New from Jeff York on The Establishing Shot: THE FUN IN “THE SUICIDE SQUAD” IS KILLED BY TIME & GROTESQUERIES

Bettering the first SUICIDE SQUAD movie wasn’t too difficult a task for the talented filmmaker James Gunn. He has improved upon the first film exponentially in every way with his sequel THE SUICIDE SQUAD. As both writer and director here, Gunn has ensured that the plot is fun, the characters are vivid, and most of the action is easy to track. He also knows the superhero world so well, having helmed the cult classic SUPER in 2010, and launched the megahit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY franchise in 2014, that he’s able to revel in the genre’s tropes as well as ridicule them. Often, simultaneously. Unfortunately, he lays everything on way too thick in the third act here and the romp becomes exhausting. The movie is far too long and too grotesque for its own good. 

Amongst the many things to admire in the film, however, is the adroitly comic performance by Idris Elba, one of the world’s best actors. Here, he’s asked to be silly and he delivers the goods, finding the truth in even the most outrageous of scenes. His character Bloodsport, a killer marksmen, is required to suffer many humorous humiliations in the story and Elba earns big guffaws every time. In a film where Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is supposed to be the big laugh-getter, Elba’s accomplishment is heroic in its own right. 

The impatient and surly Bloodsport is forced to head up a new suicide mission dictated to him by his covert, bureaucratic boss Amanda Waller. (Viola Davis returns in the role, as droll and dead-eyed as ever.) She tasks Bloodsport and a motley crew of prisoners to travel to South America and overthrow a corrupt dictator (Juan Diego Botto) there. The bad-asses assigned to Bloodsport are the strangest collection of misfits since, well, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

Among the nutjob killers assigned to help are Ms. Quinn, gung-ho American sniper Peacemaker (Jon Cena), a human/Great White hybrid named King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), a vengeful Momma’s Boy named Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and a young woman who can control rats named, surprise surprise, Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchoir).

Of course, because of his MCU GOTG experiences, Gunn knows precisely how to make a mix of humans and CGI creations thrive onscreen, and up to a point, all the lunacy and banter between them works wonders. Each oddball gets plenty of chances to shine as both comic foil and action hero. Quinn gets to strut her sexy stuff in the bedroom, first as a lover, then as a post-coital murderess of a politico. Peacemaker and Polka-Dot Man are consistently silly throughout, with a special call-out to Cena’s snug tighty whities. Those knickers get snickers with each close-up. Even the man-fish King Shark, seemingly a parody of Groot from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY right down to having a cartoonishly masculine movie star do his voice-over work, is a fully-developed character and not a one-note joke. 

But then, in the third act, the movie’s big finale arrives and it goes on and on and on. Along with the time problem, there is so much gore and grotesqueries, it’s absolutely nauseating. You know that Ratcatcher is going to summon thousands of rats to help out the gang and she most certainly does. (I think even Bruce Davison would even avert his eyes at the hordes of vermin crawling over everything.) Additionally, the villain being fought is a 20-story tall starfish named Starro and while that’s funny at first in a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man sort of way, the oversized sea creature wears out its welcome the more time it spends onscreen.

The whole ending seems incredibly desperate, attempting to go big or go home, filled with so many gross visuals you’d swear a couple of sniggering junior high boys wrote it. Additionally, there are other failures. The Quinn character gets the short-shrift, especially after her stand-alone feature BIRDS OF PREY just last year. There are a ton of celebrity cameos in the first 15 minutes that are done in faster than the stars who bit the dust in the first half-hour of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE with Tom Cruise. (What a waste to waste so much talent.) Great actors like Peter Capaldi and Michael Rooker play characters that are mostly just sight gags, and Taika Waitiki only shows up for a New York minute. Finally, I’m not sure that the mission in the story here is interesting enough to warrant a two-hour and 12-minute run time, but then few comedies can keep up the momentum that long.

If Gunn comes back for the next one, and I’m sure this one will do big enough box office to warrant that, here’s hoping that his instincts to be clever outweigh those telling him to be crude. Outrageous is one thing, ridiculous another. And a gyrating, ginormous, baby-making Starfish can only be so funny. Ick.

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