Film Review: The Suicide Squad ★★★

As fans call out for the David Ayer cut of 2016 superhero film Suicide Squad, DC Films push on with standalone sequel The Suicide Squad which sees James Gunn take the reins of the franchise after cementing himself as a steady pair of hands through Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy series. The results are a mix of familiar superhero narrative tropes, Gunn’s expected off-kilter humour, and creative violent VFX-heavy action spectacle.

With an opening that appears to be Gunn hand-picking the elements of Ayer’s established predecessor that he is willing to work with and blowing the others to smithereens, The Suicide Squad sees Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) send Task Force X to the South American island of Corto Maltese which has become a military dictatorship. Lead by Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Peacemaker (John Cena), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and further rag-tag killers are sent to to destroy Jotunheim, a Nazi-era prison and laboratory which holds political prisoners and conducts unorthodox alien experiments.

There are echoes of classic gung-ho war films to be found at the heart of The Suicide Squad, with a unconventional bunch of mercenaries navigating exotic foreign lands. The South American setting proves a refreshing landscape for this superhero tale – providing a fresh alternative to the often urban, metropolis canvases that regularly house superhero narratives. The blending of Latin American inspired small towns and lush jungle settings serve a welcome change of pace, especially when incorporating bombastic action spectacle and offbeat humour into these. Henry Braham’s cinematography does an impressively convincing job at transporting the world of Suicide Squad to these fresh new locales in a vibrant, yet gritty fashion.

Most of the narrative is laced with Gunn’s expected humour – from the dynamic between characters including Bloodsport’s fear of rats, the competitive interplay between Peacemaker and Bloodsport, King Shark’s Groot-esque simplicity, and the ridiculous nature of characters like Weasel and Polka Dot Man. Whilst mostly hitting the correct mark, The Suicide Squad is more of an affair of light titters than full-on guffawing but there is a gentle comic tone running throughout the full feature that some will respond to better than others.

There is a punky aesthetic style to the feature which blends some garish comic violence with more alternative approaches which keep proceedings visually interesting – such as a Harley Quinn escape scene using a rich array of multi-coloured VFX flowers appearing from her multitude of slain victims instead of lashings of blood. A bombastic albeit inconsistent soundtrack of pop tracks throughout the decades furthers the colourful energy of The Suicide Squad. The vibrancy of these action scenes is enhanced by technical craftsmanship thanks to sharp editing from Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner, as well as Gunn’s awareness of the abilities of each character and how to translate these into exciting cinematic spectacle. Highlights include the chaotically enjoyable pre-title sequence and a slick raid on an enemy camp.

Whilst some bold character executions will surprise some audience members, Gunn gives most of the squad a chance to shine, fully justifying their position in the line-up. Harley Quinn’s third big screen outing is delivered with Margot Robbie’s expected gusto that is unlikely to gain new fans but will sit well with current fans; whilst Idris Elba’s straight man routine as Bloodsport does not particularly push him out of his wheelhouse but does serve as an expected anchor to the squad. John Cena delivers an impressive comic timing and All American bravado as Peacemaker, whilst Joel Kinnaman adds further straight man machismo in a similar style to his first appearance as Rick Flag. The vocal stylings of Sylvester Stallone as King Shark are likely to draw comparisons with Vin Diesel’s instantly adorable Groot with Gunn appreciating the valuable in dangerous yet cute characters set to drive toy sales up (see also Ratcatcher’s rodent sidekick and the gross yet strangely sympathetic Weasel).

With all the character that Gunn brings to The Suicide Squad, it ultimately does not feel like an entirely different beast to its David Ayer helmed predecessor. It continues to operate within the conventional narrative structure of the superhero film jumping through the expected predictable hoops up until the final battle with the Task Force’s biggest enemy. Fans of superhero schtick that casts a cynical eye over the ‘God Bless America’ narrative (such as Amazon’s The Boys in recent years) will be drawn to this, whilst Gunn’s humour and aesthetic style make this expected ride a pleasantly enjoyable one for casual viewers.

The Suicide Squad is in UK and Irish cinemas from July 30th.