Bad Guys, Bad-Ass Flick: James Gunn breathes new life into The Suicide Squad

It was a good day when Disney got uppity and fired James Gunn from the Marvel Universe for those crazy Tweets he did years ago.

He's since been rehired and is hard at work on Guardians of the Galaxy 3, but that interruption in his schedule provided Warner Bros. with the chance to swoop in and get Gunn into the DC Universe for what turns out to be a totally insane—and insanely enjoyable—reboot of Suicide Squad.

If Gunn had simply taken the Suicide Squad and applied that fun action-comedy vibe that drives his Guardians movies, that probably would've been just fine. The first crack at Suicide Squad, from director David Ayer, was an almost complete waste of time, even with the somewhat interesting introduction of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

While there is some Guardians DNA in this take (offbeat humor, rock music), The Suicide Squad (this one is different because it has "The" before "Suicide") is its own beautiful beast. Gunn makes a comic book movie that shows his love of comic books, but he doesn't get carried away with that love in a Zack Snyder, too-freaking-long kind of way. He takes the fun elements of comics along with the dark and disturbing spirit of a more adult graphic novel to create something that's funny, hilariously violent and somehow emotionally vibrant.

The plot is familiar territory: a renegade group of criminals are sprung from prison for a chance at freedom as long as they can manage to save the world. If they choose to run, their nasty commander, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, reprising her role), will blow their heads up.

It's a large group that includes Harley Quinn, Idris Elba as Bloodsport, John Cena as Peacemaker, Michael Rooker as Savant, Pete Davidson as Blackguard, Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang (also reprising his role), David Dastmaichian as Polka-Dot Man, Sylvester Stallone voicing the cosmically great CGI creation King Shark, and more.

They set out on that mission and graphic gore deaths ensue. Don't take your kids to this, or let them watch it on HBO Max, thinking it's the next Marvel movie. It's a hard R for sure. Faces get blown off, brains get blown out, blood spurts and cascades, and King Shark gorily eats people, either shoving them into his mouth whole, or tearing them apart like pulling apart a head of lettuce, snacking on their heads like they were a big almond still in the shell.

Gunn sets the film in various acts, with quite a lot happening before the opening credits. The last act involves a Kaiju/Starfish monster that thrills more than anything Godzilla vs. Kong had to offer. You even get a little zombie action for your dollars.

It's a great pleasure to know that it's the voice of Stallone bringing King Shark to life. From general, slow-witted conversations to full on Stallone screaming, it's just nice to have Stallone along for the ride. Elba gives the film a nice heart. It's a damaged, distressed, dark and dangerous heart, but heart, nonetheless. His introductory scene with his daughter is one for the ages.

King Shark's kinship with Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, whose character is also sleepy because she's a millennial) is absolutely adorable, as are Ratcatcher 2's attention-seeking rats. One of the film's best running gags is Bloodsport's aversion to rats, and rats trying to befriend him. Also garnering laughs are Polka Dot Man and his tendency to see his evil mom everywhere.

Gunn and Robbie get the third take at Harley dialed in perfectly. While she was definitely the best thing about Suicide Squad, and she almost made the mediocre Birds of Prey work, she finally gets a chance to completely shine in the character that she was born to play. Harley Quinn is a full-blown action star here, albeit a ruthless and crazy one, in this latest take.

As he did with Guardians, Gunn uses rock music to great extremes. The soundtrack includes Kansas, Johnny Cash, The Jim Carroll Band and Pixies. His use of music is starting to rival Wes Anderson's tendency to infuse his soundtracks with creative rock picks.

No word yet on another The Suicide Squad movie in the future, but John Cena's Peacemaker is getting his own origin series on HBO Max. (Gunn is a producer on the project.) Gunn says he's game for another The Suicide Squad and, given that this one was so damn good, let's start to hope that another one comes to batshit crazy fruition.

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