A few obstacles remain before James “Guardians of the Galaxy” Gunn is officially canonized for pulling “The Suicide Squad,” the DC universe and Warner Brothers out of the comic book movie doldrums.
Firstly, there’s the undebatable fact that Warners/DC has set the bar so low. Everybody watching the non “Dark Knight” films sits with fingers crossed, hoping that “THIS time” they won’t “Jonah Hex/Zack Snyder/David Ayer” up the works.
“The Suicide Squad” reset is a big step up from the 2016 film, a slight improvement on “Birds of Prey” and more watchably “fun” than “Wonder Woman 2,” “Aquaman,” or any recent “Justice” this or “Super” that. Gunn gets what a giggle these “dark” endeavors should be and proceeds accordingly.
Yet this “Squad” has an indifferent villain, somnambulant middle acts and violence so glibly gory it’d made Deadpool wince. The time shifts in the story are handled with cute animated “titles,” but are still clumsy. And sure, the carnage is played for comedy. See enough of it and you start to feel numbed to it, as if the movie is sucking out a little piece of your soul.
But Gunn brings a playfulness to the entire genre every time out, and that’s the saving grace of his “Squad.” Take the best thing about the first two entries in this universe — Margot Robbie‘s Harley Quinn — and reduce her number of scenes to punch up her impact. She dazzles in this part, a callous, coarse, kewpie doll with “killing” on the brain, and a tween urchin’s view of the mean streets.
“I love the rain, it’s like angels are splooging all over us!”
The shift in tone is embodied by Oscar winner Viola Davis‘s performances in the 2016 “Squad” and now. Now she is WAY over the top as Amanda Waller, the Project X/”Dark Ops” chief with a murderous temper and a fanatic’s commitment to “mission.” She doesn’t care how many she kills or gets killed, has little concern for “collateral damage” and gets into shouting spit-rages with the guy she wants to “lead” this latest mission, gadget-packed marksman and prison inmate Bloodsport (Idris Elba).
“You fail to follow my orders in any way, and I detonate the explosive device in the base of your skull.”
Make her character funny and you change the tone and the franchise.
This “mission” assembles two teams for an assault on the Caribbean island nation of Corto Maltese, where a coup has put a dangerous top secret facility and its head scientist, The Thinker (Peter Capaldi) in play. “Terminate with extreme prejudice” it and maybe even him at all costs.
One team includes Harley Quinn, the sadistic Savant (Michael Rooker), Mongal
(Mayling Ng), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Blackguard (Pete Davidson) and others.
As much as I’d like to joke that the picture peaks with Blackguard/Davidson getting his head blown off (talk about “fan service”), it doesn’t.
Elba handles the comic requirements of his part and the picture well, bouncing off Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), playing up his character’s “thing” about rats (“She controls rats? What a REVOLTIN’ superpower!”), squabbling with his fellow “marksman,” the ironically murderous Peacemaker (John Cena, hilarious) and rolling his eyes at Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian, almost the funniest of the lot) and the profoundly dim but almost unkillable beast, Nanaue, aka “King Shark,” the “I am Groot!” dolt in this “Galaxy.”
Sylvester Stallone voices the shark, which is all you need to know.
Joel Kinnaman (“For All Mankind,” “House of Cards”) returns to the unenviable, somewhat thankless role of Col. Rick Flag, “straight man” to this crackers crew.
The mission is launched, mayhem ensues and mistakes are made — a LOT of them. Waller’s bureaucrats take it in the ‘nads as being apathetic office drones, careless about other people’s lives and sloppy in their “research” that built this comically-mismatched “team.”
The dialogue is comic-book punchy and funny. “Nothing like a bloodbath to start the day.”
“I don’t like to kill people,” Polka Dot man confesses. “But if I pretend it’s my mom, it’s easy.” That sets up the funniest running gag of the picture. And Gunn loves his running gags.
I thought the film started strong and finished with a whimper, with flashes of fun standing out in draggy middle acts that play like boring filler. Despite dabbling in Banana Republic politics and American “meddling,” it’s not really “about” anything.
Robbie, Cena, Davis and Elba stand out, Capaldi looks annoyed at showing up in heavy makeup and not having anything funny to play.
This makes for a just-fun-enough, perfectly-serviceable sequel and reset of the “Squad,” and best wishes for Warner Brothers to make a mint with it. But unlike “Guardians of the Galaxy” or anything with the almost-as-violent “Deadpool” in it, I can’t say I’d ever care to sit through it again.
MPA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Cast: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, Alice Braga, Joel Kinnaman, Peter Capaldi, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Pete Davidson and the voice of Sly Stallone.
Credits: Scripted and directed by James Gunn. A Warner Brothers release.
Running time: 2:12