Is it a reboot? Is it a sequel? Is it an investigation into the mind of the anti-hero, asking the question “can bad people still do good things?”? Who cares: I saw a man get ripped in half by a giant man-shark, in full-frame with slow-mo, and laughed like a hyena while it happened.
The situation: a whole bunch of villains from the DC Z-list, played by an assortment of highly respected B and Almost-A-list actors, is being led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his trusty sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) on a suicide mission to Some Place Tropical. That goes to tits, but Idris Elba is leading John Cena (once again playing against type in a bold, arsehole role), Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian and the aforementioned giant man-shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone and they’re going to save the day! How? Well, mostly with guns and extreme violence, but occasionally with superpowers that you didn’t know they had because you’ve never heard of their characters before. One of them is even called [Villain Name]2, which is how back-of-the -pile they are!
Is it a superhero movie? No. Is it a supervillain movie? Also no. This is a violent (and I do mean violent, there is way more gore on display than I expected) war movie, with a couple of comic-book accoutrements and a lot of The Dirty Dozen and Starship Troopers. It’s also got a hell of a lot of politics, nestling deep amongst the violence and presented as jokes. Proof positive that James Gunn knows his comic books. He also knows management, as the film follows the “storming, forming, norming and performing” stages of teambuilding. Just with more swearing and crazyness.
With over 15 named spandex-wearers on the rooster, how does this film give everyone enough screen time to develop their characters and make their presence worthwhile? Again, lots and lots of violence. Members of Task Force X get shot, exploded, stabbed, and otherwise terminally inconvenienced with great gusto, because Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, incredible as always) doesn’t care about their safety and because the script knows that making you feel that anyone could die at any time, regardless of their filmography, means you are fully engaged with what’s going on.
Unlike with Suicide Squad (I will never understand the nomenclature for this series), this film has learned that quickly offing one villain, who’s hardly had a line, in the first 10 minutes doesn’t build tension in a two-hour marathon. The Suicide Squad has also learned that giving Waller a support team that thinks she’s an evil bitch ups her evil bitch vibes and that classic songs work even better when they relate to what’s happening onscreen. Suicide Squad played “Fortunate Son” because… erm… helicopters and war??? The Suicide Squad starts with “Folsom Prison Blues” because the film starts in a prison with a guy who’s in there for murder.
The other neat trick it’s done is to not have Harley Quinn in every scene, for really organic reasons. Margot Robbie plays the role perfectly, and here she is given a really intelligent script that both evolves the character and demonstrates how psychotically delusional she is. That means that she’s either in a scene and dominating or in a scene and needs to be artificially held back to give anyone else a chance. Here, she owns the camera whenever it’s near her but the rest of the cast gets to have fun without her for incredibly well-structured reasons.
Is it any good? Well, how do 132 minutes of anti-social people being excessively violent for your amusement and then beating up a giant monster as a final act sound to you? This isn’t out to build a complex world, challenge your life philosophy, or make you think better of any of the characters. It’s out to punch people in the balls, have a giant man-shark eat people whole as a sneak attack (be honest, does it show that I’m a King Shark fan?), and shot a lot of bullets into a lot of people with a lot of unnecessary detail for your sadistic, twisted enjoyment. It does that brilliantly, in technicolor, and with everything turned to max.
So, to answer the opening paragraph: maybe this film is more of a “look, here’s how you do [Genre X] right!”
The Suicide Squad is in cinemas now. When will it be on Streaming Services? Ask a contract lawyer.