There’s a reason why it’s titled The Suicide Squad rather than Suicide Squad 2. This treacherous, side-splitting, and surprisingly clever supervillain adventure is the definite article, less of a sequel and more of a much-needed do-over.

The Suicide Squad 2 of 2021, which will be released in cinemas and streaming on HBO Max on August 5, is the result of James Gunn’s warped vision. His Guardians of the Galaxy films injected weirdo sci-fi and a hefty dose of humor into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, when old tweets got him in trouble at Marvel, rival comic conglomerate DC snatched him up to revitalize another oddball ensemble: the neon-drenched, face-tattooed 2016 Suicide Squad movie flop.

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Gunn is a better fit for DC’s Dirty Dozen than the MCU’s Guardians. The guy who started his career at B-movie trash palace Troma has found the ideal place for his delightfully bad-taste combination of gore and classical music; ’80s action films and forgotten comics; and the most scathing of comedy and foulest of language. In this film, the US government employs a shark who speaks like Sylvester Stallone to rip victims in half. It’s as bad as it gets. It’s also sick.

The Suicide Squad 2, directed by James Gunn, gets a fast start, unleashing a delectable avalanche of terrible carnage and delightfully banal dialogue. It can’t help but be sad when it calms down after the opening reel and becomes a very standard “flawed men and women on a fatal quest” film. Yes, there are gruesome and horrific killings in the R-rated picture.

It also revels in the type of 1980s-era action movie amorality that only works in 2021 because it’s a supervillain film and the ensemble of anti-heroes murdering different South American troops is large “not a white man” performers.

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Yes, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (or should we call it Suicide Squad 2) is a more cohesive, entertaining, all-around better film than David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Yes, I realize that the 2016 predecessor was pretzeled and scrambled to pieces by WB officials in the aftermath of the success of Batman v Superman, but Bright wasn’t any better. Despite Gunn and the company’s best efforts, this is a sequel through and through, which is a wonderful thing.

Like the first film, the narrative revolves around a group of comic book inmates with dubious talents being pushed into service for black ops puppetmaster Amanda Waller, played with dead-eyed steel by Viola Davis. They’re entering a South American island this time to overthrow a freshly formed military dictatorship and destroy a secret superweapon. Complications involving curses and outrageously violent high jinks follow.

The casting was one of the original film’s strongest points, and the same is true here. Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, and Margot Robbie return from the first film, along with Davis.

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After the underwhelming Birds of Prey, Robbie gets to play DC’s breakthrough star Harley Quinn, falling in love and machine-gunning henchmen in a tattered dress and combat boots.

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Idris Elba, as frustrated hitman Bloodsport, who combines natural leadership abilities with a foul-mouthed antiheroic bent, is among the newcomers. He’s in a piss-fight with John Cena’s patriotic, maniacal Peacemaker. The two fight comically as they try to outdo each other in murderous ingenuity. Cena is so excellent and amusing as the uptight Peacemaker that he appears to be a completely different performer from the block of wood that slid off the screen with a dull thud in last year’s Fast 9.

In the Gunn show, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Pete Davidson, Alice Braga, Taika Waititi, and Peter Capaldi. Everyone is perfect and definitely having a great time.

Gunn’s hyperactive camera moves at breakneck speed, bobbling, weaving, and punching. The film begins with a brutal and funny beach assault that plays like Saving Private Ryan on a high dose of drugs. It progresses via inventively nefarious action set pieces replete with different jaw-droppingly gruesome scenes to a finale that turns everything up to 11.

So, sure, it’s a lot of fun. However, The Suicide Squad 2 is far from a torrent of self-aware quips in the way of Joss Whedon, another filmmaker who straddled the DC and MCU universes and whose jokey tone in films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Justice League threatened to undermine the material.

On the other hand, Gunn’s jet-black sense of humor emanates from a serious, even furious base. This humorous comic book film takes aim at extremely large and serious topics, railing against Western imperialism, American foreign policy, and government deceit while condemning foreign intervention.

suicide squad 2 cast

Bloodsport, played by Idris Elba, is the unofficial leader with a history so identical to Deadshot’s that I have to wonder if they expected Will Smith to return. Elba’s interactions with the various members of this gang of jerks are so good that the action scenes rapidly become a distraction. Robbie has a few standout moments, including one in which she transforms into a horror film monster. Still, Cena keeps his subtlety for the HBO Max show.

Steve Agee portrays one of Waller’s worker bees while also providing the muscular on-set performance for King Shark, making him the film’s debatable MVP.

Nonetheless, Dr. Waller steals the show, with Davis providing a funny performance that does not sacrifice her badass masculinity.

Amanda Waller, who represents this chilly bureaucratic evil, is probably the most despised villain in the DC universe, if not the coldest.

Gunn finds pity for the demons in this nihilistic universe, asking viewers to feel compassion and empathy for even the largest rampaging monsters and goofiest comic book characters. Even the craziest and scariest characters are just humans (or walking sharks) with issues.

Ratcatcher, the rat-talking millennial, is filled with true hope and anguish. Polka Dot Man’s ridiculous abilities are reinterpreted as really scary body horror.

David Dastmalchian expertly communicates a tormented inner agony that adds weight to the ridiculous persona – all while building up a really illogical non-sequitur of a visual joke.

Gunn is also enthralled with the small folks in the backdrop. Even the most nameless extras have small touches added to make them feel like people, even if that detail is quickly followed by a gruesome and terrible death. The squad’s backroom crew of button-pushers is amusingly fleshed out. They even get some karmic vengeance for their superiors’ fairly harsh treatment of the support workers in the previous film.

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While it’s certainly a step up from the confusing disaster of David Ayer’s original 2016 picture, the sequel is far from a comeback or rejection. Version 2.0 emphasizes the flaws of the previous film while still making it make sense.

When I saw Gunn’s version, I said to myself, “Ohhhh, so this is what they were trying to achieve.”

It’s remarkable, however, how similar the two Suicide Squad films end up becoming. They both eventually descend into “a handful of villains going along a street fighting metaphorical zombies.” The Suicide Squad 2 is not a completely new or different film, but rather a (much) improved variant on the main Suicide Squad 2 premise. The film looks great for the most part, thanks to Henry Braham, and the 132-minute runtime is only noticeable at the overlong action climax.

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The film looks great for the most part, thanks to Henry Braham, and the 132-minute runtime is only noticeable at the overlong action climax. This is especially true because the faceless troops are so outmatched by our “squad” that the combat becomes tedious soon. Gunn’s Troma sensibilities are combined with his famous “wounded outsiders uncover the hero within and learn to accept love and friendship” story structure. It’s clearly more in the spirit of Guardians of the Galaxy and Super, even if it occasionally dabbles in Slither-level brutality.

Ayer was chastised for his blatantly apparent wedding DJ needle drops. In contrast, Gunn begins the film’s jail sequences with Johnny Cash singing Folsom Prison Blues. The music isn’t as flashy as the one from Guardians of the Galaxy. Still, it adds another layer of enjoyment to this trashy tour de force.

The Suicide Squad 2 is both crazy and wonderful, both sincere and horrifyingly funny.