The Suicide Squad

It's hard to watch The Suicide Squad without thinking about the situation its writer/director James Gunn was in at the time he made it. In 2018, the Guardians of the Galaxy filmmaker had been fired – temporarily, as it turns out – by Disney/Marvel, after right-wing activists dug up some purposefully offensive old tweets of his, written during an era when that type of comedy was in vogue. So Warner Bros./DC, eager to show up their rivals, gave Gunn carte blanche to adapt pretty much any of their intellectual property. With impressive nerve, Gunn chose to reboot Suicide Squad, which the studio had released just two years earlier to decent box office (if dismal reviews). And he wanted to make it R-rated. The studio said yes, and the results are pure, unadulterated, Slither-era James Gunn.

I never saw that original Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer. Turns out, it's not necessary. Gunn's revamp reminds us of the premise in seconds flat: various incarcerated villains from the DC comics universe are forced by the government to employ their powers on dangerous missions. If they succeed, their jail sentences are reduced. If they fail, they die – either killed in action, or blown up by government-planted bombs in their skulls. We are thrown into the action when protagonist Savant (Gunn regular Michael Rooker) joins a motley crew of baddies in invading the island of Corto Maltese (cheekily named after an old Italian comic book character). Things go suddenly wrong, nearly all the characters are wiped out, and then we see the film's title written into the production design. This was all just prologue.

The rest of the story follows the "B Team", a smaller and even more ragtag group of individuals more or less led by a crack shot named Bloodsport (Idris Elba). They cross paths with the first team's two survivors – Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and the indestructible Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, naturally) – and proceed with the mission, which involves a socialist coup, a U.S. coverup, and a giant cosmic starfish. (As with the film's goofier characters like Polka-Dot Man and King Shark, this seems like something from Gunn's fevered imagination, but in fact it's from the DC comics.)

I found The Suicide Squad to be great fun – Gunn's jokey dialogue can be hit-or-miss (only John Cena as the patriotic numbskull Peacemaker and Peter Capaldi as the depraved Thinker consistently hit the right beats), but the narrative is tight, each character gets his or her moment, and there's even room for some valid critique on America's military-industrial complex.

It comes down to this: if you're a fan of James Gunn's R-rated, Troma-nursed work, then I don't see how you won't enjoy The Suicide Squad. But if you already find his Guardians films a little over-the-top, then this one is not for you.