The Suicide Squad

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Suicide Squad earned $325 million at the domestic box office in 2016, yet no one really seemed to love it, aside from Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, which almost everybody agreed was great. (I'm one of the few critics to give the movie a marginally positive review.) Perhaps detecting that a “do-over” was needed, Warner Bros. and DC did the only sensible thing – they got Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn to come in and reboot the whole franchise. Having already proven his mettle at making comic book movies about teams of eccentric characters, he was a natural choice. The Suicide Squad distinguishes itself from its predecessor by being funnier and hard R-rated. The quirky tone he provides is its biggest selling point.

Viola Davis reprises her role as Amanda Waller, the head of a covert government operation that brings together dangerous criminals to go on dangerous missions. She assembles a team to go to the South American island of Corto Maltese, where an alien lifeforce is allegedly being harvested for potential use against the United States. Among the members she brings together are sharpshooters Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Peacemaker (John Cena), shark-man King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), pied piper of vermin Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), a guy who – as his name implies – shoots polka dots at people. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinneman) and Harley Quinn are back to help, too.

What happens in The Suicide Squad is not as important as how it happens. Gunn spends a lot of time focusing on the dynamics between team members. Showing these disparate people clashing, collaborating, and struggling to understand each other is at the film's heart. Humor plays a big part in that. For example, the group has to figure out a way to make King Shark not eat the other members of the team. In other situations, characters find themselves with opposing goals, despite being on the same mission. Each of them gets a big scene to help us see them as more than their quirky costumes or superpowers. That brings surprising depth to the portrait of teamwork.

An offbeat sensibility makes The Suicide Squad endlessly entertaining to watch. Dialogue is sharp and witty, often with a slightly naughty twist. (Says Peacemaker when they hit the shore of Corto Maltese: “If this whole beach was completely covered in dicks, and somebody said I had to eat every dick until the beach was clean for liberty, I would say 'No problemo!'”) Graphic violence is similarly presented in an unusual manner. Polka Dot Man, for example, blasts acidic multi-colored dots at enemies, melting away their bodies. Gunn has a way of being confidently over-the-top, so that the bizarreness feels natural, rather than presented simply for its own sake.

The energy in this picture is non-stop. A joke or a skillfully executed action scene is never far off, and everything culminates with a delightfully goofy finale where the Squad fights an enemy, the likes of which I don't think we've ever seen onscreen before, except maybe in a Spongebob Squarepants movie. Adding to that energy is Gunn's willingness to go for the unexpected. Some members of the team perish during the film, including a few that you'd think would be safe. Unlike many superhero stories, you can't sit back and assume your favorites will be around for the sequel. That keeps you constantly invested in what's happening.

Every cast member does exemplary work, but David Dastmalchian is the scene-stealer. As Polka Dot Man, he has the kind of breakout moment that Robbie had with the first Suicide Squad. The actor, who has been in everything from Ant-Man to Relaxer, possesses a natural hangdog appearance that suits the character well. This guy knows his superpower is lame, and it's a fact he must come to accept. Dastmalchian makes him sweet, demented, and hilarious at the same time.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” The Suicide Squad benefits from following that advice. It doesn't look or feel like other comic book movies. Instead of playing by the rules previously established via the MCU and DCEU, it breaks just about every single one of them. Seeing a big, commercial Hollywood movie say “screw it” and forge a unique path is gratifying. Only James Gunn could have brought us something this gloriously, appealingly twisted.

Bonus Features:

The Suicide Squad will be released on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD on October 26. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided a complimentary copy of the Blu-ray for the purposes of this review.

The supplementary material is pleasingly abundant, starting off with an audio commentary from the always-entertaining James Gunn. Following that are:

Deleted & Extended Scenes - Nearly eighteen minutes of them, in fact. Although nothing here is essential to the plot, there are additional bits involving Harley Quinn, King Shark, and Polka Dot Man that are enormously fun to watch. Nothing was lost by taking these scenes out, so consider them just a little more of what you love.

Gag Reel - This ten-minute assembly of bloopers features Michael Rooker repeatedly forgetting lines, a bird relieving itself on Margot Robbie, and Flula Borg (who plays Javelin) ad-libbing about his character's brief role. Interestingly, the actors crack up at their mistakes or those of others, but Viola Davis never breaks character, even when she's the one flubbing a line.

Bringing King Shark to Life - Running just under six minutes, this segment looks at how multiple people worked together to create King Shark, one of the breakout characters of the movie. Actor Steve Agee played him on-set, wearing a special outfit that allowed the visual effects team to turn him into a shark later on. Then Sylvester Stallone came in to provide the voice. It's pretty much the same process that's been used for other CGI creatures, but the feature is still amusing to watch, thanks to that on-set footage.

Gotta Love the Squad - A one-by-one breakdown of the movie's characters, including those who perish early on. Cast members and Gunn weigh in on their personalities, abilities, and costumes. Gunn also talks about how he aimed to be faithful to noted Suicide Squad author John Ostrander's work, by which the film was inspired.

The Way of the Gunn - James Gunn elaborates on his desire to make The Suicide Squad, and his cast members celebrate his unique style in this 7-minute feature. Behind-the-scenes footage of the director at work shows how he mixes extreme preparation with a willingness to experiment on-set in order to create the distinct feel his movies are known for.

Scene Breakdowns - Four prominent scenes – the opening battle, the jungle rescue, Harley's escape, and the fall of Jotunheim – are examined in detail. We see how stunts were carried out and how Gunn conceived these sequences to make a big impact in the overall story. Each runs about six minutes, so you get a decent idea of how these key sequences came about.

Starro: It's a Freakin' Kaiju - The movie's final villain is the subject of this section. Gunn explains his love for Starro, which is based on the monster being somehow beautiful and grotesque at the same time. Visual effects used to bring him to life are included, as well. To help the actors on-set, an app was built so they could look at a tablet and see a crude rendition of Starro. This gave them a reference point for how big he would be and, by extension, how high up they should look while filming.

Retro Trailers - Three trailers for the film done in old-fashioned styles: war movie, horror movie, and buddy-cop comedy. These are really creative and fun to watch.

A digital copy of The Suicide Squad is also included. It's nice to have an extras-laden Blu-ray for this movie. The well-produced features add to your appreciation of the feature.

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out of four

The Suicide Squad is rated R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.