the returning characters have changed, most notably Harley Quinn, who has evolved the most considering we’ve seen her go through awful traumas and powerful emancipation. Rick Flagg also returns, and he is still that by the book patriot who has built more of a platonic rapport with Quinn. Then there’s Waller, who is still as diabolical as ever with her secret hidden agendas and cold-heartedness.
This wonderful collection of terrible misfits may seem like just another ensemble film, but the thing that makes it work is that Gunn avoids the generic superhero formula that has that dull end of the world trope and turns in something with heart while also adding that 80s buck wild energy. Despite their criminal pasts, which are pretty dark and deplorable things that they have done, Gunn finds humanity in all of them and gives each a fully-fleshed out story that gives them better characterizations than the villains of the first “Suicide Squad.”
And a lot of that comes through characters like Bloodsport, who is serving jail time for attempting to kill Superman with a kryptonite bullet. He has an unorthodox way of pushing his daughter away to avoid her following in his footsteps, which includes telling her that she’s stupid for not having a good plan to steal a style watch or that she was a secret kept hidden away from him. Then there’s Ratcatcher II, a young criminal with a child-like soul, who not only finds the humanity within someone as endearing yet simple-minded as King Shark but also has a tragic history. And then there’s Polka-Dot Man’s own trauma stemming from his mother, who tried to turn his entire family into superheroes through laboratory experimentation.
While Harley Quinn has played the central figure on the villain’s side for most of the DECU, “The Suicide Squad” gives a chance for other characters to prove their worth and show that they are of value even if the comics have cast them aside. For example, Elba may play the cold-hearted mercenary, but he also plays the reluctant father figure and leader of the team. While that stems from his relationship with his daughter, we see his character development as the mission progresses and the dynamics between himself and his team members, specifically Ratcatcher II and her royal rat companion Sebastian. Not only that, he often butts heads with Peacemaker, who often says he will do anything in the name of peace, by comparing the size of his gun and bullets, and killing methods. And that is hilariously visualized when they infiltrate a rebel camp.
For a film built on humanizing supervillains, “The Suicide Squad” never forgets that its characters are supervillains. And Gunn lets their villainy shine through their actions and personalities and gives them a chance to go against their type. For instance, King Shark has this nasty habit of eating people, yet Gunn finds that despite his monstrous appearance, he is just like any other human who longs for a connection. But watching him chew on human skulls surely brings the laughs.
It’s not hard to believe that “The Suicide Squad” can be this vulgar and bloody but still can work. Gunn transports fans and audiences to a place where only those concepts can work. Corto Maltese is that old-school militarized country that oppresses its people and uses its dissidents, journalists, and political rivals as laboratory victims or symbols. As such, our so-called heroes have to be as heavily armed and crazed bloodthirsty killers as their enemies. Bloodsport uses his armor to assemble killer weapons like rifles, handguns, and flame throwers. It’s fun to see how he gets himself into dick-measuring contests whenever Peacemaker tries to one-up him. And because the setting is earthly, it grounds the action sequences giving it a nostalgic feel while also utilizing the set pieces to let these characters run wild and crazy.
And because it’s a James Gunn comic book movie, there’s going to be a killer soundtrack. But don’t expect it to be anything like his previous films, which visited different eras and had its distinct personalities to fit the mother and father figures. “The Suicide Squad” is something wholly unique that matches its 80s action vibe and has a combination of grit, love, a dash of international and hip-hop, and some headbanging rocking tones.
While “The Suicide Squad” may not be entirely original in its presentation, it is how Gunn finds the heart in the supervillains and embraces the wild vibe of the story that makes everything work. The script is as whip-smart as it is funny. And the action sequences are on a whole other level as it reminds us of those gritty 80s action flicks and still being very much a comic book movie of today. Above all, it is a soft reboot and sequel that reminds us that these comic book movies can be something else if in the right hands. They can be gems.