When Suicide Squad came out in 2016, it was almost universally derided as another desultory entry into the DC Extended Universe, one that at that point only included 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. A film that was both too much and not enough, the only good that came out of it was the presence of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, a chaotic character who is one of the few carryovers from that film to the new The Suicide Squad.
Written and directed by James Gunn, the film injects a much-needed sense of fun into the DCEU, which is still trying to find its way despite some moderate success. The plot mechanics don’t matter all that much, but they involve Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who specializes in off-the-book military missions, recruiting a rogues’ gallery worth of villains to accomplish some nefarious goal for the U.S. government in the fictional South American nation of Corto Maltese.
Among those brought on board are Harley Quinn, Savant (Michael Rooker), Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Javelin (Flula Borg), Mongal (Mayling Ng), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Weasel (Sean Gunn), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone). Spoiler alert, or not, given the title: Not all of the above make it through the whole film.
Gunn, who made a little-known group of ne’er-do-wells into revered characters in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, attempts to accomplish the same in this film. Only DC Comics fanatics will have anything more than a passing knowledge of anyone featured in the film, but somehow Gunn makes each of them interesting and entertaining with his unique brand of stylized moviemaking and snarky dialogue. And since this film is a hard R, he finally gets to let loose with all the profanity and violence he hasn’t been able to use in Marvel movies.
Only Flag, Bloodsport, and Peacemaker are what you might call “traditional” comic book characters, using guns as their means of dispatching enemies. Everyone else is out in left field, from a woman who attacks using her ability to summon rats; to a guy who somehow throws polka dots; to a shark/man hybrid, whose appetite for flesh is only matched by his unintelligence. But in Gunn’s hands, the more outrageous, the better, as their insane antics keep the engagement factor at a high throughout.
Not everything works, though. As previously mentioned, the actual plot of the film is next-to-nonsensical, so you just kind of have to go along with the story if you’re going to enjoy the film at all. And it becomes a little odd to have people presented as villains turning into a version of heroes. It goes something along the line of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but the reason the characters work so well is because of how bad they are, not them wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
Elba, who’s long deserved to be a star, becomes one here, dominating the screen for most of the film. He has a fun character rivalry with Cena, who may have finally found the role that fits him best (he’ll reprise Peacemaker in an upcoming TV series). Robbie has perfected playing Harley Quinn, although it’s probably best that she remains part of a group. Not everyone in the cast gets showcased equally, but they all make an impact even in limited screentime.
Not every film can follow this blueprint, but if future DCEU movies can be even half as fun as The Suicide Squad, they’ll be on the right path. It’s over-the-top, ultra-violent, illogical, and it’s a blast.
The Suicide Squad opens in theaters and on HBO Max on August 6.