Anything goes in “The Suicide Squad” (R, 132 minutes, in theaters and on HBO Max). Just when you think it’s following a familiar pattern, it jolts you with a twist.
That’s, undoubtedly, one of the movie’s charms, but there are plenty more: its humor, its soundtrack, its cast and its cast of characters.
Based on the D.C. Comic about a group of colorful prison inmates enlisted to work for the government, “The Suicide Squad” arrives five years after “Suicide Squad.” In a way, it’s a baffling move.
The new film isn’t a sequel, or a prequel, or a remake of the original, even though it features some of the same actors and characters as the first film. It’s more of a redo, with writer-director James Gunn taking the reins from David Ayer (“Fury”) and creating a mostly different story.
Gunn, of course, has hit Marvel comic-book paydirt with his “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, and the first one, especially, is as hilarious and entertaining as any superhero flick out there. After Ayer’s disappointing “Suicide Squad,” Gunn was the obvious pick for a second try, and he delivers, big time.
Gunn’s latest even one-ups “Guardians” in its musical selections. How can you go wrong by kicking off a movie about prison inmates turned special ops team with Johnny Cash singing “Folsom Prison Blues,” followed soon after by the Jim Carroll Band’s relentless rocker “People Who Died” blasting during one of many slaughters depicted in this bloodfest of an action film?
Ah yes, a word of caution: Gunn doesn’t spare the gore; people are eaten in big bites, and at least one person is ripped in half. It ain’t pretty — or, to be honest, necessary. But the cartoonish aspects of the material are ever evident, so if you can handle this kind of thing, it’s not that big of a deal. And when one of the superheroes, King Shark, is, literally, a shark, the gruesome deaths do make some sense.
Sylvester Stallone provides the voice of the not-too-bright King Shark, bringing a similar type of comedy to the film that Vin Diesel has provided the “Guardians” movies as giant plant critter Groot. Yes, this smacks more than a bit of the formulaic (“Hey, if it worked once…”), but when the results are so much fun, why not?
Margot Robbie returns and heads the cast as crazy, ditsy, deadly Harley Quinn, and, as she was in the original film and in the character’s own film, “Birds of Prey,” she’s perfect in the role. (Given her work as Tonya Harding in “I, Tonya,” and Sharon Tate in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” the Australian actress has quickly emerged as one of our most talented stars.) Also returning from the first “Suicide Squad”: Joel Kinnaman as Col. Rick Flag, Jai Courtney as Boomerang and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, the ruthless head of operations.
New to the franchise, besides Stallone: Idris Elba, taking over for (and surpassing) Will Smith as Bloodsport, John Cena as Peacemaker, Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2, “Guardians” veteran Michael Rooker as Savant, Pete Davidson as Blackguard, David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man, and Sean Gunn (brother of James) as Weasel (who is, indeed, a towering weasel). Blackguard and Weasel are the funniest characters, but neurotic Polka-Dot Man’s mother issues also are good for big laughs.
And then there’s this line from Cena’s Peacemaker when Ratcatcher 2 calls his name into question, given his penchant for violence:
“I cherish peace with all my heart. I don’t care how many men, women and children I need to kill to get it.”
It’s funny, and smarter than it seems at face value. In keeping with the film as a whole, it delivers a subversive message if given a broader application.
What passes for a plot is disposable: The team is sent to a small island nation that threatens to unleash a secret scientific experiment, Project Starfish, on the United States and the rest of the world. It’s a suicide mission, but, then again, this is the Suicide Squad.
Insanity ensues … in a good way. ***½ (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org (archived shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/). He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.