The Suicide Squad

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A scene in The Suicide Squad.
A scene in The Suicide Squad.
Photo: Warner Bros


The Suicide Squad


DStv Box Office


4/5 Stars


In this semi-follow-up to 2016's Suicide Squad, we now find Amanda Waller once again recruiting a new group of convicted criminals to embark on a suicide mission that, should they survive, ten years will be docked off their current prison sentence. Their mission: to head deep into the South American island nation of Corto Maltese to stop the new anti-American government from developing Project Starfish – a potentially catastrophic weapon of extraterrestrial origins.


Though originally conceived during DC Comics' Silver Age in 1959 for a short six-issue stint in the Brave and the Bold title that was running at the time, the Suicide Squad as we know it today was properly introduced in 1987 by writer John Ostrander (who actually makes a Stan-Lee-like cameo appearance at the beginning of The Suicide Squad) and was very much part of DC's push to cater to adult audiences with their comics. It didn't have the same level of "mature content" (read: nudity and swearing) of contemporaries like Watchmen, the Sandman or Mike Grell's Green Arrow, but it was a fairly full-on, genuinely mature espionage comic that happened to feature some of the company's most colourful, and often obscure, villains in central roles.

It was an ingenious little concept that Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell ran with for 66 issues and a handful of specials, but the Suicide Squad aka Task Force X and its morally suspect leader, Amanda Waller, have been a staple in DC's comics and media tie-ins ever since – including another half dozen or so later volumes of the Suicide Squad comic book by other writers, animated feature films, appearances in all sorts of different DC TV shows, and, of course, its own film in 2016.

That film, simply titled Suicide Squad, had some big-name talent both in front of and behind the camera, but it looked then like another major failure in those nascent days of the DC Expanded Universe of films - following hot on the trails as it did of Batman v Superman and before Wonder Woman would properly right that rapidly sinking ship – and it looks even worse in retrospect. Whether the fault lay mostly with significant studio interference or with writer/director David Ayer, the result is still a spectacularly bad superhero movie; one whose only saving grace was introducing the world to Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn.

Harley went on to much better things with the fantastically enjoyable Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, and now, five years later, the Squad itself has its own chance at redemption or, at the very least, a shortened prison sentence.

And, aside from a few smallish problems, it is very much mission accomplished. It still has little to do with the original comic book – it's less a character-driven espionage drama and more a nutso action-comedy (though, actually, with more focus on character than might first appear) – but that definite article really has made all the difference.

Though simply calling this sequel/reboot "The Suicide Squad" is bound to lead to plenty of confusion with its predecessor down the line, it could hardly be a more different movie. The events of Suicide Squad still "happened", and we do have a few returning faces (most crucially, Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller and, of course, Robbie as everyone's favourite loveable psycho), but this otherwise has less than nothing to do with that particular car-crash of a film.

Whether or not David Ayer actually had a more coherent vision of Suicide Squad than the heavily compromised end result suggested, The Suicide Squad is a film very much of a single, cohesive vision – that of writer/director James Gunn. Gunn, who jumped ship to DC from Marvel after two Guardians of the Galaxy movies (don't worry, he'll be jumping right back very shortly for Guardians 3), was able to assert his very specific voice in the midst of what was still then quite a uniform, company-driven Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he does the same thing here. The main difference this time around, though, is that while he had to significantly tone down the sometimes quite extreme violence and foul language that had been his stock in trade for the PG-13 rating that the studio demanded for Guardians, he has had to do nothing of the sort here.

The Suicide Squad is very sweary, crude, and ludicrously (though cartoonishly) violent, but the same hallmarks that made the Guardians films such a hit are all very much present and accounted for here. Relentlessly paced, funny, surprisingly sweet-natured, unapologetically goofy, and set around a group of outlaws looking for a chance at redemption, the film also features plenty of highly stylised moments that tip the whole thing firmly into the realm of the absurd. There are also the usual cameos/extended roles for Gunn favourites like Nathan Fillian, Michael Rooker and his own brother, Sean Gunn; a (not quite as good) needle-drop pop soundtrack; vibrant, colourful visuals; and even more vibrant and colourful characters.

This is a James Gunn film through and through, but, fortunately, it's not merely a retread of Guardians of the Galaxy with added filth. The plot is, until the final, insane act (Starro the Bloody Conquerer! In live action! Holy crap!) far more grounded than either Guardians film – albeit with even more shocks and twists - and though this is hardly Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, it does at least have some espionage trappings to stop it from flying too far off the handle.

Our antiheroes too – which include a talking shark-man voiced by Sylvester Stallone; an insane ex-psychiatrist dressed as, well, a harlequin; a psychotic super-soldier with a mantra of: "I cherish peace. I don't care how many men, women and children I kill to get it."; and, of course, Polka-Dot Man – have probably collectively killed less people than the Guardians, but have to fight a hell of a lot harder to be at all heroic. All that is, except for the heart and soul of the film, Ratcatcher II – daughter of the deceased Ratcatcher I, who may have the ability to control rats but whose biggest crime seems to be being a lazy millennial.

The characters in The Suicide Squad (and the actors that play them) are so perfectly realised and are such terrifically good fun that they are just about enough to paper over the film's weaker aspects. It is about fifteen minutes too long, some of the jokes fall quite flat, it's perhaps too relentless for its own good, and even though Thanos himself would cower before the terrifying presence of Viola Davis' coldly amoral Amanda Waller, the other human villains (er, the villains that we're supposed to root against, that is) leave something to be desired. Also, to be sure, though this is very much my bag, The Suicide Squad is way too quirky, too profane, too gleefully silly to work for everyone - and those who don't like it will probably really, really hate it.

Go with it, though, and you're in for one of the best films in the ever-improving DC Extended Universe – one that is as far away from the grim beginnings of Man of Steel as you could hope to get. It's a total blast.


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