Director: James Gunn Starring: Idris Elba, John Cena, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Daniela Melchior, Peter Capaldi Running Time: 132 minutes
The original Suicide Squad movie could at the most generous be described as a watchable mess. The hap-hazard editing, neon-splattered dour framing and tonal whiplash made for aggravating viewing and no doubt plenty of frustrating meetings at Warner Bros, but there was no denying that there was something there underneath, well, the Jared Leto of it all. That is partly because Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn undoubtedly struck a lasting chord with viewers, and in large part also because the ‘Suicide Squad’ is such a can’t-miss premise. Stick a bunch of mismatched misfit supervillains together in a team, and send them off on deadly, dirty op missions without worrying if any of them make it back alive. It’s a recipe for a blast of an action movie in the right hands, and that’s exactly what is delivered in James Gunn’s sequel.
It’s strange to say about a movie that features aliens, talking sharks and city-wide attacks, but The Suicide Squad is refreshingly stripped back superhero story. Gunn sets up a very straightforward structure, similar in approach to the down and dirty action movies that would have inspired John Ostrander and co in working on the comics to begin with, everything from The Magnificent Seven to Escape From New York informing an aesthetic of gallows humour action. The story is, even by the standards of the genre, a simple “get to checkpoint X” affair. The benefit of this is great pacing; allowing for a succession of action scenes without feeling like it’s repeating itself. A firm through line also allows for pauses and diversions, allowing us to get a better feel for the characters, the more to actually worry about the prospect of them getting bumped off.
The Suicide Squad launches its villains right into the thick of it (and not just because they’re tracking down Peter Capaldi). Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller once again unflinchingly sends imprisoned baddies into battle, with Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Rick Flagg and plenty of new faces sent to the island of Corto Maltese to destroy the mysterious Jottenheim, one-time base of unseemly Nazi experiments. Get in, blow something up and get out, but of course it’s not as simple as that, people are betrayed, heads roll with severity and our remaining wrong un’s are left scrambling not just to complete the mission, but to survive.
Chief among them is Idris Elba as Robert ‘Bloodsport’ DuBois, one of the many, many Marvel/DC characters whose superpower is being able to make a weapon out of anything. See also, John Cena as Peacemaker, jingoistic juicer. Watching these two bump heads and try to out-kill each other, or young Ratcatcher (an impressive new face in Portuguese performer Daniela Melchior) try to tame the lovable but bloodthirsty sharkman Nanaue all shows off a much more entertaining team rapport this time around. Gunn is obviously in very similar form to his Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but this lot need a bit more work to drag the sincerity out of them. The humour here is a shade more cynical and, with the R rating, that bit more violent. He’s a good fit for this kind of film; while the big blockbuster studios seem to be sucking up pretty much any director with potential these days and sending them off to work in the superhero mines, this has always seemed like the apex of what Gunn would want to be doing anyway; lovable losers, cussing and killing.
Gunn has said that he still storyboards his own action scenes rather than having them pre rendered in CGI months before he comes on board, and while there’s nothing mind blowing and new on show in the fights and flights, the personal touch goes a long way. Scenes like a bloody hallway battle being hallucinated by Harley into flowers and cartoon birds, or a section of a fistfight shown through the reflection of Peacemaker’s big dumb helmet, provide a variety, sense of fun and invention which really is all a movie like this needs. That may sound like The Suicide Squad is clearing a very low bar, but the bar was indeed set very low by the last film. This in fact hits some very worthy heights, delivering on the potential of the premise, mischievously macabre and solidly silly.
(4 / 5)