In the last couple of weeks we’ve had “Snake Eyes” which had nothing to do with the 1998 Nicolas Cage vehicle of the same name and “Masquerade” which had nothing to do with the 1988 Rob Lowe vehicle of the same title, and now comes “The Suicide Squad,” which WANTS nothing to do with the 2016 “Suicide Squad,” even though it’s based on the same source material and carries over a few key characters from that debacle.
Warner Bros. presents a film written and directed by James Gunn. Rated R (for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity). Running time: 143 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters and Friday on HBO Max.
This is more of a do-over — a mulligan — than a reboot, with writer-director James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) delivering a darkly funny, blood-spattered, cheerfully gross, violent and bat-bleep crazy mashup of wisecracking humor, elaborate and CGI-infused action sequences and even a rom-com interlude that ends with one of the participants quite dead while the other expresses regrets but there was no other way, this being a “Suicide Squad” movie and all.
A hybrid of “The Dirty Dozen” meets “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Suicide Squad” exists in a world where humans co-exist with some bizarre mutants and even a biped shark who wears cutoff shorts and is voice-grunted by Sylvester Stallone because Vin Diesel already voices Groot so why not go to the original?
With Johnny Cash’s classic “Folsom Prison Blues” setting the tone in the opening scene, “The Suicide Squad” has a kind of false opening in which we THINK we’re meeting the Squad, but then we meet the real squad. Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, the powerful and ruthless leader of the government’s Task Force X program, summons a group of hardcore prisoners to carry out a seemingly, well, suicidal mission to safeguard an enormous alien starfish with world-destroying powers that is locked up on the fictional island nation of Corto Maltese, where a coup is underway. If that starfish is sprung loose, the balance of the world could be toppled over.
Again: The mission is to make sure an enormous alien starfish doesn’t get loose. Just wanted to make sure you didn’t think I just typed a bunch of random words in a row.
Then we meet the new Squad, not the same as the old Squad (though there are some holdovers). The starting lineup:
- The Peacemaker (John Cena), a super-patriot with a shiny metal helmet who will do anything to protect America’s freedom.
- Bloodsport (Idris Elba), a cynical loner who is immediately at odds with the rah-rah Peacemaker.
- Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the leader of the squad. He doesn’t get a cool nickname.
- Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), who has the unique ability to summon hundreds and even thousands of rats to do her bidding.
- Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), a Norman Bates-level creep who is the product of a medical experiment gone wrong and can blast you to death with lethal polka dots.
- King Shark (played by Steve Agee and voiced by Sylvester Stallone), a fish/human hybrid who has to keep reminding himself not to eat his fellow Squad members, tasty as they might be.
- And yep, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who is still as cheerfully maniacal as ever.
This bunch is the anti-avengers, as there isn’t a clear-cut superhero among them — though a number of them perform heroic deeds when the proverbial stuff hits the fan. There’s a lot of quipping and dissing amongst them as they engage in one stylized action sequence after another, usually set to the sounds of an American standard or pop song, e.g., Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo (I Ain’t Got Nobody)” or “Point of No Return” by Kansas or “Hey” by the Pixies. The mission on the island becomes more complicated due to the involvement of a rebel uprising led by Alice Braga’s Sol Soria, and we occasionally pause from the head-splitting action scenes to learn the back stories of various characters, which in the case of the lovely and goodhearted Ratcatcher 2 is actually quite poignant and moving.
Mostly, though, “The Suicide Squad” is about the wild, borderline hallucinogenic battle sequences, which are often punctuated by grotesque sight gags played for laughs. It’s a hit-and-miss proposition and at times the movie tries too hard to earn its R rating with outlandish violence, but after all, this is The Suicide Squad, so even the polka dots can kill ya.