Thursday, May 23, 2024

Review: The Suicide Squad Rises from Wreckage of 2016 to Be the Best of All DC Comics Movies


Stop me if you’ve heard this already: James Gunn has made a miracle of  comic book movie with “The Suicide Squad,” and Margot Robbie could actually get an Oscar nomination for playing Harley Quinn.

So what else? I laughed and cried with “The Suicide Squad,” not be confused with 2016’s “Suicide Squad” which lacked the article defining it as well as a sense of humor, rhythm, or focus.

Gunn comes to DC comics from his Marvel hits “Guardians of the Galaxy” and its sequel. Those movies had a new energy, an off the cuff, glib, knowing feel to them that made them seem fresh and alive. Gunn proved that he was adept at directing ensembles and delineating characters you cared about, even Groot and Rocket.

In “TSS,” Groot and Rocket — the Rosencranz and Guildenstern of “Galaxy” — appear in new forms. There is Weasel (played by Gunn’s brother), King Shark (Steve Agee, voiced by Sylvester Stallone), and two very animated rats (who don’t say anything but are very evocative).

To this group we add the Suicide Squad as assembled by returning Viola Davis (who you will hear use uncharacteristic foul language), representing the government. She’s trying to rescue the people of a small island nation off the coast of South America called Corto Maltese. From a motley crew (long story) of colorful characters she taps criminals, idiots, and losers including Harley (Robbie), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag). and some newbies including Idris Elba as Bloodsport, John Cena as Peacemaker, and Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2. (Her father, Ratcatcher 1, turns up briefly in the person of Taika Waikiki.)

There is also David Dastmalchian as the Polka Dot Man, the first Freudian super hero in movie or comics history. He can only attack villains if he equates them with his mother, who haunts him the way Mae Questel hovered as the monster in Woody Allen’s part of “New York Stories.” PDM’s super power is dispensing explosive polka dots (I’m not kidding). He is completely bizarre.

There are others, including Pete Davidson’s Blackguard and Michael Rooker’s Savant. There are a LOT of characters, they come and go but all make solid impressions. You imagine the original screenplay must have been 300 pages. Gunn’s story is brimming with ideas but to his credit he cuts away all the fat and sticks to his main branch. Just when it looks like we’re going to get overcrowded with eccentrics spewing funny lines, Gunn pares back.

And there is a lot of humor. It’s a very witty screenplay with lots of humorous volleys back and forth among the Squad. Jon Cena’s Peacemaker gets one of my favorite lines when he admits “I am the Peacemaker and I’ll kill anyone who gets in my way to make peace.” (He’s getting his own TV series soon.)

I don’t want get too far into the weeds here. What you need to know is that for three quarters of the movie, Gunn holds the reins tight. Eventually we have to get to a huge final, crazy fight sequence with a gigantic blue starfish. (Don’t ask.) But his set pieces are top notch. There’s kind a mini masterpiece with Harley Quinn breaking loose from kidnapping to the sounds of Louie Prima singing “Just a Gigolo ” and “Ain’t Got Nobody”) that is the best use of music and visuals I’ve seen in a long time. Watch for psychedelic flowers.

Elba is outstanding as Bloodsport, who should be the Nick Fury of these movies. He’s an overnight sensation. Kinnaman is very, very good. The Agee/Stallone King Shark is a hoot, and kudos to the artists who worked on him.

As with all James Gunn movies, the music rocks. At the start, he explains the characters and their early fates so perfectly with Jim Carroll’s punk classic, “People Who Died” that I jumped for a minute. Who uses that song? James Gunn. Plus, Gunn almost breaks the fourth wall, using Easter eggs galore and nice scene setting title cards (very modern versions) to keep the story straight and always moving forward.

All the production levels are A plus. The main thing, you’ll want to see “The Suicide Squad” again, and again. I can’t wait to see it again. And more time: Margot Robbie, who’s played Harley Quinn in the original movie and her own film, exceeds all expectations. She’s the heart and soul of this operation.

“The Suicide Squad” is easily the best DC comics movie, one of the 10 best super hero movies ever of all studios. Previews are August 5th, opening day is the 6th, and I look forward to writing a great box office story that weekend. Try and see it on a big screen and not at home. Get a vax, wear a mask, and enjoy it the way it’s meant to be seen!


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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