The Suicide Squad (4 stars)

The Suicide Squad

James Gunn delivers the goods with this superior standalone comic book sequel

Hoping to replace 2016's little-liked Suicide Squad in the collective consciousness, standalone sequel The Suicide Squad – part of the DC Extended Universe – does a much better job with similar, if far from identical ingredients. Returnees Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman and Viola Davis are joined by Idris Elba, John Cena and Sylvester Stallone (lending his voice to King Shark), whilst behind the camera is fan favourite James Gunn, bringing plenty of Guardians of the Galaxy irreverence and a knack for ensemble energy to the party.

'You know the deal,' states a typically glowering Amanda Waller (Davis) as she once again assembles a sketchy-as-hell task force from the inmates of Belle Reve penitentiary. Led by Kinnaman's Rick Flag, amongst the reluctant recruits are Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang, Nathan Fillion's TDK, Pete Davidson's Blackguard, a giant weasel with a penchant for gobbling children, and Robbie's effervescently annoying Harley Quinn. Things go horribly wrong and the survivors are later joined by a second team, headed up by Bloodsport (Elba).

The crew have been sent to Corto Maltese, a small island off the coast of South America which has recently suffered a violent military coup, meaning its government are no longer allies of America. To make matters worse, the island is home to 'Project Starfish', an alarming scientific experiment that's the brainchild of Peter Capaldi's Thinker, is extra-terrestrial in nature, and in the wrong hands could prove explosive.

With a robustly anarchic air, The Suicide Squad is funnier, grittier, more sardonic and better cast than its predecessor – and, with its love for comedy infused ultra-violence, both more grown-up and a lot sillier. Familiar faces appear in what often turn out to be not much more than cameo roles, given the film's zeal for killing off named characters (extremely unusual in a genre that rarely does so). While plenty of striking and less-than-obvious musical choices also feature. As Quinn, Robbie has just about enough screen-time – and a great break-out scene, which takes its lead from the hugely fun and more visually eye-popping Birds Of Prey – but separating the film's most charismatic character from the group for long periods slightly depletes its energy, and Gunn probably spends a little too long in downtime than he should.

Bearing in mind its backdrop of ruthless US government machinations, including the country's shady meddling in South American politics, there is enough commentary and subversion to lend The Suicide Squad substance, and the excellent cast give the emotionally sincere moments the impact they need (shout out to David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man and Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2 for some of those). But perhaps the most enjoyable element is how affectionately Gunn views this rag-tag band of outsiders and how much he celebrates their difference – with John Cena's all-American and proudly warmongering Peacemaker the real oddball here. Whether you see the gang as heroes or villains, the director shows how to be superhuman is to be the most wonderful freak.

Available to watch in cinemas now.

The Suicide Squad

  • 4 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 2h 12min
  • 15
  • Directed by: James Gunn
  • Written by: James Gunn
  • Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi
  • UK release: 30 July 2021

Confusingly-titled sequel to Suicide Squad.