It took a Marvel Studios director to show DC/Warner Brothers how to make a superhero movie.
Fans can thank James Gunn (who directed Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”) for writing and directing a DC comic film that can stand up to Marvel’s. Solid characterization, a faithfulness to the original comic characters, incredible special effects and touches of comedy make this a contender for the best comic movie of the year.
This new version of the Suicide Squad is superior to the 2016 movie in every way, which is a lot of say considering the caliber of the original cast. That movie did well at the box office but was described by many as a hot mess thanks to ill-advised last minute revisions.
The new film is quite the opposite, though the premise is the same: The cruel and heartless “hero” Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) offers supervillain prisoners the chance to knock 10 years off their sentence if they take on a dangerous mission for Task Force X. The body count is so high that the group is nicknamed “The Suicide Squad.”
Gunn took notes on what to do and what not to do from the first movie. He toned down Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and gave substance to a relatively unknown character called Bloodsport (Idris Elba), a minor Superman villain from 1984.
Gunn dug deep into the DC archives to bring out some of the most obscure comics characters ever seen and give them personalities and texture. The Polka Dot Man, (David Dastmalchian), a third-rate Batman villain from 1962, is beefed up to be a credible threat, (and totally insane.) Gunn took a nondescript character from the 1960s, The Peacemaker, (John Cena), and made him a fascinating character.
He did the same with dozens of other characters.
In the new film, there are actually two Suicide Squad teams that were sent to Corto Maltese to destroy a monster of incredible power. I won’t give away the identity of the monster, but it is one of the first villains faced by the Justice League of America in 1960. The character never looked so good or so frightening.
The first team was cannon fodder and included Pete Davidson from Saturday Night Live as Blackguard; Michael Rooker (from “Guardians of the Galaxy”) as a very scary Savant, who fought Batgirl in the comics. My favorite character was played by the great Nathan Fillion (“Firefly” television show) as TDK, the Detachable Kid. The character was modeled after the purposely ridiculous Arm-Fall-Off Boy, who could detach his arms and throw them at people.
As interesting as that team is, don’t get attached because it’s the second team that does all the heavy lifting in the film, including killing a lot of the wrong people.
Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) leads the team that includes Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), the Polka Dot Man, Peacemaker and the monstrously cannibalistic King Shark, wonderfully voiced by Sylvester Stallone.
There is lots of action, lots of super-heroics, just the right amount of Marvel movie banter and a fascinating storyline.
More than that, the film has that indefinable quality to the movie that makes it plain old fun to watch, you know, like the Marvel movies have and that has up to now eluded DC movies.
I hope DC/Warner Brothers have learned how to make an enjoyable comic-based movie that respects the comics and still be a great popcorn flick.
The film opened Friday and is available on HBO Max, which is the best reason I’ve seen to subcribe to HBO in years.
Michael Sangiacomo, former film critic for The Plain Dealer, can be reached at email@example.com