The Suicide Squad
US (2021) Dir. James Gunn
You may recall back in 2016 a film with a similar title appeared and whilst it did well at the box office, it was critically panned. Yet the inevitable sequel was proposed with the same director and cast but that fell through. A significant changing of the guard later and this standalone follow-up is finally here.
Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) dispatches a motley crew of dangerous but highly skilled prisoners from Belle Reve penitentiary on a mission to the South American island of Corto Maltese to destroy a secret laboratory developing Project Starfish. Led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the group is defeated. Only Flag survives whilst Quinn was captured by the island’s government.
Waller then sends a second squad, comprised of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), and Nanue, a human/shark hybrid (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), to complete the mission. They find Flag, Harley, and the leader of the rebels Sol Soria (Alice Braga) the search for The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), the scientist behind Project Starfish.
It takes about five minutes to realise this is what the 2016 film should have been, and furthermore, this iteration of the squad was preferable too. The higher US age rating allows The Suicide Squad greater freedom to be gorily violent (excessively so), edgier, and grittier with added dark humour, yet stays within the basic parameters of the comic book film conventions.
James Gunn has form in this genre, directing the two Guardians Of The Galaxy films for Marvel, and he brings the subversive humour and group camaraderie this franchise was lacking before. The script is more focused, but chooses to stay true to the framework established by the 2016 film, so rather than a reboot, it has a loose continuity to it. It does, however, work on the assumption the audience saw the first film and understands the basic concept but offers exposition fill in the blanks.
Regarding the situation in Corto Maltese, an anti-American dictatorship is in power and plans to utilise Project Starfish to meet its objectives, which is to destroy everyone who opposes their will, specifically Americans. The hideout for the project’s development is an old castle named Jotunheim, the Nazi connotations as blatant as you might expect for something that involves human experimentation.
Except the secret behind it all is a lot more spectacular or dumb per your tolerance for comic book tropes – i.e. alien technology coming directly from the alien itself. There is a political subtext to this which defies the usual USA flag waving rhetoric, well, temporarily that is, given the twist that the ones who discover the secret are criminals yet have a more robust moral compass than those “good people” who want the secret buried.
But I’m sure you don’t care about the story, just about the antic of these colourful anti-heroes. As mentioned earlier, there are two groups featured, the first are all but wiped out in the opening 15 minutes. Among them is TDK (Nathan Fillion) who can detach his arms from his body; Boomerang (Jai Courtney) a short lived cameo from the first film; a large weasel, and Javelin (Flula Borg) because he carries… well you guessed it.
Suicide Squad v2 is led by Bloodsport, blackmailed by Waller into participating through threatening to jail his estranged 16 year-old daughter Tyla (Storm Reid). His skill is that anything in his hands becomes a dangerous weapon, which is also Peacemaker’s gimmick, except he is a total dick about it. There is also no escaping the irony of this name for somebody so trigger happy and deranged – and he gets his own TV series?
Polka-Dot Man gets his name from literally throwing destructive polka dots at people, but he has to visualise his targets as his mother to do so, as it was her experimenting on him that left him that way. Ratcatcher II is the daughter of a man who built a device which can control rats. She has her own personal rat, Sebastian, a show stealer like Groot and even more endearing than the amusing hulking dumb fish Nanue.
Harley Quinn, it has to be said, feels like she is in a different film, Everything about her scenes feels more like fan service than being integral to the plot. Whilst she has some good lines and some great fights, they could have ported some of her stuff over to another token female or even Ratcatcher II, but I guess they wanted to ensure a captive audience in lieu of the main cast this time around being new.
There is one scene I must make mention of – when a support character called Milton is killed, Harley asks, “Who?” and Polka-Dot Man explains he was there from the start. Harley draws a blank until she sees his corpse then realises who he was. I know there are more obvious in-jokes and meta gags in this film but this one really stood out for me, as I am sure we have all felt the same when watching a film.
Given its genre, you can go into this with certain expectations of the presentation and it doesn’t deviate from the CGI heavy visual concussion synonymous with it. The first part recalls Rambo from being set in the jungle, before morphing into familiar territory when the action takes to the streets. The Kaiju-esque finale is fast becoming a cliché in these films; in this case it is not hard to evoke images of the gauche alien forms from cult Japanese sci-fi Warning From Space when watching the giant starfish.
Congrats are due to James Gunn for taking a potential turkey like The Suicide Squad and making a perfectly edible meal out of it. It’s not perfect but substantially better than the first effort, proving how studio interference will never substitute a director left to his own devices, even in the comic book movie milieu.