In 2016, when the DC Extended Universe was in its infancy, David Ayer wrote and directed Suicide Squad, based on the comic book by John Ostrander, who conceived the Dirty Dozen-styled premise, in which a team of incarcerated supervillains undertake high-risk black ops secret missions in exchange for years being reduced of their sentence. Despite an array of fun characters, Ayer’s film never lived up to that great premise, because no one was expendable and it never quite understood the tone it was going for, of which the blame can be towards studio interference.
Whilst there is a fan base that is campaigning for #ReleaseTheAyerCut, James Gunn has taken control of Task Force X after having been temporarily fired by Disney as the director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Given what Gunn had achieved with his two Guardians movies, you can see why he would approach this material. After all, those films made under the Disney banner were aiming for a family-friendly audience, The Suicide Squad is Gunn unhinged and what happens when you let him off the leash?
Although there are some returning cast members from Ayer’s movie, from Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller to Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, this is doing its own thing. Imprisoned as convicts in Belle Reve penitentiary, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) are recruited Task Force X as they are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese, where they come into conflict with Starro, a giant, telepathic alien starfish.
Based on the promotional material for this movie, there are a lot more characters featured, such as Michael Rooker’s Savant and Sean Gunn’s Weasel. Whether anyone from this huge ensemble will leave an impression on you, it won’t matter, because any one of them can bite the dust. As well as staying true to the comic’s premise of expendable villains, some of which are obscure with ridiculous superpowers, Gunn is also being self-aware, as evidenced in the prologue, where you see office workers betting on which Task Force X member is going to die.
Given how both volumes of Guardians of the Galaxy allowed Gunn to have more creative freedom than the majority of MCU films, Warner Bros. seems to have given the director the keys to DC’s vaults and revel in the many characters and even locations that the DC fans may recognize and throw it all into an over-the-top R-rated extravaganza. As bloody and bone-crunching as the action is, Gunn has acknowledged his inspiration from war films. There is imagery that is surreal, thanks to Henry Braham’s stunning cinematography, whilst having a singular vision that is exciting and refreshing, thanks to not having to worry about the clutches of shared universes.
There are elements from Guardians here, such as comically focusing on a group of misfits and whilst no one carries a Sony Walkman, The Suicide Squad has its own awesome mix. As silly as some of the squad members are, there is genuine empathy towards these outlaws as the film is at its best when the characters are laid back as we get to know their backstory. Sure, Margot Robbie continues to be great as Harley Quinn, but unlike Birds of Prey, she is not always the focus, but has a lot of banter with her fellow members.
In fact, any time the plot kicks in, this is where the film falters as the political situation in Corto Maltese never seems like a big deal with cardboard villains who look like they come from 80s action films, whilst Peter Capaldi is wasted as the Thinker. It is a good thing that a giant starfish shows up for a truly bonkers climax.
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