Let’s all just pretend that the original Suicide Squad movie never happened, okay? I’m so ready to do that, especially now that I’ve seen James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, which pairs up well with his Guardians of the Galaxy for fun comic-book movies about teams of antiheroes with off-brand superpowers. The Suicide Squad is now way more fun than the Justice League, which is how things should have been from the start.
The movie begins with much of the top-billed cast being slaughtered in the opening scene. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends a B team to rescue the remnants of the A team — which includes the commander (Joel Kinnaman) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) — and destroy a U.S. scientific research facility in a fictitious Caribbean island nation called Corto Maltese, which has just had its government toppled by an anti-American military coup. The misfit heroes include super-snipers Bloodsport and Peacemaker (Idris Elba and John Cena), the rodent-controlling Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), the descriptively named Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), a half-human, half-shark creature who has to be trained not to eat the other Squad members.
Gunn’s madcap sense of humor is such an improvement over the complete humorlessness of the original movie. Robbie remains helplessly funny, as Harley’s scatterbrainedness reaches Brick Tamland levels — while other members of the Squad walk by a mad scientists (Peter Capaldi) uttering threats, she does the same while saying, “I’m walking back and forth!” The alpha-male pissing match between Bloodsport and Peacemaker yields its share of comedy, too, as the former taunts the latter about his metal helmet: “You’re wearing a toilet seat on your head!” Peacemaker fires back: “It’s a beacon of freedom!” All the members of the new Squad generate laughs: Polka-Dot Man is squeamish about killing people but freely admits that he manages murder by imagining that his victims are all his mother. As you might guess from that, Gunn isn’t afraid to go dark for his laughs in this R-rated film, and there is a twisted romantic interlude when Corto Maltese’s new dictator (Juan Diego Botto) woos Harley and proposes marriage to her, which leads to a violent sex scene where the two of them break everything in his office. You won’t see that in a Marvel film.
Better still, the movie realizes that Amanda is a veritable monster, as anyone would be who recruits soldiers against their will and blatantly treats them as disposable. Here, she brags about her prison having America’s highest mortality rate and forces Bloodsport to join the Squad by threatening the life of his teenage daughter (Storm Reid). Even Amanda’s office staff, who are a bunch of chuckleheads, are appalled. Gunn dials up some creative fight sequences when Harley turns the tables on a Corto Maltesian torturer and when one of the Squad betrays the group, and the resulting fight is seen reflected in Peacemaker’s helmet. Characters come to some truly grisly ends, and Gunn knows how to play those for both laughs and horror as needed. The group winds up fighting a kaiju in the streets, and it’s an impressive creature indeed.
The Suicide Squad is not the first DC movie to hold actual entertainment value; that honor went to Shazam. However, its foulmouthed energy gives new life to the superhero genre, which has threatened to become too stolid attempting to appeal to the kids. If Warner Bros. can follow in the raunchy, anarchic footsteps of this and Birds of Prey, then this series can be a real alternative to Marvel. That would really liven things up.
The Suicide Squad
Starring Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, and John Cena. Written and directed by James Gunn. Rated R.