Don’t get too attached to anyone in The Suicide Squad, which opens in theaters and on HBO Max this Friday, August 6. The list of marquee names in the James Gunn-written and -directed addition to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016) is so long that not everyone is meant to last. The movie brings back a few characters from the previous installment and allows us to once again enjoy Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) naïve sense of humor and chic style. Like the first film, it also stars the steely-eyed Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) as the mastermind behind Task Force X’s deathly assignments.
Don’t be anxious if you’re not a DC Extended Universe (DCEU) scholar. Even if you haven’t watched 2016’s Suicide Squad, you’ll be able to follow this standalone sequel. The only thing you need to know is that Belle Reve has the highest mortality rate in the country and is the prison where super-villains are kept. In order to get their sentences reduced, some of them join Task Force X, aka the Suicide Squad, and enroll on impossible missions that may end up saving the world. The job this time is to travel to the island nation of Corto Maltese and destroy a Nazi-era lab that houses the classified Project Starfish.
Academy Award-winner Davis probably won’t receive another Oscar nomination for her role here. But only because the Academy doesn’t usually go for superhero movies. Still, you need an actress of her caliber to play Waller with such conviction. It’s a thrill to look at her unmoved face when her character realizes the poor job her staff has done while putting together a team of assassins. Plus, she looks great in a lilac pencil skirt power suit.
Elba, wearing orange Crocs and meticulously cleaning the prison’s floor, is also a real treat. He plays the marksman and reluctant Squad member Bloodsport — and he gets to keep his suave British accent while doing it. Then there’s Robbie. Her Harley Quinn has a very welcome post-Birds of Prey moment in which she deals with a bad relationship in quite a mature way — for Harley’s standards, that is — and she kicks ass as no other character does in this movie.
An Ensemble Where Harley Shines
Harley dons the pigtails and tattoos again — and she ditches the candy pink for velvety red. But she’s not the only woman on the Squad. Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior plays rat enchantress Ratcatcher 2. Brazilian vet Alice Braga is Sol Soria, the leader of the resistance movement in Corto Maltese.
Then comes the long list of other well-known names that round out this cast: John Cena, Peter Capaldi, Michael Rooker, Pete Davidson, Joaquín Cosío, Juan Diego Botto, Nathan Fillion, Taika Waititi, Joel Kinnaman (reprising his role from Suicide Squad) and Sylvester Stallone. Some of them have quite substantial roles in the movie — like Cena’s Peacemaker. Some of them are easier to miss: I didn’t realize it was Stallone voicing the character of Shark King.
Since Corto Maltese is supposed to be off the coast of South America, there’s quite a bit of Spanish dialogue. The fictional setting is worthy if only because it means Davis and Elba’s characters are forced to utter the not-so-easy-to-pronounce name La gatita amable (the nice little she-kitten), a club where the Squad will be meeting someone nefarious. Although my favorite moment in Spanish in the movie is probably Harley’s “graciaz.” She really overdoes it with the Castilian lisp.
In true Gunn fashion, the soundtrack is another one of the characters in the movie as the filmmaker repeats the formula he employed in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). The Suicide Squad can feel like a two-hour-plus-long video clip sometimes precisely because of the constant use of popular music that augments and stylizes what’s on screen. The opening credits roll to “People Who Died” by The Jim Carroll Band and even though it appears just a few minutes into the movie, it’s already song number two. The movie kicks off to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” There’s a rainy, epic image of our anti-heroes prepared for battle set against the notes of “Hey” by Pixies, and Harley frees herself from a bunch of opponents to “Just A Gigolo (I Ain’t Got Nobody)” by Louis Prima.
The Suicide Squad’s Brand of Humor
Even with a runtime of 132 minutes, the cheeky and irreverent The Suicide Squad manages to keep a fast-paced rhythm most of the time. Gunn achieves the feat by starting the movie in media res with the recruitment of Savant (Rooker) for the Squad and his immediate deployment in Corto Maltese. After a lot of action and a series of unforeseeable events, Gunn goes back in time to then explain the “why” and the “who else” of this mission. The director will use this method of going back in time and explaining something from two perspectives on another occasion but don’t worry. This is not a case of a gratuitous nonlinear narrative and, for the most part, The Suicide Squad keeps a chronological order that makes everything easy to follow and digest.
That is not to say this is a simple movie. The film is filled with rich details that are easy to miss and it certainly yields itself to a second and third viewing that will allow the viewer to discover new things. Like reading the “Obstáculos son oportunidades” (Obstacles are opportunities) message on Kinnaman’s character’s T-shirt or catching the joke as to why Harley ended up in Belle Reve once again.
You may read that this R-rated film seems more suited for Gunn’s talents than his previous PG-13 Marvel movies. And while I would agree his directing appears more fitting here, I also didn’t appreciate the amount of blood, violence and unnecessary death The Suicide Squad portrays. Although I understand gratuitous and flippant violence is part of these kinds of action movies’ tropes. Hidden among all the silly jokes and blood-splattering moments, the movie also tries to convey a bigger message of how important it is to try to do the right thing.
I’m not sure what the next mission for the Suicide Squad will be or what direction the next film will take. Am I prepared to see Robbie and Elba teaming up on screen again and exuding charisma? Yes, please.
What we already know is that Gunn is writing and will direct several episodes of an upcoming HBO Max show titled Peacemaker, starring Cena, which will delve into the origin story of his character in this movie. Which reminds me, make sure to watch the post-credits sequence in The Suicide Squad.