REVIEW: The Suicide Squad Delivers a Pitch Perfect Balance of Wits, Guts & Tradegy
Brandon Zachary
The Suicide Squad serves as the DC Extended Universe's sequel to David Ayer's 2016 Suicide Squad. However, besides sharing the same concept and a handful of characters, there's very little in common between the two films. Directed and written by James Gunn, The Suicide Squad is colorfully violent, hilarious, and surprisingly tragic. While it may not be a perfect film, it's still one of the most overtly enjoyable action films to hit the big screen in some time.
Led by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the Suicide Squad is a collection of uniquely skilled and occasionally super-powered criminals. In exchange for reduced prison sentences, the group is sent on missions where the odds are surviving are low. In The Suicide Squad, the group's latest assignment is to invade the island of Corto Maltese. While a massive squad is assembled, not anyone will survive. Gunn grounds the narrative around a few squad members, including returning characters Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and new recruits -- Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian).
The Suicide Squad in the rain
The Suicide Squad in the rain
After arriving on Corto Maltese, the group learns that a military coup has risked the exposure of Operation: Starfish -- a mysterious initiative that houses a secret weapon that could endanger the entire world. The Squad is ordered to reach the island, capture the mad scientist in charge of the program, aka the Thinker (Peter Capaldi), and destroy the weapon. But their mission is quickly complicated by the island's local army, a band of rebels led by Sol Soria (Alice Braga), and the secretly contradictory missions of the Suicide Squad members.
Gunn, reteaming with cinematographer Henry Braham (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), creates a visually impressive film, with an eye for action and an even better one for comedy. The film is unabashedly silly, gory, and weird. The cast is all 100% clear about what kind of film they're in and find multitudes in characters that could be one-note in the wrong hands. Cena is shockingly enduring and engaging as the petulant Peacemaker, playing him like a 13-year-old in the body of... Well, John Cena. Elba gives Bloodsport an exhausted but appealing edge with surprising vulnerability. Dastmalchian and Stallone mine genuine humanity out of their goofy characters, and Malchior is the beating heart of The Suicide Squad.
Additionally, Robbie and Kinnaman are both fully unleashed in the film, turning in liberatingly fun performances. Robbie, in particular, effectively gets a side-diversion in the film. While it might distract from the overall narrative, it perfectly showcases Robbie's range and truly demonstrates why Harley Quinn's growth is the DCEU's best overarching arc. Less enduring are the human villains of the piece -- but, not for lack of trying. Peter Capaldi is fun as the Thinker, and both Juan Diego Botto and Joaquín Cosío do the best with their relatively little screen-time. But, they don't get nearly the amount of layers as the other characters. Even Starro gets more surprising depth -- as well as being at the heart of a pretty exciting finale.
If that sounds like a lot of characters, that's because it is. The Suicide Squad is more impressive as a tight-rope act, with Gunn keeping everything despite the sheer challenge of having such a large and eclectic cast of characters. There's a lot going on in The Suicide Squad. At its most disjointed and silly moments, the film feels aimless. Luckily, Gunn's script is consistently charming and clever enough to move past that. Most importantly, its overall story pays heed to the comics without getting lost in Gunn's reverence for them. In many ways, The Suicide Squad feels like Cathy Yan's Birds of Prey, a brightly bombastic film that is impressive not just as a superhero story but as one of this decade's best action-packed blockbusters.
Written and directed by Gunn, The Suicide Squad arrives in theaters and HBO Max Aug. 6.