It’s hard to imagine a better writer/director to take on The Suicide Squad than James Gunn. Having helmed the pitch-black comedy Super and Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy films, he’s the perfect choice for this kind of material. The first Suicide Squad may not have been a critical darling in 2016, but its huge box office guaranteed a sequel of some kind. Of course, The Suicide Squad isn’t a sequel in the strictest sense – there’s no mention of the original, bar the return of several characters – and instead positions itself as a standalone “Squad” film with a completely new tone, style and story. The resulting film is definitely the work of Gunn, with his peculiar mix of earnest characterisation and quirky humour, combining the heart of Guardians with the dark R-rated (15 in the UK) humour of Super in a strange collage of characters, thrust into a story taken straight out of a DC comic book.
The film sees Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) recruit the best and the worst – mostly the worst – of super-villainy held at Belle Reeve prison including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Savant (Michael Rooker), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone, physically played by Steve Agee), Weasel (Sean Gunn) and various others, led by Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) on a mission to destroy all trace of Project Starfish: a secret installation in the island of Corto Maltese. Oh, and if you thought Starfish was just a random code-name, it isn’t – the secret base does actually hold a giant starfish called Starro the Conqueror. If the squad – known officially as Taskforce X – succeed, their prison sentences are reduced. If not, they’ll either die in the field or get their heads blown off by Waller. Hence, the Suicide Squad.
Yes, if names like “Starro” and “Polka-Dot Man” lead you to sigh in despair at the current state of cinema, perhaps The Suicide Squad is not for you. It’s big, bold and utterly ridiculous in all the ways a film like this should be – unlike the “gritty” tone of the first film – and this is evident in every aspect of the film. The costumes are a strange mix of various styles, with the blue armoured look of Bloodspot contrasting with the ridiculous over-saturated Peacemaker (who looks like an action-man figure brought to life). Harley Quinn actually gets to dress like Harley for once, with her trademark red-and-black costume re-worked into a more “practical” look, whilst Polka-Dot Man really is just dressed in a white suit with brightly-coloured polka-dots on it. Oh, and he can fire polka-dots at people like projectile weapons. Did I mention how crazy this movie is? There’s a talking shark man and everything!
James Gunn does manage to find some humanity in these characters though, whether it be the terror in Savant’s eyes in the film’s opening beach battle, or the surrogate father/daughter relationship between Bloodspot and Ratcatcher 2, or Harley’s desire to escape from yet another toxic boyfriend. Everyone in the main squad have arcs that develop over the course of the film, and when they have their final showdown with Starro, it really does feel like these characters have been on a journey. Naturally, Gunn’s trademark crass humour is sprinkled throughout, with some great one-liners (“my helmet is not a toilet bowl, it’s a beacon of freedom“) and some really terrific action sequences. It’s definitely violent but the added gore feels consistent with the tone and the characters, as opposed to being gory for the sake of it. While James Gunn‘s dark sense of humour has definitely softened over the years, The Suicide Squad does benefit greatly from it. After all, this is a film about supervillains, not superheroes.
The Suicide Squad‘s ensemble cast are uniformly brilliant: Idris Elba is great as Bloodsport, who really can’t find the energy to go on the mission in the first place, while Margot Robbie turns in another terrific performance as the lovable Harley Quinn. I’ve liked John Cena in other films, but he really stands out here; particularly in the film’s third act as everything starts to fall apart (both literally and figuratively). Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney all return from the first movie with a renewed sense of enthusiasm, and Peter Capaldi proves that while yes, he was a terrific Twelfth Doctor in Doctor Who, he also could have been a superb Master. The real standout for me though was Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2: an instantly endearing and funny character with incredibly emotive eyes – I wouldn’t be too surprised if this becomes her breakout role into Hollywood stardom.
The production values across the board are excellent. I think the costumes are all so unique and ridiculous that I think the design team have already earned an Oscar next year, while Henry Braham‘s cinematography is very bright and colourful, allowing the comic-esque costumes and production design to really “pop” on screen. The CGI effects are really well-integrated with the live-action elements, and the emphasis on practical effects, sets and stunt-work lends more of a grounded sense to a heightened story. John Murphy‘s score also works really well, while James Gunn makes sure to add in a Suicide Squad mix-tape for fans to listen to on repeat.
If you are going to see The Suicide Squad though (and if not, why not?), it is definitely worth seeing in IMAX. The film was shot for IMAX with various IMAX-adapted RED cameras, and is presented in the full, expanded 1.90:1 digital IMAX aspect ratio. There’s not varying aspect ratio in this one, it’s entirely filmed in IMAX (like Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) and it looks amazing on the big screen. The huge scale of the film translates really well to a massive IMAX screen, while the sound design and music really benefit from the immersive IMAX 6-Track mix. For The Suicide Squad, I really do recommend the IMAX experience (and I’m not even being paid to say that!)
Overall, the blend of emotional moments, comedy and bloody fight sequences really helps to make The Suicide Squad feel like a complete package. There’s plenty of twists and turns in the story, the characters are all very memorable and the post-credits scene is a must-watch if you want to see more from this ensemble. The Suicide Squad feels like the most unique and auteur-driven comic book movie since Edgar Wright‘s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and if you think the trailers seemed pretty weird… let’s just say you haven’t seen anything yet!