“He’s not a werewolf, okay! He’s a Weasel, he’s harmless. I mean, he’s not harmless. He’s killed twenty seven children.”
The first thing to note about James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, in case you were wondering, is that it is better in every imaginable way to David Ayer’s disastrous 2016 effort. But this wasn’t a very high benchmark to clear; after all the 2016 Suicide Squad was a sad and cringy mess and was obliterated by fans and critics alike. Rather more surprisingly however, is just how good Gunn’s film is when compared to the rest of the DC superhero movie pantheon. It’s a gross-out splatter-fest, earning it’s 15 rating in almost every minute of run time, but with a big ol’ heart underneath all the guts and gore. The characters all shine, with very few weak links, the plot throws up enough curve balls to surprise even the most hardened superhero film fan, and on the technical side of things it’s almost certainly Gunn’s best film. It’s not entirely perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and is undoubtedly the DCEU’s best movie yet.
The film begins in classic James Gunn style (well, Troma and Slither-era James Gunn) with a violent bloodbath between the Suicide Squad’s team A and the military of fictional island, Corto Maltese. We see Amanda Waller (Viola Davis – thankfully reprising her scene stealing role from 2016’s Suicide Squad) recruiting the members of team, starting with Michael Rooker’s Savant. The character introductions fly by quickly but the standouts here are Jai Courtney’s returning Captain Boomerang and the hilarious Weasel – who is literally just a humanoid weasel. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg return here too but anyone who has watched any of the marketing for the film knows the majority of Team A aren’t long for this world. Almost as soon as they make it to the Island the team are brutally annihilated. In a hilarious scene that sets the tone for the rest of the film, Weasel doesn’t even make it to the island as he drowns as soon as he leaves the helicopter.
Of course Harley and Flagg make it out of this bloodbath but I was surprised just how quick the rest of the team are killed off, despite some of them being quite heavily marketed. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang barely has 3 lines before he’s blown up (in an admittedly awesome scene). Nathan Fillion’s hilariously ineffective Detachable Kid is shot to death in his detached arms and Flula Borg’s Javelin’s death serves to set up a funny scene with Harley becoming overly attached to his javelin. Pete Davidson’s Blackguard is killed by the first shot fired and Mayling Ng as Mongol is brutally burnt alive after taking down a helicopter. Michael Rooker’s Savant shows us what happens when someone tries to leave the Suicide Squad – Waller detonates the implanted explosive in his head. It’s a bold way to open a film and while it’s slightly disappointing to see some of the interesting characters killed off so early, it’s masterfully executed by Gunn and perfectly sets up the tone of the film and the idea that no one is safe.
After the beach scene we are introduced to the B team and the main characters of the film, led by Idris Elba’s Bloodsport. His powers have always been ill-defined at the best of times but for the purposes of this film, he’s just really good at killing. Portraying a cool, badass mercenary with a heart of gold is nothing too far out of Elba’s wheelhouse but he is, of course, fantastic in the role. The heart of the film is ostensibly between him and his young team mate, Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) who he sees as a surrogate daughter and a reminder of his failings with his actual daughter. Elba is fantastic throughout the film but really shines in these quieter moments. Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2 handles a surprising amount of the films emotional heft, which is doubly impressive for the newcomer actor portraying a D-tier comic book character (she controls rats and that’s literally it). She is a revelation though, funny and charming and wholly believable as the traumatised Ratcatcher 2. A climatic battle with Starro, the mind controlling starfish, see’s Ratcatcher 2 flashing back to her time as pick-pocketing child on the streets of Lisbon with her heroin addicted, rat controlling father, played by Taika Waititi. It sounds ridiculous- and it is (especially Waititi’s appearance and his Portuguese accent) but it all works surprisingly wonderfully. To perfectly achieve this balance between over-the-top violence and gore and humour and heart is skill very few directors possess. But James Gunn executes it perfectly. I’m really glad that by the film’s close, Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2 are still standing as it opens up the possibility that we might get to see them again.
