By its very nature, the characters of the Suicide Squad were meant to upend the usual superhero cliché. These aren’t the good guys, they’re “the worst of the worst,” forced to fight on the right team in exchange for their freedom. They’ve always danced the impossible line between anti-heroes and villains and are deployed often as a way to lampoon the people in charge. James Gunn’s take on these characters, The Suicide Squad, reads more as a prank on the audience than a coherent satire of superhero culture itself.
James Gunn has picked up the reins left dangling by David Ayer who helmed Suicide Squad (2016). Since his kick at the can, Harley Quinn has spent some time with the Birds of Prey and Batman, Superman, and Joker have had their own wild rides. Now, with just a smattering of the original squad members, Gunn is taking a turn at refreshing the whole bit with a new colour pallet and more jokes. It’s a sequel, no matter what the title might accidentally suggest, and spends just enough time nodding to the “Amanda Waller exposition” of it all to catch new viewers up to speed. She’s putting together a special team, Task Force X.
From the top, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is deep into her shtick of slinking criminals out of Belle Reve prison and thrusting them into deadly assignments. In exchange for their freedom, specially selected convicted criminals can make up a task force to carry out top secret and often deadly missions. The first crack involved Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Deadshot (Will Smith), and some others all lead by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).
Such is the nature of being disposable, only some creatures are back to fight again. This time, they’re being led by Bloodsport (Idris Elba), who we swear isn’t a Deadshot replacement just because he is also a sharpshooter who is also motivated by his daughter and is also a reluctant leader. The mission, whether they choose to accept it, is to infiltrate a secret government weapons facility in a country mired by a coup and destroy files and keep an asset on lockdown. Aside from the hijinks, the mission is derailed when said asset, a colossal kaiju with a gigantic eyeball and spawn squirting armpits, breaks free, and the squad has to decide whether to be loyal to their country’s government or to save innocent people.
The “who is the real bad guy?” theme can’t help but rear its head when the squad must decide to save innocents or not, but that’s not to suggest the movie takes any massive swings. It’s not the “anti-MCU” sentiment people screech for so much as a shallower but similar exploration of power and corruption seen in Captain America: The Winter Solider. But it doesn’t have to be more than that. All that’s demanded of this kind of flick is a fun romp with some likeable baddies, and it mostly delivers on that premise.
“The performances, however brief as some may be, are what holds The Suicide Squad together.”
The performances, however brief as some may be, are what holds The Suicide Squad together. Robbie’s Quinn steals the spotlight no matter who is speaking (which almost atones for the fact that she’s missing for a lot of the film). Elba as the not-in-the-mood-for-this-shit leader holds the audience’s hand through the hilarious delivery of lines from David Dastmalchian and Sylvester Stallone. There are too many guest appearances to count which all feel like Gunn half pulling the rug out from under us by killing everyone at any time all the time always, and half rubbing in our faces his list of famous friends.
Either way, the joke is on us. If the cinematic universe taught us anything, it’s the value of character setups in getting audiences to care. This ensemble feature doesn’t spend enough time building any rapport between the audience and the characters (and even less between the characters themselves), and the only way we’re made to feel concern is when characters wince from pain or fear. It lends to the expendability of the core cast, but it also keeps the stakes incredibly low.
The pacing is a bit off and the story veers a bit too much when trying to layer in political drama where no one asked for it, but it’s mostly a good way to watch fun characters doing silly and badass things. The faceless kaiju villain isn’t a marked departure from skybeams and CGI Darkseid companions, so it’s really more of the same. Gunn’s fresh take on the gang is a by-the-book same-old tale, but it has some more gags, deaths, and a bit more blood.