The Suicide Squad
The DC Extended Universe gives its crew of supervillain criminals a big-screen do-over — and the resulting film is lively, raucous and well-cast, but also repetitive and average.
New decade, new director, new word in the title — and a mostly new cast, too. That's The Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe's new effort to keep viewers immersed in its sprawling superhero franchise, which keeps coming second in hearts, minds and box-office success to Marvel's counterpart. Revisiting a concept last seen in 2016's Suicide Squad, the new flick also tries to blast its unloved precursor's memory from everyone's brains. That three-letter addition to the title? It doesn't just ignore The Social Network's quote about the English language's most-used term, but also attempts to establish this film as the definitive vision of its ragtag supervillain crew. To help, Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker James Gunn joins the fold, his Troma-honed penchant for horror, comedy and gore is let loose, and a devil-may-care attitude is thrust to the fore. But when your main aim is to one-up the derided last feature with basically the same name, hitting your target is easy — and fulfilling that mission, even with irreverence and flair, isn't the same as making a great or especially memorable movie.
A film about cartoonish incarcerated killers doing the US government's dirty work — one throws polka dots, one controls rats and one is a giant shark — The Suicide Squad is silly and goofy. Welcomely, that comes with the territory this time. In another OTT touch, if these fiends disobey orders, no-nonsense black-ops agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) explodes their heads. And yet, even when a supersized space starfish gets stompy (think: SpongeBob SquarePants' best bud Patrick if he grew up and got power-hungry), this sequel-slash-do-over is never as gleefully absurd as it should be. Again and again, that's how The Suicide Squad plays out. It's funny, but also so enamoured with its juvenile humour that it tickles the same beats and spits out the same profanities with repetition. It sports an anarchic vibe, yet sticks to a tried-and-tested narrative formula. It ruthlessly slaughters recognisable characters, while also leaving no surprises about who'll always remain its stars. Visually, it's flashy and punchy, and never messy or overblown, but it splashes similar flourishes across the screen like a pattern. The Suicide Squad screams "hey, I'm not that other movie!!!!!!!!!". It's right, thankfully. But simply not being that other film earns far too much of its focus.
Mischief abounds from the outset — mood-wise, at least — including when Waller teams up Suicide Squad's Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, The Secrets We Keep), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, Honest Thief) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, Dreamland) with a few new felons for a trip to the fictional Corto Maltese. Because this movie has that extra word in its title, it soon switches to another troupe reluctantly led by mercenary Bloodsport (Idris Elba, Concrete Cowboy), with fellow trained killer Peacemaker (John Cena, Fast and Furious 9) and the aforementioned Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, Bird Box), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, Valor da Vida) and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone, Rambo: Last Blood) also present. Their task: to sneak into a tower on the South American island. Under the guidance of The Thinker (Peter Capaldi, The Personal History of David Copperfield), alien experiment Project Starfish has been underway there for decades (and yes, Gunn makes time for a butthole joke). Waller has charged her recruits to destroy the secret test, all to ensure it isn't used by the violent faction that's just taken over Corto Maltese via a bloody coup.
Jumping to DC in-between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy: Holiday Special and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — a move sparked when Disney temporarily fired him from the Marvel realm after tasteless old tweets resurfaced — Gunn pens The Suicide Squad's screenplay, too. Plot isn't the film's big drawcard, with the writer/director sketching out a threadbare setup that lets his main players bust out their key traits and lets him display his playful action-filmmaking skills. Cue scant backstories to give Bloodsport and company some depth, just as cursory nods to western intervention in other countries, plenty of frays littered with viscera and peppered with gross-out sight gags, and a movie that's all about surface pleasures. Whenever a character strikes a chord emotionally, Gunn is happy to tap that note briefly but repeatedly, for instance. Viewers keep being reminded of the same basic attributes and themes over and over, but wrapped in spirited and eye-catching visual slickness. Some touches are pitch-perfect, like the floral aesthetic evident during one of Quinn's killing sprees. Others are stylish padding, as seen in her dalliance with Corto Maltese's new dictator Luna (Juan Diego Botto, The European). The pervasive sensation: that witnessing these characters crack wise and spill guts in a showy, anything-goes fashion is meant to be something inherently special.
Sometimes, Gunn's gambit works in the moment. Overall, however, The Suicide Squad's charms are fleeting. It's the better movie of its moniker, it never manages to match Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) for fun, and it isn't ever as enjoyably ridiculous as fellow DCEU flick Aquaman, either. Of course, superhero stories are always about polarised extremes, even now they're Hollywood's favourite big-screen format. They pit the very best against the absolute worst, with names on both sides standing apart from regular ol' humanity due to supernatural forces, genetic enhancement, experiments gone right or wrong, or otherworldly sources. These figures tussle over the fate of the world to save it for normal folks in movie after movie, but little attention is paid to anyone that's just ordinary. Being standard and average is something to fight for and then sweep past, even though that's where so many superhero and supervillain movies ultimately land themselves. Indeed, a film can be funny and lively, use its main faces (that'd be Elba and Robbie) well, have a few nice moments with its supporting cast (Dastmalchian, Melchior and Stallone, particularly) and improve on its predecessor, and yet still fall into a routine, unsuccessfully wade into murky politics, never capitalise upon its premise or promise, keep rehashing the same things, and just be average, too — and right now, that film is The Suicide Squad.