It was a good day for the DC Extended Universe when Disney got uppity and fired James Gunn from the Marvel Universe for some Tweets he sent years ago.
He’s since been rehired and is hard at work on Guardians of the Galaxy 3—but that interruption provided Warner Bros. with the chance to swoop in and get Gunn into the DC Universe for what turns out to be a totally insane—and insanely enjoyable—reboot of Suicide Squad.
If Gunn had simply taken the Suicide Squad and applied that fun action-comedy vibe that drives his Guardians movies, that probably would’ve been just fine. The first crack at Suicide Squad, the 2016 film from director David Ayer, was an almost complete waste of time, even with the somewhat interesting introduction of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.
While there is some Guardians DNA in this take—like offbeat humor and rock music—The Suicide Squad (this one is different because it has “The” in the title) is its own beautiful beast. Gunn has made a comic-book movie that shows his love of comic books, but he doesn’t get carried away with that love in a Zack Snyder-esque, too-freaking-long kind of way. He takes the fun elements of comics and melds them with the dark, disturbing spirit of an adult graphic novel to create something that’s funny, hilariously violent—and somehow emotionally vibrant.
The plot covers familiar territory: A renegade group of criminals gets sprung from prison and offered a chance at freedom—as long as they can manage to save the world. If they choose to run, their nasty commander, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, reprising her role), will blow their heads up.
It’s a large group that includes Harley Quinn (Robbie), Idris Elba as Bloodsport, John Cena as Peacemaker, Michael Rooker as Savant, Pete Davidson as Blackguard, Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang (also reprising his role), David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man, Sylvester Stallone voicing the cosmically great CGI creation King Shark, and others.
They set out on that mission, and graphic deaths ensue. Don’t take your kids to this or let them watch it on HBO Max, thinking it’s the next Marvel movie: It’s a hard R for sure. Faces get blown off; brains get blown out; blood spurts and cascades; and King Shark gorily eats people, either shoving them into his mouth whole, or tearing them apart like a head of lettuce.
Gunn sets the film in various acts, with quite a lot happening before the opening credits. The last act involves a Kaiju/Starfish monster that thrills more than anything Godzilla vs. Kong had to offer. You even get a little zombie action!
It’s a great pleasure to hear the voice of Stallone bringing King Shark to life. It’s just nice to have him along for the ride, from general, slow-witted conversations to full-on Stallone screaming. Meanwhile, Elba gives the film a nice heart. It’s a damaged, distressed and dangerous heart, but it’s heart nonetheless. His introductory scene with his daughter is one for the ages.
King Shark’s kinship with Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, whose character is sleepy, because she’s a millennial) is absolutely adorable, as are Ratcatcher 2’s attention-seeking rats. One of the film’s best running gags is Bloodsport’s aversion to rats—while the rats are trying to befriend him. Also garnering laughs are Polka-Dot Man and his tendency to see his evil mom everywhere.
Gunn and Robbie perfectly dial in the third take at Harley. While she was definitely the best thing about Suicide Squad, and she almost made the mediocre Birds of Prey work, Robbie finally gets a chance to completely shine as the character she was born to play. Harley Quinn is a full-blown action hero here, albeit a ruthless and crazy one.
As he did with Guardians, Gunn uses rock music to great extremes. The soundtrack includes Kansas, Johnny Cash, The Jim Carroll Band and Pixies. His creative use of music is starting to rival that Wes Anderson.
There is no word yet on another The Suicide Squad movie, but John Cena’s Peacemaker is getting his own origin series on HBO Max (with Gunn as a producer). Gunn says he’s game for another Suicide Squad chapter, and given that this one was so damn good, let’s hope that another comes to batshit-crazy fruition.
The Suicide Squad is playing at theaters across the valley, and is streaming on HBO Max.