THE SUICIDE SQUAD Review: Getting the Band Back Together

“This is suicide.” “Well, that’s kind of our thing.”

I remember taking a fair amount of heat back in 2016 when I gave director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad a glowing review. In fact, I was the only critic I knew who found enough within the film which worked to the point where I could recommend it. In hindsight, I feel my write-up of the movie may have been the result of a lackluster summer at the box office. With the exception of The Nice Guys, it seemed as if there was very little to get excited about when it came to the most escapist time of year at the movies. For this reason alone, I went into Suicide Squad desperately hoping it could salvage when had been a dreary season. Five years later, I recognize that the glaring flaws with Ayer’s film as well as the bits of genuine brilliance which managed to shine through and the studio’s undeniable hand in the film’s overall sad fate. Now the Suicide Squad is back under the guise of director James Gunn to face an audience that’s both cautious and curious, to deliver the movie the fans should have had all along.

In The Suicide Squad, the titular gang of criminals turned unconventional spies, including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Peacemaker (John Cena) and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone, Steve Agee) are involuntarily recruited by shady government head Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to avenge the death of a South American President and stop an evil scientist (Peter Capaldi) from unleashing his secret horrors onto the world.

The best thing that Gunn’s Suicide Squad has going for it is the fact that it’s such a hybrid of a film from a genre point of view. Gone is the sleek and stylish look that presides over every comic book movie and in it’s place is a raw, slightly gritty world that contains an array of flavors and flourishes. Almost simultaneously, The Suicide Squad is a dark comedy (no surprise, most of the laughs come from Harley and King Shark), an action movie with sequences that can certainly count as some of the year’s best, an effects extravaganza and even a solid creature feature. The way all of these tones work in harmony with each other without overwhelming the audience is totally a testament to Gunn. The way the writer/director manages to balance the laughs and spectacle is so precise and clever, it becomes almost impossible to predict how far The Suicide Squad will go. But it’s the bonds between the characters which make up the most surprising element of the movie. Unlike the gang’s previous outing, we see true alliances formed here as the team moves like a true cohesive unit, recognizing each other’s strengths and value…for the most part.

There will be people who do not like The Suicide Squad; of this I have no doubt. Yet those people will surely be few and far between. This is a movie that has drawn its own line in terms of what it’s willing to laugh at, how many people it wants to creatively slaughter and how quiet it wants to get when the time is right. In short, it’s the movie the Suicide Squad’s fans want. I’m sure there will be an endless debate (I’d be shocked if it hasn’t already begun) about why this movie works when the previously one clearly didn’t. Some will point to the obvious choice of Gunn as Ayer’s replacement in the director’s chair. There is some logic to this notion given the former’s game-changing work with the Guardians of the Galaxy films and a similar bombastic take he gave that storyline. On the other hand, one could say that with the DC universe failing more than scoring in the eyes of the vast comic book fanbase, the studio seems to be willing to step aside and let their filmmakers put their visions on the screen. It’s an area where Warner Bros. has been taken to task before, not least of all with Ayer’s movie. Maybe now they’ve learned their lesson. Maybe.

A film with this much insanity needs to have actors who commit 100%. Thankfully, every actor on screen throws themselves into the lunacy to such an extent, that even Pete Davidson almost comes off as a wallflower in his small supporting role. Elba unsurprisingly makes for a compelling lead and matches wits well with Cena as the two hilariously battle it out to be the group’s alpha. Meanwhile, Robbie’s third outing as Harley hasn’t found her repeating herself thanks to a script that delves into a different side of the maniacal character, giving the actress plenty to work with. Dastmalchian is a hoot, particularly in a club dancing sequence, Kinnaman and Melchior both bring an appropriate groundedness, Capaldi is delightfully campy and Davis takes her character’s brutal coldness further than her last outing. Finally, Stallone appears here at his most playful, giving humor and pathos to King Shark and easily making him the movie’s most deceptively standout character.

The Suicide Squad is not just the kind of movie where all bets are off, it’s the kind of movie where all bets really are off. Nothing and no one is safe in the world of The Suicide Squad, including the entertaining baddies themselves. Gunn has proven his love for the characters and his respect for the fans by crafting a movie which balances both heart and ridiculousness at the expense of nothing. In the build up to the movie’s release, there have been calls for Ayer’s original cut from 2016 to see the light of day, an idea which the studio has not jumped on despite endorsements from some of the original cast members. Hopefully the powers that be will have a change of heart and Ayer’s own vision will see the light of day. It should be pointed out that in the end credits, Gunn gives special thanks to Ayer, who had nothing to do with The Suicide Squad, but whose work and influence his predecessor clearly appreciated. A truly classy touch that’s indicative of the man behind the madness.

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