‘The Suicide Squad’ kills

“The Suicide Squad” (2021) – And you thought a talking tree was weird.

Writer, director, producer, and occasional actor James Gunn pulled off some pretty darn impressive cinematic magic in 2014.  He directed and co-wrote “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and stirred millions of moviegoers to passionately care about his Marvel Studios’ space adventure, one starring an NBC sitcom actor, a pro wrestler, Uhura from the new “Star Trek” films (but donning green makeup), a talking raccoon, and the aforementioned tree.  Gunn’s film raked in 733 million dollars at the box office. 

How does that happen? 

Gunn’s unbarred imagination and charisma are two good guesses. 

Well, Warner Bros. Pictures hired Gunn to helm a new Suicide Squad escapade, “The Suicide Squad”, and according to Louis Chilton’s The Independent Aug. 3, 2021 article, the new movie is neither a sequel nor a reboot.  By my count (and it could be inaccurate), three squad members – Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) – plus Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) are carryovers from the 2016 flick.  Now, how many TSS felons, in total, appear in the 2021 version? 

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)

It’s difficult to determine because an array of men and women sporting bright primary and secondary color spandex and pleather frequently and quickly pop on and off the screen.  It may be easier to shovel an incoming Miami, Fla. tide back into the ocean during hurricane season than accurately count the number officially included on Waller’s Suicide Squad.

If you’re not familiar with the D.C. comic or the 2016 film, here’s a quick rundown.  Waller heads a government black ops program comprised of super and non-so-super villains to lead “The Dirty Dozen” (1967)-type missions to protect or serve the United States’ best interests.  If the baddies are successful, Amanda knocks time off their prison sentences, but if a squad member fails to follow orders, she can push a red button and blow up the person’s head to smithereens via a well-placed microchip inserted into their skulls before deployment.  Unsurprisingly, the assignments are hyper-treacherous, so chances for survival are slim, and hence the team name.  However, their alias is Task Force X.  Still, Suicide Squad has an edgier and catchier moniker.

For this movie, Waller gives the orders to travel to Corto Maltese – a South American island nation – and destroy a towering, bleak laboratory that quasi-resembles a cylinder version of Pyongyang’s infamous Ryugyong Hotel (nicknamed The Hotel of Doom) before its partial-remodel, of course.  The Squad doesn’t know the exact nefarious guests inside, but since a military faction – not friendly to the U.S. – overthrew the Corto Maltese government, it’s best to mess up their plans today rather than confront a more menacing adversary tomorrow. 

Ms. Waller explains all this in a classroom setting to her star pupils:  Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone). 

Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone)

Here are some brief bios: 

Bloodsport is a mercenary/bounty hunter-type and imprisoned for firing a Kryptonite bullet at Superman.  This incident was off-camera. 

Peacemaker is a muscle-bound all-American soldier with an overzealous love for the country, and he wears a spherical silver helmet, which his team refers to as a toilet bowl.

Ratcatcher 2 is a pleasant 20-something with a connection with rat populations.

Polka-Dot Man can fire thousands of polka dots from his hands that act as bullets, lasers, or something.

King Shark is, well, a walking, talking 7-foot shark who wears cargo shorts and enjoys a steady diet of human beings. 

These particular and several other villains-turned-temporary-patriots dive into a kamikaze – by-sea and by-land – assault on Corto Maltese. Waller and Flag devised an overarching plan, but individual confrontations occupy immediate spaces of gory clashes and utter lunacy.  Lunacy with sarcastic, twisted humor because not all of these Dirty Two Dozen or so will make it out alive.  Although we don’t want our brand new on-screen friends to perish, Gunn and his team take mischievous glee in devising various deaths for our amusement.  Think of your reaction to Marvin’s (Phil LaMarr) sudden end at the accidental hands of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) in “Pulp Fiction” (1994). 

“Oh Man, I shot Marvin in the face,” Vincent says. 

Gunn appears to take a similar approach, except he doesn’t have just one Marvin.  He includes gunplay, explosions, runaway helicopters, and much more that deliver fatal blows to many villainous peeps.

Mongal (Mayling Ng), James Gunn, Javelin (Flula Borg), and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney)

Since Gunn dials down his extensive cast to fewer antiheroes, the narrative can focus on a smaller crew, allowing more screen time to develop the characters, explain their backstories and current motivations, and create chemistry.  “The Suicide Squad” isn’t all 132 minutes of non-stop bloody chaos.  The script gives us chances to pause for a few serene moments where these frenemies have opportunities to build friendships.  So, when a fatality feels close, we sense those grave tugs and scratches and shift and wince in our theatre seats for King Shark or Harley Quinn to find safety. 

Then again, Robbie’s HQ can sometimes lull us into her damsel-in-distress routine, which is a deception, because she’s one of the fiercest fighters in this wild bunch, and Gunn ensures to capture this essential and entertaining dynamic.  For the record, Robbie was born to play this D.C. character…and, sure, Tonya Harding too.   

Gunn might have been born to make “The Suicide Squad”.  He nicely finds a pleasant Guardians’ vibe with his Suicide brood, that includes playful camaraderie and catchy rock or punk tunes, like Kansas’ “Point of Know Return”, The Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died”, and Pixies’ “Hey”, to name a few.  He also returns to his creepy, crawly horror roots, and to be more accurate, his slithery ones.  Elements of his sicko, midnight-madness horror film “Slither” (2006) slink their way into this picture, which partially turns “TSS” into a grotesque and colossal monster movie.

To quote C+C Music Factory, “Things that make you go Hmmmm….”

And “Holy smokes!”

Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior)

Look, “The Suicide Squad” kills, as its fearless director, film crew, and actors perform in a whip-smart, tonally spot-on chaotic symphony, where the on-screen insanity may be primarily CGI-based, but these flawed characters – at least the core ones left to finish the fight – are rock solid.  I’d gladly invite this crew over for Thanksgiving dinner, as long as Peacemaker takes off his helmet at the table, Ratcatcher 2 doesn’t bring her closest friends, Polka-Dot Man keeps his polka dots to himself, and King Shark promises not to eat any guests.  Maybe Bloodsport can speak with his pals beforehand.   

Is this movie for everyone?   Clearly not, and you’ll probably want to save your grandmother from a “The Suicide Squad” viewing, unless, of course, she’s a pro wrestling fan…and intrigued by a walking, talking 7-foot shark sporting cargo shorts.

And you thought a talking tree was weird.

⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Written and directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Viola Davis, Daniela Melchior, Joel Kinnaman, Nathan Fillion, Pete Davidson, David Dastmalchian, Jai Courtney, Michael Rooker, and Sylvester Stallone

Runtime: 132 minutes

Rated: R

Images: Warner Bros. Pictures

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