The Suicide Squad is a return to the gory, grizzly and deliciously vicious early days of James Gunn’s career. Think Slither with the absurdity of Super with sprinkles of Troma and you get you a decent idea of what you’re in store for. More Inglorious Basterds than Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad could easily fit within the camp of something like The Boys. But while one treats super heroism with a sense of corrosive cynicism, Gunn opts to retain some sort of reverence for the source material, while poking fun at it all the same, leaving his bloody fingerprints all over the film in the process. And, goddamn, is it bloody.
Completely forgetting that the 2016 iteration of this film exists, The Suicide Squad drops the viewer into the carnage from the get go. We’re quickly introduced to the Squad (or Task Force X as it’s known to the suits) through the eyes of the long haired Savant (Michael Rooker). Gunn opts to not treat the audience like morons and very swiftly rebuilds on the lore of the Squad within about 5 minutes – super bad guys are incarcerated at Belle Reve. Super bad guys are forced into the titular black ops squad in exchange for wiping years off their sentence. Super bad guys are injected with an explosive device should they choose to get a little cheeky on their mission. Super bad guys are then unleashed into the field, either coming home alive or in pieces. Crack on.
This go around, it is Idris Elba’s Bloodsport who’s thrust onto the heaving battlefield after the venomous Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) uses his daughter (Storm Reid) as a bargaining chip to do her bidding. The mission? To infiltrate the South American island nation of Corto Maltese and destroy the mysterious Project Jotunheim off the face of the planet. He’s forced to work alongside the homicidal, liberty-obsessed unit that is Peacemaker (John Cena), the sleep happy Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), the truly weird Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and the soon to be fan favourite King Shark (Sylvester Stallone). Along the way they collide with the wonderfully psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), because it wouldn’t be a DC team up film without her.
If there was anyone who could strike a fine balance between raucous, bloody absurdity and genuine moments of heartfelt tenderness, it’s Gunn. He’s already proven himself in that realm with the more family friendly Guardians films and while some might describe his latest project as Gunn “unleashed”, that might be a little reductive. Here he brings the same irreverent, out-of-left-field humour while giving a chance for each character to have their moment in the spotlight. He also manages to achieve something a lot of other films of its ilk don’t – real stakes. The original tagline for this film was “don’t get too attached” and it’s about as accurate as you can get. Gunn makes emphasises the “suicide” part of the Suicide Squad, bringing in characters you would otherwise love and then completely knocking them off the board in spectacular fashion. Think Game of Thrones but with supervillains.
Here, Gunn has managed to assemble himself a true bunch of A-holes. One of the trickiest things about something like The Suicide Squad is how does one take a group of avowed villains and make them likeable? By mixing true scumbags in with a handful of “golden hearts”. While wanting to do the right thing by his daughter, Bloodsport is a terrible dad, unable to remember her age and offering sage advice about the value of having a lookout during a robbery. Peacemaker is a squared jawed maniac, probably the most unlikeable of the bunch, who’s the true embodiment of “shoot first, ask no questions”. If there was a true villain of the film it’s Davis’ Amanda Waller. While the previous film made her play in shades of grey, here she very much leans into being a true monster, willing to sacrifice anyone or anything to achieve her goal, with the dead eyed exhaustion of a merciless head mistress.
This may actually the best that DC / Warner Brothers has to offer so far (in this writer’s opinion). Learning from their previous mistakes of micro management, the studio has opted to do what they do best – get the best person for the job and let them go to town, damn the consequences. The final result is a gorily good time, with equal parts laugh out loud moments of shock with tear inducing instances of true heartfelt warmth. With The Suicide Squad it feels like we’re entering a new age of superhero cinema, and, damn it feels good that it’s James Gunn showing us the way.