GORE IN THE STORE
THE SUICIDE SQUAD *****
Directed by James Gunn.
Starring Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena.
Superhero, US, 132 minutes, certificate 15.
Released in cinemas in the UK July 30th by Warner Bros.
Marvel’s loss was DC’s gain when James Gunn was fired as director of the still forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. After right wing trolls unearthed tasteless jokes made by Gunn years earlier, they celebrated with much gloating after the writer/director’s anti-Trump comments enraged them so much, only to become enraged again when Warner Bros quickly hired Gunn to helm the next instalment of the Suicide Squad franchise. Right wing online trolls may not be good for anything but maybe they should be thanked for being partly responsible for not only bringing the best superhero film since THE DARK KNIGHT into existence but the most purely James Gunn film that James Gunn has made yet, and then some.
A vastly different film from its predecessor, in terms of tone, style and quality, THE SUICIDE SQUAD pretty much buries David Ayer’s previous entry that introduced us to the concept of Task Force X; incarcerated super villains forced by the government into near impossible missions under threat of implanted explosive devices if they deviate from the mission. Gunn takes the concept, introduced in DC Comics in 1987, with a fan boys affection for not only the group whose roster changed every other issue due to its body count but the more obscure and ridiculous characters of the DC universe, such as The Detachable Kid and Weasel. That this fanboy-ish glee is combined with Gunn’s unfiltered outrageous style, throwing back to his Troma days, is testament to Warner Bros and DC whose willingness to let the writer/director do pretty much what he wants here is in direct contrast to Marvel, much of whose output has recently become stale and corporate driven.
The mission this time round concerns a violent political coup on the South American island of Corto Maltese. A situation that compels Task Force X’s ruthless boss Amanda Waller to bring together another group of disparate mercenaries to quietly drop onto the island. It is a mission that goes gloriously wrong in nearly every way in the first act forcing Idris Elba’s lethal assassin Bloodsport to lead a team, including John Cena’s patriot/fascist Peacemaker, young woman Ratcatcher 2, the polka dot powered Polka Dot Man and last but not least King Shark, a very hungry, lumbering, monosyllabic shark god voiced by Sylvester Stallone, to take out the islands despotic rulers and discover the secrets of their scientific project codenamed Starfish. Meanwhile on the other side of the island Harley Quinn’s psychopathically daffy nature has once more landed her in trouble.
It may sound like a routine plot but Gunn injects it with so many personal touches that make it the most daring and outrageous blockbuster in many years. Gunn delights in splattering the screen with exploding heads, bodies getting ripped apart or smashed into pulp all the while undercutting it with a stinging critique on the United States meddling of South American policy and affairs. On top of all this is Gunn’s comic book stylings making inventive use of on screen captions and titles and numerous nods to The Dirty Dozen, body horror and kaiju movies. It’s a heady, often hilarious brew carried out to massive effect by its large cast. This is Idris Elba’s best film role yet that equally shows off his action and comedy skills while John Cena also gives his best performance to date as the chrome helmeted, trigger happy Peacemaker, while Margot Robbie fleshes out Harley Quinn’s character with her funniest, bloodiest scenes yet that seem to be nudging her closer and closer to her current comic book and animated counterpart which will no doubt please the characters many fans.
For all its outrageousness it manages to balance out the gore and absurdity with an emotional core and actual stakes that have repercussions for its characters, a rarity in comic book movies. That James Gunn got the opportunity to pull all this off and so much more is reason to celebrate as is the fact he has given superhero cinema the genre-shaking jolt that it so desperately needed. THE SUICIDE SQUAD is that all too rare beast; a blockbuster that ticks off all the boxes when it comes to spectacle and also feels simultaneously big and personal. Films that have you worried about the fate of a shark who wears Bermuda shorts come along all too rarely so catch this on the biggest screen while you can. It will probably be a long time before we see the like of it again.