Prior to making The Suicide Squad, filmmaker James Gunn was best known for injecting a lot of cheek into the Marvel universe by writing and directing both chapters of The Guardians of the Galaxy.
You have to go back still further to uncover Gunn’s penchant for cinematic outrage in films such as Super (2010), a film that deliberately subverted superhero tropes with a sad-funny tale of a deluded vigilante (Rainn Wilson) who dons a costume to avenge himself on the drug dealer who made off with his addict wife. Gunn started his career in the outrage factory known as Troma, a low-budget exploitation house that also savagely parodied the superhero genre with films such as The Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD.
Gunn was, in short, a good bad-attitude guy to rescue DC’s supervillain franchise after director David Ayer’s 2016 misfire Suicide Squad.
Any studio protestations to the contrary, Gunn’s film is both a sequel and a reboot, or perhaps, a rewrite, given that it maintains a few characters from the first film, including Margot Robbie’s kinky minx Harley Quinn, straight-arrow soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and the malevolent brains behind the project Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). But it also reinvents Will Smith’s Deadshot character as Bloodsport (Idris Elba), who also happens to be a deadly marksman, reluctantly taking the mission to protect his only daughter.
This time out, Waller, arguably the most malevolent character in the SS realm, initiates a mission that once again requires a crew of expendable bad guys looking for ticket out of Belle Reve prison. This time, the mission does not entail contending with the release of one of the team’s own members — surely the most awful plot point of the first film.
No, Waller sics the squad on the tiny Latin nation of Corto Maltese where a military coup threatens the stability of a top secret installation holding a potential world-ending alien entity.
Gunn has some fun with the “expendable” part of the equation. Drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs once said the mark of a great drive-in movie was: “Anybody could die at any time.” Certainly, that makes The Suicide Squad an outright classic of the genre.
Suffice to say: The success of the mission falls into the hands of the expected characters: Flag, Harley and Bloodsport, as well as some unlikely inductees: the psychopathic super-patriot Peacemaker (John Cena), the none-too-bright genetic freak King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) a narcoleptic young woman who can control vermin, and the notably absurd Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), a “flamboyant” Norman Bates-like mutant with a penchant for expelling toxic polka-dot missiles from his person… when he’s not dealing with some serious mommy issues.
In other words, Gunn took an obscure, throwaway villain from some past comic book, and gave him an opportunity to shine. In a way, Gunn is mirroring Amanda Waller’s task of giving a crew of criminal misfits a shot at redemption. But Gunn does it with much more wit and style, especially in the climax, which is so much more satisfying than the wrap-up of Ayer’s film. The film’s final nemesis is a hoot, but it’s also genuinely creepy.
The Suicide Squad is rated 14A in Manitoba and rated R in the U.S., meaning the content is much more violent than the average comic book movie. (There is also some nudity.) It’s not appropriate for small kids.