‘The Suicide Squad’ movie review: Idris Elba, John Cena add flair to James Gunn retake

A colorful group of comic book supervillains are forced into a covert mission to save the world, or at least preserve American interests, in The Suicide Squad, a sequel-slash-reboot of 2016’s Suicide Squad that is now playing in Czech cinemas and debuts on HBO Max this weekend.

While David Ayer’s previous Suicide Squad film was ultimately underwhelming – if not an outright mess – it featured a number of fun elements that make good use of DC’s wealth of colorful comic book villains. That includes Margot Robbie’s breakthrough performance as Harley Quinn, one of the best transitions of a comic book character (or in this case, Paul Dini’s animated creation) to the big screen to date.

In The Suicide Squad, writer-director James Gunn recycles many of those good elements – which include Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Joel Kinnaman’s team leader Rick Flag, Viola Davis’ shady government director Amanda Waller, and the general premise of colorful supervillains recruited into covert ops – into a weird and wild ride that easily ranks among the best films to come out of the recent DC extended universe.

New to the Suicide Squad, here called Task Force X, is Bloodshot (Idris Elba), a deadbeat dad and lethal assassin who can’t miss with a gun. Bloodshot took down Superman with a kryptonite bullet, we’re told, but opens this film scrubbing gum off a prison floor; Waller blackmails him into leading her new black ops team by threatening to send his daughter to prison.

That team includes: a perfectly-cast John Cena as Peacemaker, who can also shoot things real good but also comes with an over-the-top jingoistic beat (“I love peace… and I’d kill every man, woman and child to get it”); Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), who can control rats and unexpectedly evolves into the heart of the film; King Shark, an anthropomorphic shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone; and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who can shoot lethal polka-dots at his enemies… as long as he pictures them as his domineering mother.

The premise is the same as the last time around, but The Suicide Squad gets there about 45 minutes earlier than its predecessor as Waller and co. plant bombs in the villains’ necks and send them on a covert mission. This time, the mission is to the fictional island nation of Corto Maltese (locations in Panama serve as a stand-in), where a military coup has resulted in new leadership that might unleash a deadly alien weapon.

A wealth of colorful comic book villains also appear in supporting roles, and include The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), Savant (Michael Rooker), Javelin (Flula Borg), Mongal (Mayling Ng), The Detachable Kid (Nathan Fillion), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Weasel (Sean Gunn) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a returning standout from the previous film reduced to minimal screen time here.

While the premise of The Suicide Squad is largely identical to the 2016 film, the execution couldn’t be more different: standing in stark contrast to David Ayer’s darkness (visually and tonally), this one is a bright visual spectacle that culminates in vivid kaiju rampage. Everything about The Suicide Squad screams color, from its Panama exteriors to its use of language and comedy and sometimes sickeningly over-the-top gore.

Balancing that graphic violence is a difficult act. In one of The Suicide Squad’s very best scenes, our heroes brutally dispatch of a series of military personnel in gruesomely over-the-top fashion… only to later learn information that calls their actions into question. It’s a wonderful sequence that nicely satirizes the use of visceral violence and disposable bad guys in Commando-like action movies.

But when that flippant attitude and graphic violence is applied to characters we’ve come to grow affection for, or those we’d like to get to know, it leaves a sour taste. The death of at least one character here is robbed of its power because the film treats it as a throwaway gag, while a number of other supervillains are killed before we get to know what they’re all about. The Suicide Squad misses the sweet spot that Deadpool 2 hit in one of its most memorable scenes of character-disposing mayhem.

There are no slouches among The Suicide Squad’s primary cast: Kinnaman’s Flag is still a bit of a drag, but Elba and Cena are a perfect match as the rival sharpshooters, Melchior adds just the right amount of heart, ditto Dastmalchian with deadpan comedy, and Stallone and a team of digital artists make King Shark as endearing a creation as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Robbie doesn’t have as much to do this time around, but still manages to steal the show in almost every scene she’s in and features in one of The Suicide Squad’s most inventive sequences, a violent rampage during which the gory bloodletting is replaced by a Disneyfied rainbow of flowers every time she slices open someone’s neck.

Flippant and fun and colorful during almost every moment of its running time – with a dash of heart that doesn’t feel out of place amidst all the carnage – The Suicide Squad comes close to matching Gunn’s two Guardians of the Galaxy movies in overall quality, and its a notch above the similarly-themed Deadpool movies. This one’s a real comic book treat.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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