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James Gunn gives ‘The Suicide Squad’ a second chance

Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) (left), Peacemaker (John Cena), Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Ratcatcher (Daniela Mechior) prepare to save Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) from danger. (Photo courtesy of Warner Media)
By Tim Nacey

“The Suicide Squad” is a strange experience. 

Partially because it contains things like feral weasel-men, starfish kaiju and a man with extreme mommy issues that can melt things with the polka dots he shoots from his fingers — but also because of the limbo between sequel and reboot in which it exists.

2016’s “Suicide Squad” is widely considered one of the worst superhero films of all time. It, like this film, is centered around an eclectic group of incarcerated supervillains that were sent on an extremely dangerous mission, essentially at gunpoint. If they succeed, they get time off of their considerable sentences. If they fail, one way or another, they die.

The first film was originally meant to tell a much darker story that reflected the bleak reality that these supervillains were facing, but the project seemed to be taken away from its director David Ayer. The tone pivoted away from Ayer’s original vision, opting for something that was more evocative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s surprise hit: “Guardians of the Galaxy.”.

Warner Bros. wisely brought James Gunn (the director of both of the Guardians films) on board to direct the sequel “The Suicide Squad” and, while I was a bit disappointed that we seem to be leaving Ayer’s original vision further and further behind, this film is an undeniably good time.

Gunn is most widely known for his work with Marvel, but he originally made a name for himself with the work he did for the studio Troma (known for its frankly off-puttingly disgusting and kitschy horror comedies) as well as his own indie movies like “Slither” and “Super”. 

With its hard-R rating, that horror influence is very much on display in this film: heads explode, faces are blown off, an anthropomorphic shark casually carries a man’s head around and eats it like an apple. It’s gleefully disgusting in a way that brings to mind this year’s “Mortal Kombat” reboot.

The tone of the film is very much in line with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films: a group of quirky but broken people search for meaning and worth in a society that’s cast them off. While this film is quite a bit darker than Marvel’s space opera series, the same heart is still there and that’s due in no small part to this films absolutely killer cast: Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Sylvester Stallone and Margot Robbie (who continues to be the DC Cinematic Universe’s MVP, following 2020’s “Birds of Prey”) all bring a little something extra to these character that could have easily been flat and one-dimensional.

The true standout of this film, though, is Daniela Mechior’s Ratcatcher 2 (she’s the daughter of the original Ratchatcher) who acts as the group’s moral compass. She, and her rat sidekick Sebsatian, bring an absolutely astounding and unexpected amount of humanity and vulnerability to her character that plays a key role in adding a lot of weight to a film that mostly functions as a goofy, violent action-comedy.

Even if the first film put as bitter a taste in your mouth as it did mine, I highly recommend this movie. DC has been doing an absolutely fantastic job lately at making movies that are just as fun as Marvel’s films while managing to make themselves tonally distinct. They’re on a really good path right now and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next.

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