The Suicide Squad finally finds itself, under the Gunn
Sometimes you come into a sequel standing on the shoulders of giants. Think Richard Lester’s SUPERMAN II or James Cameron’s ALIENS. With THE SUICIDE SQUAD, James Gunn finds himself in the unenviable position of standing in the hole dug by the previous – bafflingly Oscar-winning – film. Happily, as it turns out, that hole isn’t a grave. Ayer’s for-want-of-a-better-word “vision” was dark, malevolently earnest and deadly serious and, in turn, profoundly cowardly. Gunn, no stranger to comic book weirdness – cosmic or otherwise – is unafraid to confront the absurdity of the premise. Indeed he not only embraces it, he revels in it.
Dispatched by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) on a mission to the south American island of Corto Maltese, Task Force X aka The Suicide Squad takes its ragtag band of Belle Reve inmates on a Rambo-esque mission of destruction. Their target: the Nazi-era laboratory fortress Jotunheim, a towering stone stronghold and site of heinous experiments by The Thinker (Peter Capaldi).
Gleefully gory and possibly the most James Gunn film ever, you can see his entire filmography in THE SUICIDE SQUAD, from SLITHER and SUPER right through to his deft handling of a merry band of misfits honed in a cinematic galaxy not so far, far away. Easily one of, if not the finest movies in the modern DC cinematic era, Gunn manages to balance graphic violence and gore with comedy, action, adventure and even a little pathos, giving some seemingly one-note characters surprising depth and emotional authenticity.
He’s helped enormously by the performances of the whole cast – and boy does he plough through that cast like George R R Martin on a Ritalin binge – who all managed to bring wonderful moments to a cavalcade of likeable actors doing unlikeable things. It’s a much more relaxed and organic introduction to the heroes and zeroes making up THE SUICIDE SQUAD this time around although inevitably it gets a little clunky due to the sheer volume of characters being thrown up (and around) on screen.
Despite the large cast, when Gunn narrows his focus down to just a few characters, it’s unlikely you’ll feel he hasn’t picked the cream of the crop to go the distance with. Idris Elba, John Cena and Daniela Melchior are terrific value and Margot Robbie delivers what might be my favourite Harley Quinn performance to date. King Shark, voiced by Sylvester Stallone, will likely become a firm favourite in the style (but certainly not execution) of Groot and Peter Capaldi is clearly having an absolute ball as The Thinker, placing the character somewhere between his iconic roles as Doctor Who and Malcolm Tucker.
There are plenty of the usual Gunn gimmicks, too, especially in terms of on-screen captions and a hilariously coy scene where Harley Quinn’s rampage sees her almost literally blossom as the on-screen action exceeds even THE SUICIDE SQUAD’s willingness to spill a little blood. True, some of the needle drops aren’t quite a slick or wittily integrated as his other work and the excessive swearing isn’t just indulgent but positively gluttonous, meaning the free-flowingly profane opening scenes result in diminishing returns for the final stretch where they needed to land with a little more punch.
There’s an awkwardness to the haphazardly non-linear structure that belies a slight inability on Gunn’s behalf to ‘kill his darlings’, but they may be the only thing he ends up sparing in this bloody, bonkers, and slyly anti-imperialist adventure that not only raises the bar for superhero action comedies but absolutely justifies its title. When it comes to THE SUICIDE SQUAD on the big screen, this is the definite article.