After failing to generate a full-fledged spinoff franchise in 2016, Warner Brothers and DC Comics return to the villain-turned-reluctant-hero well for a second time with The Suicide Squad, a film that adds a word to the title and far brighter, more inventive filmmaking.
Director James Gunn, who’s largely responsible for making an obscure Marvel comic book into its own successful movie series with Guardians of the Galaxy, comes on board to write and direct the most irreverent, brutal and entertaining film in the entire DC Extended Universe.
While it’s not quite on the level of top end Marvel movies, The Suicide Squad is far superior to the overly bland and unnecessarily dark David Ayer film Suicide Squad and continues the upward trajectory of the DC franchise as a whole.
The sequel’s premise is much like the 2016 original as a covert U.S. government operation aims to tackle the most dangerous missions by extorting imprisoned super-villains to risk their lives in exchange for reduced prison sentences. While the mission to destroy “Project Starfish” on a remote island nation serves as the plot device driving the film forward, The Suicide Squad relies heavily on putting its terrific ensemble cast in ridiculous situations and allowing the humor and violence to carry the weight.
Margot Robbie returns as the infamous Harley Quinn, the lone standout of the original film and one of the few survivors. Much like the 2016 installment, Robbie isn’t the focus of the storyline nor a central character, but her performance draws so much attention with the relentless chaotic energy that she brings to Quinn.
It isn’t the best version of the character; her turn in the role for last year’s Birds of Prey brought far more development and growth that allowed Robbie to sink her teeth into the material. Her scenes exude a manic-like frenzy state that rationalize delusions and yet there’s a sweet innocence lying under the surface that endears Quinn to the audience in a way unlike any other character.
Idris Elba and Joel Kinnaman carry the burden of driving the narrative forward with functional, yet underdeveloped military characters that hold the unlikely team together towards their mission, while Sylvester Stallone is a gem providing the voice of the tank-like King Shark that will likely be audiences’ favorite new member of the team.
Among the new additions, the most talked about will be John Cena’s alpha-male, American vigilante bravado fueled work as Peacemaker, a shoot-first, ask-questions later sort of a guy meant to symbolize imperialism and be a direct political commentary that will alienate a large percentage of the potential viewing audience.
That being said, it’s among Cena’s strongest acting performances as he is able to channel a character meant to be reviled or rooted for depending on the perspective and Cena has the comic timing to land some of the film’s funniest lines while maintaining a very rigid delivery that accentuates the “what if G.I. Joe had no morals” vision for the character.
Gunn’s film impresses the most from a visual standpoint, where his innovative use of cinematography provides a fresh perspective on the comic book film genre. These are especially impactful in long, continuous action sequences where the camera naturally pans through the chaos and in one late fight shown in the reflection of a hero’s helmet.
There’s also a demonstrative, considered use of brighter colors that are both harder to pull off with the CGI used in the film and much more rewarding as action sequences are easier to understand from an audience perspective and feel more spectacular when not shrouded in darkness like so many superhero films opt to do.
As DC films go – and especially in comparison to the first Suicide Squad film – Gunn’s iteration is exceptionally violent, more than earning its R rating with a disregard for the brutality of murdering endless swarms of nameless goons or blowing a villain away at close range and scattering his brains across the frame.
The Suicide Squad goes far out of its way to suggest to audiences that they are in for something different from the outset and the tone reminiscent of the irreverent Deadpool films from Ryan Reynolds is more than a knowing nod. Younger children who may have been allowed to see Aquaman or the two Wonder Woman films should not see Gunn’s film for the violence alone, although the adult humor and occasional sexual innuendo isn’t to be scoffed at either.
The Suicide Squad is well worth a trip to theaters for those interested in a big screen experience and there’s no less enjoyment to be had for those opting to catch Gunn’s film in the privacy of their own homes streaming on HBO Max.