Synopsis: Supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X as they are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.
Stars: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Joaquín Cosío, Juan Diego Botto, Storm Reid, Nathan Fillion, Taika Waititi, Steve Agee, Flula Borg
Director: James Gunn
Running Length: 132 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Oh, sweet swampland did I hate 2016’s Suicide Squad. A real trash heap of a film from a talented director with a stellar line-up of A+ leads, a B+ supporting cast, and a B- set of comic-book characters to work with. No, the Suicide Squad wasn’t an area of DC Comics that I was familiar with before I saw the film, but you can see the attraction fans had for these oddballs – it’s the same reason why the similarly jokey (but far better) Deadpool went over so well with audiences. People like to root for the underdog, even if, and maybe even sometimes especially if, they are the villain.
While that PG-13 rated film failed to capitalize on the red-carpet Wonder Woman had rolled out just months earlier, Warner Brothers wasn’t quite ready to throw the towel in and they made a bold move by following-up the first film with a sequel that also serves as a semi-reboot in the process. Nabbing director James Gunn after he was briefly axed by Disney from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, the studio gained a legion of fans from the Marvel franchise who rejoiced that someone had plucked one of their favorite directors up after he had been (apparently) done wrong.
The resulting effort is The Suicide Squad and after five years it looks like Warner Brothers and DC Comics are nearly back in business, but not quite yet. With the success of an R-rated cut of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the studio is more comfortable letting their films carry that restricted rating because it has proven to be what fans want. (It also doesn’t deter children from seeing the film. At my press screening, I can’t tell you how “overjoyed” I was to see so many parents bring their little children to this hard-R film. Congrats, all!) With an abundance of grisly gore and language that would make the Squad from sanitized feeling 2016 blush, this crew is way more amped up and ready to play than the previous iteration and that admittedly makes for a more entertaining ride.
Audiences are in for a surprise at the beginning of the film because nothing is quite what it seems…or how the movie has been marketed up until now. I’ll leave it at that, and you can read between the lines in my review if you want to know more about what that means in terms of who is in the film and for how long. Returning from the original film is Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, RoboCop), leading a group of skilled supervillains including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, I, Tonya) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney, Jack Reacher) to an island nation on the orders of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom). The leader of the country with friendly relations to the United States has been murdered, along with his family and now a top-secret weapon is at risk of falling into the hands of revolutionaries who don’t know what kind of power they could wield.
New to the team are Peacemaker (John Cena, in his second franchise film of the summer after F9: The Fast Saga) and Bloodsport (Idris Elba, Concrete Cowboy), two alpha males forced to work together who each try to outdo one another when it comes to killing the most bad guys. Add in King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone, Creed), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, Prisoners) and your rag-tag team of the strange and unusual but highly deadly is mostly complete. They’ll find they need to rely on each other and their individual strengths (some they were born with, some thrust upon them) when faced with an enemy that’s truly out of this world.
It’s easy to draw a line from the misfit crew in Guardians of the Galaxy all the way over to the denizens of the maximum-security prisons where The Suicide Squad does its recruiting, so Gunn makes a natural fit for these proceedings. What doesn’t quite work all the time is the film’s overcompensation for having an elevated rating this time around. Brandishing it’s more adult rating instead of doling it out with some style, it’s often sloppy and slappy instead of sharp like it should be. The first fifteen minutes of the movie are legitimately terrible, and I was honestly dreading what was to come next, but then Gunn makes a move I didn’t see coming and suddenly I was interested again. From that point on I felt like more engaging characters were brought in with increasingly raised stakes.
By now, it’s official that Elba is a bona-fide star and this only hammers that point home. How they missed the window of opportunity to have him take over as James Bond is simply beyond me (or is it not too late?). He can do action, drama, comedy, you name it and he gets the chance to flex all those muscles here and then some. In her third outing as the demented former flame of the Joker, Robbie continues to fine tune the role and even if 2020’s Birds of Prey was a better showcase, she’s no second banana here either. I was left a little cold by Cena earlier this summer in F9: The Fast Saga but he’s a lot of fun here as an all-business killer for hire that does it all in the name of peace. Gunn’s casting of Stallone as the Great White Shark looking for “num-num” is inspired and he easily steals the show with the least number of (full and coherent) sentences spoken out of anyone. Kudos also to Davis for truly going for it this time out. Davis rarely gets the chance to play these kinds of women and as morally challenged as Amanda Waller was in the 2016 film, she’s far more in the muck of it all in this one.
I guess my biggest stumbling block with both this film and its predecessor is that I just haven’t yet warmed to this branch of the DC Universe. While I found this team to be much easier to get along with than the last one, I still don’t like the vibe that has permeated both movies. A little of that same vibe was even present in the Guardians films so maybe it’s just a case of preferring my superheroes/villains more on the traditional side of things and less on the outskirts of society. The Suicide Squad can hold its head high because it rights many of the wrongs that were done back in 2016, but it also needs to reconcile the fact that this team can’t even hold a candle to the likes of Batman and Superman in my book.
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