The Suicide Squad is the story of Task Force X: a group of convicted lethal killers who are “compelled” by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to reduce their prison sentences by going on dangerous missions at her behest. For this particular operation, Waller has assembled techno-gunner Bloodsport (Idris Elba), jingoistic murder Peacemaker (John Cena), crazy criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a woman who controls rats (Cleo Cazo), and a giant anthropomorphic shark (Sylvester Stallone) among others. Their objective: infiltrate a laboratory on the island of Corto Maltese and destroy all work that has been done developing a secret weapon known only as Project Starfish.
What works in The Suicide Squad is the majority of characterization and the overall narrative. Writer/director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) takes some rather obscure characters from the DC comics and provides very welcome updates and depth. Notable in this category are Cazo’s Ratcatcher II and Polka-Dot Man (Dave Dastmalchian) who are far more sympathetic and relatable than their print counterparts. Also, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) revises his role as team leader, but this version is warm and affable as compared to the previous movie, simply labeled Suicide Squad. Robbie continues to do fantastic work by adding new dimensions to Harley Quinn.
Gunn’s story is mostly strong. Instead of dealing with typical superhero tropes, Gunn tackles some interesting themes surrounding ethics, morals, and personal motivations while not fully abandoning some crazy comic-book inspired action. The arc feels fresh and has enough twists and turns that will genuinely keep audiences guessing what exactly is going to happen next. From an originality standpoint, The Suicide Squad scores well.
There are some elements of The Suicide Squad certain audience members may not enjoy. First, the film lacks a centralized hero of focus to root for. This was likely meant to be Elba’s Bloodsport, but while he gets a large of majority of screentime, his character seems the least developed. As such, there’s no real core of the ensemble to identify with. Next, the ratio of humor to gore may be askew for many viewers. There are some bits that land, but as the runtime continues, the jokes become sparse. In their place, Gunn ramps up the grotesque violence to levels that will almost certainly feel uncomfortable to many, causing them to avert their eyes.
The Suicide Squad is certainly creatively ambitious. Gunn definitely succeeds in creating complex characters that are entertaining and engaging, and this is likely the exact movie he wanted to make. That said, the tonal disparity of the ride just might be too bumpy for mass appeal.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Super, Deadpool 2, Invincible (Amazon series)