Guardians of the Galaxy was a relatively unpopular comic series. I remember finding out that it was a Marvel movie we were getting, looking up the series, and immediately looking for the fan reception. There were a few stories that resonated with people, as there always are, but for the most part the reception was pretty lukewarm. Fast forward a few years to the release of the first film and suddenly I had a new favorite movie in the MCU. James Gunn made a name for himself, for a lot of people, here. He took a mediocre series of characters and made everyone care about them. More than that, he made each of them individually interesting. I would gladly spend time in a theater watching a solo or duo film about any of the Guardians. Give me Drax and Rocket thrashing about in space, sold. Give me Gomorra and Mantis on a retreat beset by bounty hunters, sold.
When Disney temporarily severed ties with Gunn over fifteen-year-old photos and social media posts about a party with a questionable theme, many fans saw the action taken by Disney to be a little harsh. Warner Brothers wasted no time scooping the now schedule-free director to re-examine the Suicide Squad. The first film was an embarrassing flop. I generally don’t like trashing movies, largely because I know the tremendous amount of work that has gone into each one that makes it to the theater, but 2016’s Suicide Squad was bad. What Warner Brothers saw in James Gunn was obvious: James Gunn knows how to make a group of largely unlikeable assholes, likeable. What’s more? He then knows how to tell a story focused on them that will make you want more. The reboot of Suicide Squad, aptly but confusingly called The Suicide Squad, is exactly that.
The only holdovers from the original film are Amanda Waller, Rick Flag, Harley Quinn, and Boomerang. The last one may confound you a bit. Didn’t he die in the first one? Yes. Yes he did. Here’s the thing: in perhaps the smartest move the DC universe has made yet (a decision shared by most fans I know), this year’s The Suicide Squad acts like the first one doesn’t exist, and it’s amazing. Each of the aforementioned characters are played by the same actor as before: Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder, Fences), the beefy Joel Kinnaman (Altered Carbon, For All Mankind), the immensely talented Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wallstreet, Harley Quinn), and Jai Courtney (Terminator: Genisys, Jolt), respectively.
Then there are the new squad members (honestly this cast is huge…so bear with me). The new Suicide Squad adds Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg, Sean Gunn, Idris Elba, Mayling Ng, David Dastalmachian, Daniela Melchior, Taika Waititi, Michael Rooker, John Cena, and Sylvester Stallone. Now ordinarily I would add film credits to all of those actors but, like…I like not having carpal tunnel so suffice it to say, talent is jam-freaking-packed into this movie. But to understand what the Suicide Squad is, you have to understand that characters die all the time. One of the promotional posters for this film sported the tagline “Don’t Get Attached.” You have been warned.
The Suicide Squad doesn’t play the origin story game, we jump right into the action, a refreshing sight to behold in a superhero movie full of characters few people will be deeply familiar with (remember…don’t get attached). Basic storyline? There are bad guys who might definitely have a super weapon (more on that later), get in, destroy the weapon, and leave. Here’s the thing, this crew has been slapped together post-haste, so things don’t go smoothly. Add to that the fact that all of these people but Rick Flag are career criminals and you start to understand why the mess you’re about to witness is going to be impressive.
The first and most prevalent question I had going into this movie was, “How in the wild blue hell is James Gunn going to manage this cast?” Easy answer, easily: kill a bunch of them. But beyond that, Gunn really flexes his creative muscles throughout this film. It didn’t take long to fall in love with Idris Elba’s Bloodsport. First of all, who has any issue falling in love with the pillar of a man that Idris is? Second, Bloodsport is on my shortlist for best villain names. Early in the film Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller says that she will make a leader out of the reluctant Bloodsport. Boy, does James Gunn deliver on that promise. Foiling Bloodsport is douchey Captain America, Peacemaker. I didn’t think I could like John Cena as a “bad” guy, but boy is his character a riot.
Honestly, The Suicide Squad just works this time around. Obviously the talent is all here, but the first movie wasn’t necessarily lacking in that department, it was the terrifically bad writing that did that one in. James Gunn on the other hand, seems to have come to this film knowing exactly what to do. There is nary a dull moment, the action rips and roars, and there are more than a few genuinely funny moments. Why does Peacemaker only sleep in tighty-whiteys? Don’t know, but when he gets called out for it and his response is, “hey that’s racist,” the uncontrollable hyuck that slipped from my chest was genuine. Oh and did I mention Doctor Who shows up? Peter Capaldi plays brainiac Gaius Grieves aka Thinker and appears to be the victim of what I can only describe as several cranial sonic screwdriver accidents. It’s great. He’s great. This movie is great.
Remember earlier when I mentioned a super weapon that the bad guys have? Yeah…it’s a giant st-…you know what? I can’t spoil it. On the off chance someone reading this doesn’t know, this late showing Big Bad, with capital Bs, is perhaps the most appropriate “kaiju” for this movie. It’s absolutely bonkers. It’s a match made in heaven. Or maybe hell. No definitely hell. But like, the hell that Lil Nas X is pole dancing in (call me when you want / call me when you need).
I can say, with absolute confidence, that this is the best DC movie yet, at least in the DCEU era (sorry Zack Snyder). James Gunn is a master with an ensemble cast, giving each character room to breathe, playing to their strengths, and I’ll be damned, making me care about each character by the time the film closes. I was even cheering for a rat! A rat, I say! Go see this in theaters. Go watch Harley Quinn kill a room of baddies with their own weapons, go watch Bloodsport build his gun like Death Legos, go watch Peacemaker make peace with eating a beach covered in dicks. It’s a violent, action-packed, uproariously irreverent movie made for superhero fans. And stick around after the initial credits, they may or may not leave room for a sequel. Three words. Bring. It. On. | Caleb Sawyer