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The Suicide Squad Bets on James Gunn and Wins

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

During the opening action sequence of The Suicide Squad, and under the nose of their hardass boss, the film’s constant chicanery begins. The nerdy tech members of the special ops command center start placing their bets on who among the disreputable and undesirable super-powered criminals survive the mission before them. Safely behind their headsets and surveillance screens, they drop their 20s, 10s, and 5s with devious enthusiasm.

The invitation from that kickoff is for the viewer to push their own audience investment bankroll into the same casual gambling. Who’s going to make it or not? Who or what else is going to show up? What actors will make the most of their characters? What improves upon the grossly reviled 2016 movie? And most of all, as the action piles on, keep losing chips on trying to guess WTF is going to happen next. 

Bloodsport stands close to hold a blade to Amanda Waller's throat.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

The pitch is clear. Come to The Suicide Squad and place your bets for the roller coaster experience that awaits. All of that warped glee equals the energy brought forth by James Gunn’s resuscitated and hyper-juiced sequel.

Much like five years ago, A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller, that aforementioned boss played the domineering Viola Davis, continues to pluck volun-told operatives from her murder of DC Comics crows serving time at Belle Reve Prison for her Task Force X missions. The location is the Caribbean hotbed island of Corto Maltese (sorry, no Vicki Vale photojournalism work to share this time) in the midst of military and revolutionary upheaval. The target is destroying a top secret government facility to cover up failed U.S. experiments on certain five-armed alien specimens that were captured decades ago. 

Bloodsport points at something for the Thinker's attention.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

The team, alas, is a leaping, swimming, gallivanting, and trigger-happy sh-t-show painted in rainbow colors and led by returning field commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). If you have seen the splashy collage poster featuring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, Pete Davidson, Michael Rooker and more, as part of the inescapable wave of marketing hype, you know which future body bag recipients are here. If not, the movie will introduce you properly, saving you and me the trouble.

My favorite of many zingers in the movie is “No one likes a showoff unless what they are showing off is dope as f–k.” And hot damn, there is showmanship in The Suicide Squad! The cast assembled looks devilishly dapper in Judianna Makovsky’s costumes and dexterously lethal with Guy Norris’s stunt work. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, and this movie isn’t shy about that with all the dopeness required. Best of all, it does so, not with A-list comic book icons, but with D-list also-rans you can’t help but come to love. For goodness sake, the great Sylvester Stallone voices a pea-brained shark. What more bizarre pizzazz could you want? 

Four villain operatives stand in tired disbelief in the jungle.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Speaking of showoffs, let’s answer those bets from the second paragraph. Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither writer-director James Gunn stepped right into the DCEU and unshackled this title from the style and legitimacy it lacked five years ago. Gunn’s playful visual flair, both through the camera and off his scripted page, adds panache like Buddy the Elf adds syrup to pasta. You can practically taste the corn syrup used in the blood squibs, and that’s a welcome flavor for this absurd comic book material. No matter how much John Murphy’s score pumps in stamina, the escapades and the wall-to-wall soundtrack of zippy tunes of multiple genres remind us that zero participant or stakeholder should be taking this material seriously.

For the “who” department of performers, they were entirely game for whatever merry mayhem they were asked to dole out, even if they were only present for mere seconds or minutes. Idris Elba has done the vocal, assertive rag-tag leadership act before (Takers, The Losers, etc), but playing off of John Cena’s angular righteousness amped the 48-year-old Brit up. Their Bloodsport and Peacemaker characters share a uniquely hilarious rhythm of ball-busting repartee. Add in Joel Kinnaman and they’ve got quite the beefcake pissing contest for your enjoyment.

Harley Quinn holds up her two guns for combat.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Still, lesser names of far less muscle like David Dastmalchian and Daniela Melchior that steal plenty of meaningful shards of spotlight as well. The two more subdued members with their weirdest so-called powers are given stirring little arcs. The brightest flourish of all, and it should come as no surprise, is Margot Robbie. Springboarding nicely from Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), her now indelible Harley Quinn character continues to increase with both appeal and agency. For lack of a better term, The Suicide Squad could have easily sidelined her, David’s Polka Dot Man, and Daniela’s Ratcatcher 2 for a sausage fest of bro-time brawn. Instead, Gunn cleverly reconstitutes their varying levels of demureness into lynchpins for both action and emotion.

This explosion of verve from every seedy pore is where all the bets in and around the movie cash in for windfall after windfall. Even with the expected hero transformation of all these swaggering denizens of the underworld, the risks taken carry frothy courage. Shucking the usual angst and doubt found in superhero movies, more characters than not love who they are and what they do. The very same commitment and lack of pussy-footing can readily be seen by the people making the movie. From top to bottom,The Suicide Squad gambled on love, going all-in for maximum pervasive fun.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website "Every Movie Has a Lesson," our offshoot of Horror Obsessive, and also on Medium.com publications. As a school educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association and the Online Film Critics Society.

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