A full-tilt Viola Davis vs. Idris Elba shouting match might alone be worth checking out The Suicide Squad (★★★★☆), the most enjoyable summer movie escape so far this season. Even better, writer-director James Gunn’s rambunctious, R-rated walk on DC Comics’ supervillain side also offers richer than usual characters, freaky-cool creature effects, bone-crushing action, and, of course, brings back Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, still the manic pixie maniac holding this ragtag squad together.
The Squad, officially Task Force X, is assembled once again by covert intelligence agency A.R.G.U.S., led by Davis’ steely Amanda Waller. Following the same protocol she employed in David Ayer’s 2016 blockbuster Suicide Squad, Waller enlists a motley crew of incarcerated villains for a series of perilous black-ops missions, in exchange for time off their prison sentences. If any Squad member should step out of line in the field, they risk having their head blown off by an implanted explosive that’s fully under the ruthless control of Waller.
Clearly relishing the role, Davis finds a fresh key for playing the uncompromising government operative, who’s challenged by this new iteration of Task Force X in ways she certainly doesn’t expect. They all have their challenges, particularly Elba’s Robert DuBois, a.k.a. Bloodsport, the crack marksman chosen to captain the team of misfits. Elba takes DuBois, known for once nailing Superman with a bullet made of Kryptonite, on an emotionally fulfilling ride as the tough lug blossoms into a leader.
DuBois also frequently butts heads with similarly-skilled teammate and weapons specialist Peacemaker, played with relish and mustard by actor-wrestler John Cena. Peacemaker’s extended appearance during one scene clad only in his tighty-whities qualifies as a pretty nifty visual effect, almost on par with the size and scope of the film’s towering CGI menace Starro the Conqueror. The film fits in a few choice cameos, and perhaps a dozen other DC supervillains, including The Thinker (Peter Capaldi) and King Shark, voiced by Sylvester Stallone in the mono-syllabic style of Vin Diesel’s Groot in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
Gunn wrote and directed those pictures, too, and here adjusts GotG‘s good-natured, rock music-driven mood to suit the grit and moral ambiguity that DC’s animated films parlay so well. Peacemaker, for example, is proud to serve and fight for his country — and he’ll dutifully murder men, women, or children, if necessary, to complete any mission that ensures liberty.
DuBois only hopes to ensure the continued liberty of his estranged teenage daughter, Tyla (Storm Reid). The stakes are high for him, the Squad, and the world. Death, depicted with cartoonish but still gruesome violence, carries weight in this corner of the comics-adapted universe.
So does character, as Gunn manages to service nearly everyone in this sprawling cast of mercenaries, meta-humans, and miscreants with their own depth of story and purpose. The film doesn’t lack for purpose, either: aiming to kick ass and get laughs, apparently unconcerned about mining DC’s extended universe mythology, while revving up the franchise with a frisky round two. The Squad can consider its mission accomplished.
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