BY MATT TUCK
Although nothing you haven’t seen before, The Suicide Squad hits its marks in what is more or less Guardians of the Galaxy meets Deadpool seen through a Quentin Tarantino lens. And I promise, this review is mostly spoiler free.
James Gunn out-James Gunned himself with The Suicide Squad.
It lives up to the hype as an action-packed, bloody thrill ride with one-liners and viciously dry humor galore. It washes away the bad taste left from 2016’s Suicide Squad fiasco, which is applaudable in its own right. From the opening credits to the after-credits scene, it screamed James Gunn, complete with classic pop music.
In many ways, The Suicide Squad is what we anticipated: a rated-R GOTG. The cartoonishly excessive violence complete with a slow-motion walk straight from Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino inspired. It is what it set out to be: a fun, adult superhero action-comedy. Think of it as Deadpool but with more heart, and it is an enjoyable ride throughout.
Where the movie loses momentum is in the climax and the grand finale. As revealed in the trailers, the final boss battle is with the classic Justice League villain, Starro. For a movie as over-the-top as this, I understand where the giant alien well-suited for Plan Nine from Outer Space would seem like the perfect icing on the cake, but it got a bit campy for my taste (and that’s saying a lot in a movie with Peacemaker). The mind-controlled horde of people with little Starros on their faces felt uninspired and painfully cliche. Still, Starro’s final words of having been happy floating through space, staring at the stars before he was taken from his astral home was impactful and thought provoking, so kudos to Gunn’s screenwriting prowess.
One thing that is hard to miss is the political commentary, which at times hits the audience like a brick. Gunn uses the plot and the “shoot first, ask questions later” action movie logic to take aim at the U.S. government’s questionable foreign policies throughout history, culminating in the buildup to the movie’s ending.
With a cast of characters delivered straight from DC’s Island of Misfit Toys, The Suicide Squad was bound to be character driven from the start. Death after death was gloriously hilarious, and I found myself mesmerized by Weasel’s shuffling gait and inaudible grunts and chirps.
Idris Elba and Margot Robbie, as expected, shined brightest. Elba’s Bloodsport is another version of Will Smith’s Deadshot, only with more of an edge brought out by the film’s mature rating.
Although taking a detour from the comics, Elba’s costume walked straight out of a video game. The helmet was obviously designed after a Xenomorph from Alien, complete with the predatory jaw and teeth. It worked to give him the tough guy vibe amplified by Elba’s body language.
Robbie proved to be the scene stealer again. Played with the same exaggerated New Jersey accent as Tara Strong before her, Harley Quinn was charmingly ditzy with a cunning intellect masked beneath the comedic exterior. Each time we see Robbie take on the character, it feels more like the role she was born to play.
The heart of the movie comes out of left field. In a movie that was guaranteed to feature ample superhero (or supervillains, in the Squad’s case) deaths in the most bloody of fashions, a name like Ratcatcher Two, played by Daniela Melchior, seemed destined for the morgue. Yet, her personal story of exorcising the ghost of her past - namely her father, played by director/actor Taika Waititi - is captivating. She is the one good person among the Suicide Squad enlistees, and her story deservedly comes full circle by the final act.
Then there is Peacemaker, who competed with Harley Quinn for the best lines in the movie. John Cena may have lacked the acting chops of Elba and Robbie, but this proved to be his breakout role. The ironically funny Peacemaker, complete with his oh-so-1960s costume, was made complete by Cena’s deadpan delivery. He basically did the same comedy routine he honed in the WWE, which could have backfired, but it worked here.
The unsung hero of the eclectic cast is Viola Davis. She was one of the few highlights of 2016’s Suicide Squad, and keeping her as Amanda Waller was the right call. The R rating allowed Gunn the liberty to truly show her as the devil incarnate that she is. Davis, as always, played the role to the letter, keeping the character deadly serious throughout every scene in a movie with one well-timed joke after another. Waller is what helps balance the film’s mostly sillier side with a dissecting malice that gives the plot worthy emotional stakes. Personally, I would like to see DC explore more of Waller’s character, and her backstory would be well told in an HBO Max series.
I AM SHARK
There’s no avoiding the comparisons between Groot and King Shark. As expected from the initial trailer, Shark was an R-rated Groot, but the final product does give an appreciation for Vin Diesel’s voice work. Maybe he did have basically two lines in GOTG, but his delivery was emotional and empathic. Although Sylvester Stallone was entertaining as the voice of Shark, he failed to capture the same connection with King Shark as Diesel did with Groot. That is not to say Stallone’s work was bad, but it did not deliver on the same emotional level as Diesel’s.
This is an all-around enjoyable movie with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor. No, there is nothing here that is significantly original, and Gunn tends to plagiarize his own work from GOTG throughout the story. Still, it has all the spectacle of a superhero film that embraces itself as a theme park ride.