Sometimes Hollywood reboots a property for all the right reasons.
It’s hard not to salivate over an IP like DC Comics’ “Suicide Squad,” imagining a long and fruitful franchise. Except the 2016 film version proved calamitous, even while earning buckets of cash.
Writer/director James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) knew what was missing the first time around – fun, excitement and, yes, light. The 2016 film’s gloomy pall is no more. Now, we’re left with vibrant characters, clear-eyed action and the return of Harley Quinn.
We missed her after “Birds of Prey” refashioned her as a woke warrior.
The film joins the action immediately as the mysterious Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), getting American “business” done under the radar, assembles a new Task Force X. It’s mostly characters we haven’t met before, but the real story has yet to begin.
Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his fellow antiheroes infiltrate a small country harboring a weapon that could make them players on the world stage. That means bullying past armed mercenaries and their own bickering, the latter giving the talented cast plenty to do.
There’s Bloodsport (Idris Elba), a sharpshooter saving the world to protect his daughter (Storm Reid). Quinn (Margot Robbie) just wants to have a good time, and if it means saving the world so be it. (Her bravura mid-movie set piece will be rewatched aplenty on home video.)
Sylvester Stallone voices Groot 2.0, or rather King Shark, a CGI scene stealer who loves to chomp human flesh. Coming in a scene-stealing second is Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who fears his Mama more than anyone else.
It’s one of several recurring gags that hit the bullseye.
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Gunn marches onward, stopping only to reveal some clunky flashbacks. His instincts power the story forward, leavened by jokes that would make your kid cousin blush. The filmmaker is an adolescent at heart, and many of the R-rated jokes prove it. He’s also a whiz at creating original set pieces, be it wall-to-wall action beats or sequences that push the boundaries of the film’s color palette.
A noisy blockbuster shouldn’t look this startling, this sumptuous.
The director’s knack for perfectly placed pop ditties remains, starting with Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” but John Murphy’s score matches that intensity. Gunn is no Quentin Tarantino, but the filmmakers are similarly adept at making music a vital part of their storytelling.
Flaws? Gunn’s attempt to give Ratcatcher2 (Daniela Melchior) a backstory, complete with the great Taika Waititi in a tiny cameo, is a complete fail. When fans demand the Gunn Cut in 2027 we’ll probably see more footage to flesh out that subplot.
The screenplay does a fitful job reminding us these are bad guys at the end of the day. Sure, Bloodsport is endlessly cranky, and Peacemaker’s willingness to kill at will speaks for itself. A better film might show more of their rough edges.
Much of “The Suicide Squad” is style on steroids, which feels right in line with modern Hollywood fare. Later in the film a cynical take on America’s foreign policy emerges, which gives the film some thematic texture. One wonders how much President Trump factored into the screenplay given Gunn’s attitude toward the ex-Commander in Chief.
HiT or Miss: If an awful supervillain romp like 2016’s “Suicide Squad” could crush the box office, imagine what 2021’s far superior version will do?
Correction: Elba’s character has no connection to Will Smith’s Deadshot character from the 2016 film. HiT regrets the error.