The Suicide Squad takes the Dirty Dozen formula and runs with it, starting with a returning Viola Davis as Amanda Waller putting another team together for a basic behind enemy lines infiltration of a hostile nation men on a mission plot, before ramping up the comic book bizarreness until eventually the heroes are facing down a 40ft Kaiju starfish known as Starro (first appearing in the pages of Brave and the Bold issue 28) in the films big pay off.
The film is liberally sprinkled with cameos, but none of them feel cheap, even though they are mostly played for laughs, they also exist to impart the lesson that nobody is safe, the opening is like an amalgam of Saving Private Ryan crossed with Scream, just because you’re familiar to the audience and playing a named character doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be sticking around for the long haul.
Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn still mad, bad and enthralling to watch, Robbie truly inhabits the role and here gets to show a little more depth to the character than in the first suicide squad, building upon the foundation of the character explored in the Birds of Prey film, it’s the perfect synergy of actor and character and it would be hard to picture anyone else bringing so much to the role, for sure the character has always been in deft hands with Robbie, but in the past it felt at times as if film makers were happy to rely on Robbie’s natural charisma to get the character over, here is by far the best version of Harley Quinn to grace the screen, it’s truly a wonderful performance.
I had a couple of issues with Birds of Prey, not least using the threat of sexual violence as a plot device, it’s a trope that is horribly overplayed especially when a protagonist is already being tortured, we already know these are the bad guys, anything on top of that is just gratuitous and serves no further purpose, luckily with The Suicide Squad Gunn seems to be aware of this and instead delivers a memorable sequence which is both brutal and bad ass, Harley Quinn emerges from it as one of the truly great cinematic comic book characters.
The rest of the cast are equally at the top of their game, Edris Elba is always a magnetic enthralling presence and as the initially reluctant Bloodsport he is at the top of his game, Daniela Melchior turns Ratcatcher into a sympathetic and sure to be fan favourite character, John Cena who has honed his skill for years in font of a Wrestling audience (the modern day equivalent of treading the boards) has shown his comic timing and action sensibilities before, but here he gets to stretch his legs and is a fantastic foil for Elba to work off, David Dastmalchian as Polka Dot Man, a character you’d be sure going in would be the weak link of the bunch, is anything but and Sylvester Stallone as King Shark is just sublime casting, a walking, constantly hungry, humanoid great white shark with a desire to fit in.
The story makes the most of its running time, it loosens up a little in the middle which serves to give the characters a little space to breathe, but nothing is wasted, nor does it get bogged down trying to juggle so many characters, with the main ensemble and at least three big bad guys to contend with, the plotting and pacing keeps things moving along at a fair pace, although at 132 minutes it’s worth making sure you have a pee before going in, especially if you’ve gone with a large soda.
Gunn seems to just have a sixth sense when it comes to these kind of ensemble comic book films, characters are never lost in the shuffle, there are no weak links, taking seemingly disparate characters and melding them into a believable team capable of overcoming whatever odds are laid before them, he’s never afraid of embracing the more absurd aspects of the comic books, whist keeping things grounded and true to the universe in which these larger than life characters inhabit, the humour isn’t forced, it feels natural, born of the personalities and the situations they find themselves in (and this is a funny movie) and expertly balanced with pathos, it takes real skill to take a property that by it’s very nature is silly and lean into that without it ever descending into stupidity.
That The Suicide Squad works at all is an amazing feat, that it turns out to be one of the all time great comic book movies is absolute magic.