Review: 'The Suicide Squad,' finally, some bloody fun in the DC Cinematic Universe
The DC Comics Cinematic Universe (DCCU) is always playing catch-up to its way cooler, much more interesting big brother, The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Thus far, it's been a dark and dreary go: Films from "Man of Steel" all the way through the ludicrously loud and over-saturated "Wonder Woman 1984" have experimented with different tones and angles, and none have really worked all that well in crafting a cohesive universe.
So instead of re-inventing the wheel, writer/director James Gunn takes a previous formula and shakes it up a bit, and it's a pretty delicious concoction. While the new "The Suicide Squad" shares a name with the 2016 "Suicide Squad" film, it is actually a closer spiritual cousin to "The Guardians of the Galaxy" films...films that Gunn knows all too well, since he wrote and directed both of them.
In making "The Suicide Squad," its inhabitants and the universe they exist in way less serious than most every other DCCU movie to date, he basically creates a bloodier, more comically violent anti-version of "The Guardians of the Galaxy" films, and in doing so, he brings something to the DCCU that it has yet to experience: A sense of FUN.
The 2016 "Suicide Squad" was an admitted disaster (although like Zack Snyder's "Justice League," there are now those clamoring for a director's cut, with blame landing on the studio itself for butchering David Ayer's version of the film). That movie was tonally a mess, and will probably go down in history for having only done one real service to the DCCU, in that it gave us Margot Robbie's psychopathic sweetheart, Harley Quinn, a fan-favorite from other mediums who went on to star in her own film (2020's "Birds of Prey").
Harley Quinn is back, and she's not the only one. Also returning from the 2016 "Suicide Squad" film is Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney).
"The Suicide Squad" keeps alive the same basic premise of the super-villain team: Waller, a federal agent, puts together a rag-tag group of scoundrels to carry-out Black Ops missions on behalf of the U.S government. In return, many of them will find their own prison sentences reduced, or will be granted other favors. Each of the villains have a chip planted in their heads that she can cause to explode should they stray off-mission, which keeps these dishonorable men and women (and creatures) in-line.
Besides the returning characters, the 2016 film is not even referenced or mentioned, making this feel like, for all intents and purposes, more of a "reboot" than the actual sequel that it is. This time, the highly-skilled assassin, Bloodsport (Idris Elba), is tasked with leading his Squad to a remote island, to destroy a top-secret space creature that is being kept in a tower (this creature is Starro, a laughable-yet-cult-favorite character, a giant mind-controlling starfish, that first appeared in the comic books back in 1960).
Flag, Boomerang and Quinn are involved in the new mission, and we meet some fresh Squad members: Ratcatcher 2 (Daneila Melchior), who can control the rat population...Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), a deeply troubled guy who literally hurls deadly polka dots at his enemies, and who sees his mother in every adversary...Peacemaker (John Cena), whose abilities match that of Bloodsport...and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), a shark-humanoid with an impenetrable skin, who lacks intelligence (King Shark is the "Groot" of the film, and is destined to become a fan-favorite). There are also some other baddies, like Mongal (Mayling Ng), Javelin (Flula Borg), T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), Blackguard (Pete Davidson) and the mysterious Weasel (Sean Gunn), in the mix.
"Suicide Squad" never pretends to be anything other than a silly superhero movie about a group of "deplorables" hunting down a giant alien starfish. It's extremely funny, so the entertainment value is plentiful...at times, it feels more like satire of the superhero genre more than a film existing in the genre itself. And just like in his previous films, James Gunn finds a way to let each of his characters breathe, where they all have their moments to shine. It eventually becomes about the characters, so much so that you don't really care if the premise is plausible at all, or even that it fits within what we already have come to know about the DCCU.
I'd go so far as to say that the Cinematic Universe created in "Suicide Squad" is leaps and bounds more interesting than anything else that has been done to date in the DCCU...it's almost deflating when you realize that King Shark or Weasel actually exists in the same universe as Aquaman or Wonder Woman.
Idris Elba and Viola Davis are such great actors, they are almost over-qualified for a film like this. But because of their talents, they ground the film in a dramatic reality. John Cena is great when he's allowed to let his comedic juices flow, but he almost doesn't need to do anything...his Peacemaker costume is so ridiculous and hilarious that we're already laughing by the time he even opens his mouth. Even Ratcatcher 2 - who possesses perhaps the lamest super power of all, even in a universe where another guy throws polka dots at people - is one of the more endearing characters on screen.
From a character perspective, the greatest gift that "Suicide Squad" gives us is it finally - FINALLY! - makes good use of Harley Quinn. Thus far, she's been an incredibly cool character stuck in lesser films that don't deserve her. She's finally given room to work her charms (even more than in "Birds of Prey," an entire movie centered around her), and she continues to be the through-line of the DCCU.
"Suicide Squad" is bloody and often unexpectedly laugh-out-loud funny. It's leaps and bounds better than the last version, and there are finally some decent characters populating the DCCU that don't have permanent scowls on their faces. Gunn has made this movie fun even if formulaic, and in doing so, he may have not only saved The Suicide Squad, but he's perhaps resuscitated the DCCU itself.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy.
Run Time: 2 hours 12 minutes.
Starring: Idris Elba, John Cena, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, (voice of) Sylvester Stallone, Jai Courtney, Pete Davidson.
Written and Directed by James Gunn ("Guardians of the Galaxy," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Super").
"Suicide Squad" is in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday, August 6th, 2021.
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