The Suicide Squad

Gore, gonzo energy & dark comedy take The Suicide Squad to a different level

Director James Gunn brings his Guardians of the Galaxy experience and roots in low-budget Troma films into play in this action-packed reboot.

I could spend this entire review detailing the weird internal politics, scheduling issues and general disarray that led to James Gunn, director of a major Marvel sub-franchise, being fired from that franchise and being hired by DC to make a reboot / sequel to a widely derided movie. It would end with James Gunn somehow being re-hired on the first franchise he was fired from, effectively making him the person who most benefited from his own disciplinary measures. I could do that, but the truth is it has little to do with the end product here. If anything, The Suicide Squad has a hell of a lot more to do with Gunn’s roots in low-budget gonzo cinema as part of the Troma stable than his work on Guardians of the Galaxy. Granted, The Suicide Squad is a mega-budget superhero movie and not some stapled-together gory comedy with copious jokes about quaffing pints of diarrhea or what have you, but the gap between the two is much smaller than you might think.

Faced with a recent military coup in the small island of Corto Maltese, the American government has tasked operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) with putting together a team of supervillains to go and fix the mess. Supervillains are sprung from jail and a bomb is injected into their heads; should they refuse to complete the mission, the bomb will be detonated. If they succeed with the mission, however, they can have a significant part of their jail sentence shaved off. Two teams are sent to Corto Maltese, but the film mainly focuses on hyper focused gunman Bloodsport (Idris Elba), psychotic patriot Peacemaker (John Cena), the no-introduction-needed Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), dimwitted giant shark Nanaue (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), the polka-dot-throwing Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and rat whisperer Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) as they make their way through the civil war on the small island.

The Suicide Squad
David Dastmalchian, John Cena, Idris Elba and Daniela Melchior

Gunn makes it clear from the get-go that we can expect the unexpected. It’s a violent, foul-mouthed and often pretty puerile take on the superhero movie that, admittedly, spends more time just being a regular action movie than indulging in the familiar tropes of the superhero genre. None of this is exactly novel. The sense of humour is generally about on par with the Deadpool movies, minus that series’ po-mo self-reflexive tendencies. In fact, one major gag is essentially lifted straight from the second Deadpool movie, which goes a long way towards explaining that The Suicide Squad is perhaps not as edgy and caustic as it may project. Heads explode in gobs of gore at a rather frequent pace; anticlimactic death scenes abound, as do long bouts of banter filled with non-sequiturs.

The good news is Gunn is generally pretty good at all of those things, and the blank cheque offered by DC means he can go wild on some of the sillier, more ridiculous ideas in his arsenal. Perhaps the most important aspect of the whole thing is that The Suicide Squad is not particularly beholden to any sort of continuity. Although its emotional stakes are somewhat tempered by Gunn’s widespread rapscallion attitude, one does really get the feeling that anything could happen, which makes it significantly less of a slog than its ilk. The Suicide Squad is often pretty funny thanks to its always-game cast and Gunn’s keen construction of sight gags, although the film’s general “can you believe we’re getting away with this?!” style of humour starts to peter out by the third act.

In fact, the only real quantifiable flaw of The Suicide Squad is that it overstays its welcome. It’s a breezy, in-the-know B-movie that somehow stretches out to 132 minutes and spends a lot of its second half going over the same jokes and trope deconstructions over and over again. It’s a problem that many movies with this tone have: once you establish that anything can and will happen, the unpredictable becomes predictable. One assumes automatically that things will go horribly, comically wrong at any opportunity, which dampens the comic effect of the same thing going wrong for the eighth time. Nevertheless, The Suicide Squad rarely feels like a boilerplate superhero movie in which the protagonists must find some box / crystal / dagger and eventually fight off a giant CGI creature, which is enough of a blessing in itself to forgive some of the more self-indulgent rounding of the bases that Gunn seems uninterested in avoiding.

The Suicide Squad opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Aug. 6.

The Suicide Squad, directed by James Gunn, starring Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman and Viola Davis

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