The other B team characters are just as fantastic. John Cena as Peacemaker is hilarious and surprisingly, quite scary. The reveal that he really will stop at nothing for peace, including murdering Rick Flagg and anyone else in his way, is a great moment. The fight between Peacemaker and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg is perhaps my favourite scene in the film and is brilliantly directed by Gunn. It’s brutal and creative and had me literally on the edge of my seat throughout. It is sad to see Flagg killed off but he want out with a bang and with perhaps the best line in the film; “Peacemaker. What a joke.” Peacemaker’s then ‘death’ at the hands of Bloodsport was perhaps not as impactful, especially if you’ve been following any of the news about the character’s spin-off show. But it’s a cool western-esque duel nonetheless.
I wasn’t ready going into the film just how much I’d love the Sylvester Stallone voiced King Shark but his quest for friends and ‘nom-noms’ is hilarious and sad in equal measure. David Dastmalchian as the tragic Polka-Dot Man is also impressive. His tragedy is played for laughs most of the time but it is also surprisingly effective at pulling on the heart strings. And ever since his turn as one of the Joker’s goons in The Dark Knight, I’ve thought Dastmalchian to be a very underrated actor. It’s disappointing then that his death at the hands of Starro is one of the very few misjudged moments of levity in the film. I feel like his death could have meant more or at least have carried more weight, especially after making it so far. The team is eventually rounded out by Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, who joins the team in the film’s second half after escaping the palace of the Corto Maltese head of state. Robbie is predictably fantastic in the role, as anyone who watched the underrated Birds of Prey last year can attest. Her B-plot away from the main cast drags on slightly too long but Robbie is always a joy to watch.
The villains of the film, in true James Gunn fashion, are equal parts creative, hilarious, and gross. The big bad is DC Silver Age villain Starro the Conqueror. Calling it a giant, tower block sized, alien starfish would be true, but would also be selling it short. Starro is a surprisingly effective villain, allowing for kaiju-level citywide destruction and some really creative creature effects. The whole final act battle is a feast for the eyes and a joy for any fans of old school, gross-out monster movies like The Thing or Peter Jackson’s Braindead. There’s a scene involving Harley Quinn, a javelin, and Starro’s eye that had me laughing in delight at the sheer grossness of it. Along with Starro, The Suicide Squad features Peter Capaldi having an absolutely delightful time as The Thinker, the head of the science time at Corto Maltese experimenting on Starro. He is a surprising highlight of the film and a comment he makes about rodents and arseholes had me in stitches. Also opposing the Squad, there is Juan Diego Botto as Silvio Luna, the dictator of Corto Maltese and Joaquín Cosío as the General of Corto Maltese (which I feel could have been cobbled together by using the scenes from Cosío’s identical role as General Medrano in Quantum of Solace). Both are good but more or less exist to serve the purposes of the main characters. Viola Davis is back as Amanda Waller, one of the few returning characters from David Ayer’s 2016 crap-fest. She’s once again great and really dials up the crazy anger when managing a team of dysfunctional villains.
James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is a hilarious, gore filled, triumph and is without a doubt the best movie in the DCEU. The action is fun and creative and the violence is daft and hugely enjoyable. Gunn’s direction is the best it’s ever been and the film doesn’t really have wasted minutes. The script by Gunn is full of his usual trademark wit but it is perfectly balanced with tons of heart. There are a couple of moments that don’t quite land but they’re quickly eclipsed by the next gag or explosive set piece. The jukebox soundtrack is typical Gunn, but even the more on the nose choices work well. The John Murphy score is awesome too, with shades of his bombastic 28 Days Later and Sunshine echoing throughout. It’s wholly new score however and is already one of my favourite superhero scores of recent memory. I don’t know how Gunn convinced Murphy to return to film composing (his last film was Kick Ass in 2010) but I’m so glad he did. It’s the cast and characters that ultimately make or break an ensemble piece like this though and thankfully, all of the film’s Squad members are absolutely awesome. The returning characters like Waller, Flagg and Harley are given some of the best material the characters have ever had (Rick Flagg especially is a huge improvement over his 2016 incarnation) and the new characters are some of the best the DCEU has ever seen. Gunn has knocked it out of the park with The Suicide Squad and while I can’t wait for his return to the MCU with Guardians of the Galaxy 3, I am even more excited to see what he does next in the DC universe.
Reviewed by Tom