Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE SUICIDE SQUAD
Rated R, 2 hours and 12 minutes
Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Idris Elba, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Margot Robbie, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion, Jai Courtney, Flula Borg, Mayling Ng, Pete Davidson, Sean Gunn, Steve Agee, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Juan Diego Botto
Director James Gunn’s THE SUICIDE SQUAD plays like a distant, yet still distinctly related, cousin to director David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD; the DNA is assuredly there, only it’s been drastically rearranged for everyone’s betterment. This new iteration of the beloved supervillain crew taps into substantially deeper themes than its forbearer while at the same time delivering a strikingly reverential, reinvigorated sense of bold, pitch-black humor. It earns its hard R rating. Though deliciously violent, unapologetically haywire, and wildly uproarious, it’s also brilliantly audacious, sharply intelligent and surprisingly heartfelt. Altogether, this is a rip-roaring, gorgeously stylized, action-packed fun time.
Gunn’s winking wit is on display from the first big action set piece where he combines previous characters Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) with new members Savant (Michael Rooker), Javelin (Flula Borg), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), TDK (Nathan Fillion), Mongal (Maylin Ng) and Weasel (Sean Gunn) – solely to metaphorically torpedo the path laid. This switcheroo, plotted by government head honcho Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), makes room for the backup squad to complete a reconnaissance mission. Those begrudgingly on board are Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Peacemaker (John Cena) and King Shark/ Nanaue (voiced by Sylvester Stallone).
This gaggle of expendable miscreants has been tasked to quietly invade a small South American country, Corto Maltese, where the government is suspected of creating a biological weapon of mass destruction – a giant, mind-controlling, one-eyed starfish from space. It’s been kept at a top secret facility and tended to by mad scientist Thinker (Peter Capaldi). As the team soldiers through the jungle, trying to find answers and a cogent style of teamwork, they encounter Sol Soria (Alice Braga), a rebel buddy of Rick Flag who’s rescued her pal from the sandy beach melee. She exposes them to the truth of the situation at hand. Meanwhile, Harley Quinn, who’s been captured by the Corto Maltese military, is causing her own style of coup with the country’s narcissistic president (Juan Diego Botto), who falls for her dangerous beauty and charms.
Though there are plenty of hilariously puerile jokes and silly, sophomoric gags, this picture stands as Gunn’s maturation as a filmmaker. He pays homage to his past Troma roots with influences wafting through the film, and the whip-smart humorous asides recall his work on the GUARDIANS franchise. However, this comic-book based feature takes a decidedly different tone with its smart, enlightened sentiments. It doesn’t move or breathe like his previous projects. The soundtrack complements the dramatics rather than stands out from them. There are somber, sobering notes behind the character-driven mayhem. The commentary infused into the narrative, dealing with displacement, colonialism, and consequences of jingoistic government actions, is certainly unexpected in a film of this ilk, but absolutely brilliant and right on target.
Despite the sprawling ensemble assembled, Gunn blessedly makes sure to give all the actors shining moments, weaving themes into their tangibly textured character fabrics. What could be misconstrued as “daddy issues” and misogyny, respectively, with Ratcatcher 2 and Polka-Dot Man’s tragic backstories, are capably given depth and dimension by Melchior and Dastmalchian. Their empathetic performances feel intimate and immediate. Robbie, who’s now played Harley Quinn twice before, finds new colors and layers to unfurl – ones that make us root for her playfully demented, under-estimated underdog. While the character isn’t a being of many words, Gunn finds poetic beauty in a sequence involving Nanaue and a giant fish tank. But perhaps most moving is the evolution of Bloodsport from deadbeat dad, who suffers from a slew of parental issues (both that he’s endured and that he inflicts on others), to an inevitable leader.
This isn’t to say the film is entirely free from problems. One too many flashbacks lead to a disjointed feeling, not added interest as the device would suggest. Pacing is a bit of an issue, lacking a snappy quality, particularly in the second act when things meander. And, in a feature chock full of villains, albeit misunderstood ones, the human foes continually shift and change for convoluted reasons.
Still, this is fairly forgivable given the film’s engrossing entertainment factor, handsomely-stylized aesthetics and well-written characters. These are anti-heroes worthy of being called super. And their showcase is an epic, fantastical adventure not to be missed.
Grade: 4 out of 5
THE SUICIDE SQUAD will release in theaters and will begin streaming on HBOMax on August 6.