“The Suicide Squad” finally gives Warner Bros. and DC a much needed improvement over its prior multi-character outings. While they have had a number of solo films that have been really good (and in cases arguably great) “Joker,” “Man of Steel,” and “Wonder Woman” all come strongly to mind. Unfortunately there has only been one decent muti-character film with “Birds of Prey.” Okay, so the Snyder Cut of “Justice League” is on a par, but it still loses points for not being the version that was actually released to theaters.
Marvel Studios‘ wunderkind director James Gunn has finally been able to resurrect an idea and bring a new spin to a franchise. This time Gunn dials in the tone, violence, and action to the point that it works with the rag-tag assembly of super-villains. He had already set a pretty high bar for himself with Groot; a tree with enough personality that within one film, audiences were legitimately reacting with emotion.
Now he takes a number of very oddball new characters along with some hold-overs from the prior “Suicide Squad” (2016), and for those that make it though, the audience FEELS when someone gets seriously wounded (or worse). That’s no mean feat, considering when Warner Bros. had Batman and Superman fighting to the death, audiences mostly yawned.
In 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” David Ayer‘s production got run roughshod over by the studio, losing any cohesion that there might have been when they retooled the film in reaction to “Deadpool’s” success. However now the film was crafted from the ground up by Gunn, its blood, gore, deaths, and mayhem are balanced against the story. It does have a bit of some rough getting started, where the threads are coming together and some dialogue that is rougher than one would usually expect from Gunn. However once the shit starts to hit the fan, it settles in for a wild ride that comes together in a way that would stand up favorably within the MCU.
Many of the Squad are back for this installment, but there’s far more new characters overall. Even the eccentrics are compelling (which would seem to be one of Gunn’s strengths). I mean who would have thought that a giant humanoid shark named Nanaue aka King Shark (played by Sylvester Stallone) would wind up being more than a punchline, but then we’ve been rooting for the aforementioned tree and a bionic raccoon for years.
They take along enough characters that there’s plenty of room for people to die liberally on both sides. It gives an additional level of tension often lacking in superhero films because most of the name characters can’t really die (at least for long).
Tonally the film’s violence, gore, and comedy reads as a blend between “The Belko Experiment,” “The Boys,” and the first “Suicide Squad.” Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn continues to be a stand-out performance among the crew, but it’s not nearly the lop-sided imbalance from the prior film; Idris Elba’s Bloodsport and Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2 both carry enough weight that it no longer feels like “Harley and friends.” The film also avoids another frequent pitfall with superhero films, in that the big bad at the end is often unremarkable or an afterthought. This time it’s a giant alien starfish, but leave it to Gunn and his team to actually make it an effective kaiju battle.
“The Suicide Squad” opens in theaters on August 6th. It’s rated R, and runs 2 hours and 12 minutes. There is a bonus scene at the very end of the credits, so don’t leave until the bitter end.