" I think she’s a snob. "
— [Young Finn], Great Expectations

MRQE Top Critic

The Twilight Samurai

If ever a samurai film could be called a chick flick, this is the one —Marty Mapes (review...)

Hiroyuki Sanada is teased as a Twilight Samurai

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The Suicide Squad is shocking, salacious, subversive and scurrilous. It’s also sensational.

Task Force X

Bloodsport plots with The Thinker
Bloodsport plots with The Thinker

This one’s violent. Really, really, really violent. And it’s profane. The Suicide Squad is an equal opportunity offender; millennials, patriots, the fervently woke (who shouldn’t even be watching, having previously canceled writer/director James Gunn because of offensive Tweets from more than a decade ago), the deeply religious, those with sensitive eyes and pretty much anybody else with a pulse will likely at some point — even if only briefly — be at odds with something that goes on here.

If that’s not clear enough: this one’s earned its “R” rating and it’s not for children looking to fill the comic book movie void ahead of Shang-Chi’s release next month.

Now. Put all of that aside and take a look at what makes this one so different from everything that’s gone before.

For starters, forget Suicide Squad from 2016. The connective tissue is limited. Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn (this is the two-time Oscar nominee’s third time out in the role and it’s hard to imagine anybody else swinging the mallet). Viola Davis and Joel Kinnaman are also back. Okay, there are a couple others, too.

But, well…

Shoot. That’s where things get tricky. That’s where the spoilers come in. And they come early and often.  Within the first 10 minutes or so of this 132-minute overstuffed magnum opus of mayhem, a lot happens with many characters introduced and most of them annihilated.

It’s that kind of movie.

There are numerous times when a certain narrative path is established, only to have it blown up (literally or figuratively, take your pick) with a surprising turn of events. There are plot points that go forgotten about in the thick of all the action, only to be picked up and resolved later. Purely in terms of the craft of storytelling, this is one to savor. And to that end, kudos go to sole screenwriter James Gunn, who seemingly apologized for this type of material a couple years ago, during the Twittergate scandal.

If only people could just be themselves. Wholesale apologies for past creative efforts simply turn entire careers into quicksand. At least for Gunn it seems to have worked out. Having written and directed the first two volumes of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, he was fired from the third installment only to be rehired after fan backlash.

Welcome to Corto Maltese

The concept’s the same as before. A band of expendables (this time including the original Expendable, Sylvester Stallone, providing the voice for a muscle-headed shark) are plucked from prison and given an opportunity to have a new life, as long as they survive the mission at hand. Escape is not an option. Thanks to the miracle of GPS and other wiz-bang technologies, not following orders and all it’ll take is the push of a button to detonate an implanted microscopic device. Buh-bye.

The mission takes place on Corto Maltese and involves a laboratory dating back to the Nazi era, a mad scientist called The Thinker (Peter Capaldi, Doctor Who) and a ginormous (as in enormously huge, kaiju-scale) starfish with the capacity to turn people into starfish-faced zombies. The Thinker has taken up with a despotic regime looking to undermine American oppression and simultaneously propagate all kinds of nefarious propaganda.

Corto Maltese? Yeah. DC’s favorite underdeveloped country is the primary location. Bruce Wayne made mention of it and Vicky Vale photographed the war there back in Tim Burton’s Batman, a reference that in turn tied Burton’s movie to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight.

This time around, there’s a slew of new faces to accompany Harley, Rick Flag and King Shark.

Leading the squad is Bloodsport (Idris Elba, Pacific Rim), who’s so deadly with his targeting, he shot Superman with a bullet made of kryptonite and put him in intensive care. It’s made clear he’s not “father of the year” material as he harangues his own daughter, separated by the plexiglass shield that protects her during her prison visit. In fairness, she’s got quite a mouth herself.

Another major newb is Peacemaker (John Cena, F9). He’s a patriot who looks like a walking, talking action figure while sporting a bullet-like chrome dome. Cena’s actually good in this role. Get past the phenomenal amount of steroids pumping through those oversized biceps and he’s really funny.

The mastermind wrangling these hooligans — and a host of others — is, as before, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, Widows). She’s back, but with a whole bunch of new problems and a better writer. Her staff have a pool going on who they think will survive and who’ll bite it. And — dang — the interactions grow intense as the mission storms toward an implosion. Based on her interactions with her team and Bloodsport ripping on his daughter, it’s a fool’s bet as to who’d survive Thunderdome.

Watching actors of the caliber of Elba and Davis get into verbal fisticuffs and raising curse-laden ruckuses is both oddly disturbing and remarkably effective. The vanity Will Smith brought to the first installment as Deadshot is forcefully thrown out the window.

The Unpredictables

Harley Quinn hangs around with some bad people
Harley Quinn hangs around with some bad people

That sets the tone and the action. There’s a lot going on here. A heckuva lot.

While “reckless Americans” and international politics are criticized (in some respects, justifiably so), the topics also fuel an interesting plot point. The anti-American vibe can be a little grating, but, in fairness, not much is left unscathed. Even people with a penchant for driving drunk would find it challenging to hang out with this squad.

And in some respects that’s what makes The Suicide Squad such a beautifully deranged moviegoing experience. Gunn takes advantage of every frame; there’s always something to look at, even if the temptation is to look away during the grisly scenes. Countering those moments, Gunn throws in some really nice artistic touches that push this one over the top. Fanciful title cards set the stage or the time. That means blood in the water coalesces to form the Warner Bros. title card; other naturally occurring elements like tree roots and leaves blowing across a beach add to the messaging. Even water stains on a toilet seat. Yeah. It goes there, too.

As the antiheroes battle with the mother of all starfish (gosh, just realized that’s an inside joke to be appreciated after seeing the movie), it’s advised for everybody to wear a mask. Surely that’s purely coincidental given the timeline behind making this movie, but it’s quite the coincidence. It lends further credence to the notion The Suicide Squad is somehow cathartic, a zeitgeist for the COVID era. A pure release of primal aggravation at the state of things worldwide.

It all works so well because the movie — unlike Gunn with his Tweets — doesn’t back down from its universe, the characters or their attitudes. It’s not a spoiler to say this one doesn’t end with a rainbow-canopied parade of puppies and unicorns.

What unfolds is surprisingly unpredictable. There’s no telling who will survive and who won’t in this one, right up to the very end – meaning the usual post-credits tease, of course.