VOD film review: The Suicide Squad (2021)
James R | On 11, Sep 2021
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena
Never has the definite article felt so proudly displayed than at the front of “The Suicide Squad”, James Gunn’s new DC movie that takes the concept of David Ayer’s 2016 misfire and runs with it all the way to happy town.
The premise makes it clear that this isn’t a family-friendly superhero adventure: it follows Task Force X, a group of dangerous incarcerated villains recruited by a shady government wing to carry out black ops missions. Telling them what to do is Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), one of the few people to make the cut from the first film, and her lynchpin performance is a sign of what makes the franchise work – she screams her way through her ruthless orders with a fierce commitment to the brief, but isn’t above having some fun with it too.
That same balance is what made Margot Robbie such a winning success as Harley Quinn not only in the first Suicide Squad film but her own follow-up, Birds of Prey. Here, Robbie breezes through the carnage with a sunny disposition that’s somewhere between laissez-faire smarts and cheerful cluelessness. A standout sequence sees her take care of a corridor full of bad guys while the scenery fills up with colourful flowers and cartoon birds, like the opening titles to a Disney movie that’s playing only in her head. An early subplot involving the ruler of a dislikable despot (Juan Diego Botto) gives her a toxic man to play off, which is when her character is at its best, but it also smartly lets Gunn’s script move her slightly to one side so the new faces in the group can make an impact.
They include Idris Elba as Bloodsport, a hitman whose professional choices come with questions about what that will mean for his strained relationship with his daughter. A gruff, reluctant team player, he has just enough grit and grounded emotion to inject some depth into events. He’s joined by Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchoir), who can control rodents and has her own cathartic flashbacks to sink her teeth into, and Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who stays just the right side of a tragically distressed man. Oh, and a shark voiced with growling deadpan by Sylvester Stallone. The fun, though, comes from Elba’s chemistry with John Cena’s wonderfully outrageous Peacemaker, a man who believes in peace so much that he’ll do horrible things to get it – a surprisingly sharp bit of satire that Cena delivers with loud aplomb. Holding them all together is Joel Kinnaman’s weary leader Rick Flag, who also returns from the original film (and gets more screen time than the other returning player, Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang).
Not unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a well-cast bunch of oddballs and they gel together well enough to make for some entertaining blockbusting – literally, when they wind up dodging destruction in a climax that plays out like a nightmarish version of Pokémon. Gunn, meanwhile, brings enough colourful mayhem and vibrant imagination to the table to keep things alarming and surprising, as well as amusing. If the 2016 film was oddly generic and unmemorable, this second, playfully creative attempt succeeds because it understands exactly what’s required, then doesn’t give it a second thought. Is it a sequel? A reboot? A remake? The film simply doesn’t care – this is the only Suicide Squad you need to worry about, its title tells us, and it backs that confidence up with a swaggering cocktail of chaos and humour.