Taking a break from directing a mainstream-friendly Marvel movie (don’t worry, he’ll be back for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’), James Gunn made its DC debut in ‘The Suicide Squad’, which is sort of a redo of David Ayer’s critically reviled but financially successful ‘Suicide Squad’ that was released five years ago — never mind the fact it features some of the cast reprising their roles from the first film (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Joel Kinnaman’s Colonel Rick Flag, Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, and Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller).
‘The Suicide Squad’ is hardly a sequel or a direct continuation and it’s best seen as a standalone film. Personally, I would prefer if Gunn chose to make this as a sequel because a redo, reboot, or whatever you want to call it is frankly unnecessary. Or maybe it’s just me because the first ‘Suicide Squad’ wasn’t as bad as they say. Sure, the first film did suffer from a few shortcomings, namely haphazard editing choices and underwritten characters (Karen Fukuhara’s Katana and Adam Beach’s Slipknot quickly came to mind). But it has its moments, particularly the well-curated soundtrack, and Margot Robbie and Will Smith were both spot-on as Harley Quinn and Deadshot respectively. Too bad the latter is not returning in James Gunn’s version due to scheduling conflicts.
Instead of recasting Will Smith’s Deadshot, Gunn at least made the right move of introducing Idris Elba as Bloodsport, who also happened to possess the same sharpshooting skill of a world-class marksman. In this 2021 redo, Amanda Waller placed him in charge of a mission to locate the evil scientist called the Thinker (Peter Capaldi) in the fictional Latin American island country of Corto Maltese, a mastermind behind the scientific experiment of Project Starfish. And of course, destroy everything is related to the project.
Joining Bloodsport in the mission include a team of oddball characters, beginning with the helmet-wearing Peacemaker (John Cena) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), who can communicate and control rodents. There are others too including Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who dresses up in a funny polka-dot costume and can literally shoot colorful polka dots, and finally, Nanaue (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), a walking-and-talking Great White Shark in a humanoid body with superhuman strength and a huge nom-nom appetite for human meat.
Getting James Gunn on board for a team-up film like ‘The Suicide Squad’ is nevertheless a smart choice, given his prior experience in making such films in the first two ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. Here, he even gets to embrace his B-movie sensibility in all its R-rated glory. One that is gleefully violent, gory, and profane. Gunn, who also wrote the script, had a field day injecting as much irreverent and nasty fun as possible with reckless abandon. The opening sequence involving the first team led by Flag infiltrating the Corto Maltese beach is among the prime examples here, complete with WTF moments (look out for the character who called himself T.D.K. played by Gunn’s best friend Nathan Fillion).
The whole ‘Dirty Dozen’-like men-on-a-mission storytelling approach tends to hit a few bumps here and there, with the film’s 132-minute length stretches too long for its own good. A tighter pace would do the film a better favor. The needle-drop soundtrack, in the meantime, which should have been right in Gunn’s wheelhouse (his ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ films were the proof for that) is surprisingly less memorable this time around.
But if you can look past some of those shortcomings, ‘The Suicide Squad’ remains an improvement upon David Ayer’s 2016 version. The action is well-staged with enough verve (the elaborate sequence where Harley single-handedly takes down a small army is worth mentioning here) while the special effects aren’t as mindblowing as I would expect for a comic-book film these days. Speaking of the latter, credits must go to the seamless CG character of Nanaue as well as the extended effects-heavy finale.
The ensemble cast is just as great, where Gunn is making good use of Margot Robbie’s perfectly zany turn as Harley Quinn while Idris Elba pulls off a typically charismatic performance as Bloodsport. The rest such as David Dastmalchian and Sylvester Stallone both deliver hilariously deadpan performances as Polka-Dot Man and Nanaue respectively. Let’s not forget about John Cena, who plays Peacemaker and Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2, where the latter gives the otherwise crazily brutal film a much-needed heart and soul. Although Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller spent the majority of her screentime in a control room monitoring her squad’s mission, Gunn still gives her enough room (no pun intended) to shine with her fiercely authoritative role. And as in Gunn’s film, his frequent collaborator Michael Rooker shows up in a memorable cameo as the disgruntled Savant.
Remember not to leave your cinema seat or click away (if you are streaming this on HBO Max) since ‘The Suicide Squad’ wants you to stick around with a post-credits teaser.
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