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MOVIES: The Suicide Squad - Review

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There are minor spoilers in this review but it is largely spoiler-free. That said – proceed with caution.

When David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was released in 2016, it quickly became apparent that it was not just a let-down, it was one of the worst comic book movies ever made. Even though Ayer, like Snyder, wants to release his own cut – a good movie did not come out of the 2017 Justice League and with Ayer’s track record being hit and miss at best, a fresh new start was needed. Enter: James Gunn, coming off the back of delivering two of the best Marvel movies that we’ve had so far, Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel. Given full creative control and told to do whatever he wanted, Gunn more than delivered – coming back to DC with one of the most weird and wacky comic book movies to date – a truly entertaining superhero blockbuster that proves he’s the best comic book movie director currently working, responsible for not just Marvel’s two best films, but now, DC’s best movie too.

The Suicide Squad opens with a live version of a Johnny Cash song (“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash…” are the first words you hear) – and introduces us to a new iteration of the Squad. Right from the start Gunn reminds you that they’re essentially disposable assets and anyone on the team can die, making it really hard to keep this review spoiler-free. But the creative characters were deliberately picked because they were among DC’s weirdest superheroes or supervillains, from John Cena (a true improvement on his performance in F9)’s ruthless Peacemaker (you aren’t ready for his TV series) to Pete Davidson’s Blackguard, The Suicide Squad’s new roster is full with creativity and a sense of mortality that the 2016 film didn’t have. What’s more is that Gunn gives you a reason to care about these characters – even the smallest of roles gets their moment that reminds you that they’re human beneath everything and it pays off dividends, a truly impressive feat that the film spends this much time with its characters whilst still pulling off a brilliant balancing act with its pacing.

Influences are everywhere yet never detract from the film’s originality. Sam Peckinpah’s brutal-but-amazing Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia no doubt leaves a heavy shadow over this film – and this film is one of the rare superhero movies that takes pot-shots at American capitalism rather than embracing it wholeheartedly. Gunn gives the squad a mission – to infiltrate an occupied island off the coast of America that has just undergone a bloody coup where its new rulers aren’t exactly pro-America friendly, but on top of that there is something more sinister lurking on the island that the Squad need to stop before word of it gets out. The mission is simple – but the action is anything but, incredibly creative and stylish – James Gunn doesn’t get enough love for being able to craft spectacular action scenes and his Come a Little Bit Closer set-piece with Yondu and Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 remains one of the most unique comic book movie moments. Every action scene feels ripped straight from the pages of a comic book rather than being a dull punch-fest, the colours are wacky and creative and the variety of the combat keeps things incredibly fresh.

New characters mix in seamlessly with the old ones. Idris Elba’s Bloodsport was a role originally written as a replacement for Will Smith’s Deadshot so the similarities between the two characters are almost uncanny, but Elba brings a true leading performance to the role. It’s a joy watching him working with Cena – both have excellent chemistry. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, now in her third outing of the character, is not quite as strongly written as in Birds of Prey but is reduced to more of a supporting role which she works best at. Gunn gives each of the core members of the Squad their time to shine – even Sylvester Stallone’s King Shark is humanised.

Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2 is one of the best breakout characters in the cast, and Peter Capaldi’s The Thinker is the MVP of the whole thing purely because it’s just so good watching Capaldi swear again following his tenure in The Thick of It as foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker. David Dastmalchian and Joel Kinnaman are as excellent as ever too – Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man has the weirdest superhero powers in a movie yet, and Kinnaman feels less hard-edged than the first film, more friendly than stiff. Elsewhere, Michael Rooker reunites with James Gunn and Jai Courtney reprises his role as Captain Boomerang, leading to a fairly large ensemble – but it’s probably best not to get too attached to anyone as nobody is safe and anyone can die at any opportunity. Such is the life as a Squad member. And then Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller presides over all – watching from the side-lines but not afraid to blow up any Squad member for deserting, even more ruthless than the real villain of the piece.

The film follows a typical three act structure but intermixes with flashbacks that showcase what separated members of the Squad are up to at the same time as the others. This kills a bit of the momentum occasionally as Gunn deploys this usually in the thick of the action, but it feels like the last page of a comic book – a cliffhanger designed to pull you back into the next issue. The Suicide Squad is firing on all cylinders and the moments where it slows down is rare – stopping the action to humanise characters before it gets going again.

Less of a product of the mundane grey blockbusters that we’ve had over the last few years and more of a return to the weird and wacky style of Guillermo Del Toro that made the first two Hellboy films so unique, James Gunn delivers what the first Suicide Squad should have been all along – it’s less of a spiritual sequel and more of another attempt at getting the first one right. But the fact that the quality gap between the first film and this is as large as it is shows Gunn’s brilliance as a director – it’s creative, visually stunning and very on point from start to finish. If only more comic book movies could take as many risks as this one.

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