The Suicide Squad, 2021.
Written and Directed by James Gunn.
Starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Flula Borg, Mayling Ng, Storm Reid, Steve Agee, Jennifer Holland, Juan Diego Botto, Joaquín Cosío, Taika Waititi, Julio Ruiz, Tinashe Kajese, John Ostrander, Stephen Blackehart, Mikaela Hoover, Freddie Stroma, and Marisol Correa.
Supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X as they are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.
There’s a quote going around alleging that writer and director James Gunn could do “whatever the fuck he wanted” on The Suicide Squad. It’s something my mind somewhat wrote off his promotional speak even though I knew it was going to be wild. After having seen the movie, I’m now convinced no one at Warner Bros. (and certainly no corporate algorithm) was looking over the demented madman’s shoulders while crafting what is unquestionably one of the most out-there blockbusters in recent memory, fusing his early career Troma sensibilities with the enormous misfit heart of Guardians of the Galaxy while giving Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn some of her best action and dialogue thus far.
Even one of the first introduced members comprising this incarcerated team of antiheroes is a filthy weasel with bulging eyes that, while I’m sure is an actual character from DC comics, comes across as James Gunn’s way of riffing on an outcast like Rocket Raccoon he lovingly brought to life, now as a hideous creature that would scar and fascinate anyone that makes eye contact. It’s a way of acknowledging he is up to his familiar tricks but expressing them with a cartoonishly disturbing spin. The weasel (who is also motion captured by Sean Gunn just as is Rocket Raccoon) may be ugly cute, and seemingly harmless (it’s a wonder why he’s even on the team and what he is going to do, but I suppose that’s the case with most of the squad here) until it’s mentioned that the critter has a reputation for killing children.
Before explaining what the mission actually is, The Suicide Squad rounds these deadly inmates up and deploys them into the fictional South American island, Corto Maltese. Unfiltered chaos ensues before landing the cargo plane with everyone either poking fun at each other (with names like The Detachable Kid/TDK, how can you not) or finding something to be terrified about (Pete Davidson’s Blackguard doesn’t fuck around with werewolves). The dialogue and resulting insanity unspool into 20 minutes of hilarity, gore, and sheer lunacy, all helped because all of these cons intentionally look like cheap cosplayers with goofy special effects. Whatever ridiculous wig Michael Rooker is wearing is worth the price of admission alone. Nevertheless, we quickly learn the fate of most of these characters, although one, in particular, had me laughing so hard a tear ran down my face.
At this moment, a few things became clear; The Suicide Squad is going to be a deranged treasure of a movie, and that the tone is going to push the superhero genre into unexplored territories of weirdness. James Gunn wisely makes sure to get the audience on this crazy wavelength before even attempting to get into the plot. Nevertheless, the gist concerns Viola Davis’ coldhearted government official Amanda Waller putting together a team of criminals with gifted abilities (supernatural or weapons specialists) to invade the now war-torn nation and eliminate scientific research of what is essentially a kaiju starfish that can eject additional body parts onto the faces of human beings, turning them into a part of the host’s collective consciousness. Corto Maltese is suffering at the hands of a military uprising that would like to use such a devastating creature to position themselves as a threat to superpower countries like America and Russia. If the titular Suicide Squad can end this global threat before it comes to fruition, a member will receive ten years off their prison sentence. And if they run or disobey orders, her tech guru partner will push a button and explode the offender’s head.
It goes without saying that Harley Quinn leads the pack, although she does get separated from both groups early on, becoming an object of affection for the coup leader. She is no damsel in distress, with the resolution of that situation generating one of the film’s smartest laughs. However, with a strong filmmaker at the helm, it doesn’t fall on her shoulders to carry the movie, as a variety of other individuals also receive heavy focus, with some standouts being Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher II (she can summon rats to do her bidding, just as the name implies), David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man (nothing can really prepare someone for how stupidly remarkable his ability is and the absurd backstory surrounding his past), John Cena’s Peacemaker (easily the WWE star’s most accomplished role to date, demonstrating more untapped potential within comedic line delivery and physical acting), Captain Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman putting in some of his best work yet), and Idris Elba’s Bloodsport (who seems to be playing a variation of Will Smith’s Deadshot from the original David Ayer stab at the property, given a kleptomaniac daughter played by Storm Reid that he has to keep out of jail by completing the mission).
One of the more amusing aspects sees Peacemaker and Bloodsport in a dick-measuring contest over who can dispatch enemies with more style and violence (James Gunn uses the dynamic between these two to eventually touch on ethics and morals regarding the American way). There are also moments of genuine emotion when it comes to Ratcatcher II and her father (briefly played by Taika Waititi in quick and efficient flashbacks). And what’s not to like about Sylvester Stallone voicing a perpetually hungry shorts-wearing shark that just wants to make some friends and would feel the craving to eat innocent people a lot less if he did have some?
All of this is employed with a wide-ranging color palette (it’s so pleasant having a refreshing change of pace with the bright colors when it comes to cataclysmic final battles against giant monstrosities), a ripping soundtrack mixing and matching the well-known with less popular songs, playful comic-book-style transitions achieved through dynamic environments, and practically an endless barrage of spraying blood. The Suicide Squad has its fair share of indifferent moments, and I’m also not sure anything comes close to matching the outrageous nuttiness of the first 20 minutes, but it’s unashamedly demented with James Gunn locked into all of his strengths. It’s damn good and should comfortably stick around as an unforgettably bizarre blockbuster, and a ridiculously entertaining one at that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com