The island of Corto Maltese is undergoing a political revolution and in order to destroy an experimental laboratory that houses a dangerous research topic, US government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends in a group of supervillains to take care of the job in exchange for reduced sentences. Of course, while there, things quickly get out of hand and their unconventional methods prove to be more trouble than expected...
As a concept, 'The Suicide Squad' takes its inspiration from 'The Dirty Dozen' - brazenly terrible soldiers commanded by a hard-ass are sent on a do-or-die mission that will result in their sentences being reduced. The first 'Suicide Squad', directed by David Ayer, was a complete disaster. Luckily, the opening five minutes of 'The Suicide Squad' wipes the slate clean - figuratively speaking - and starts fresh with a new team. In the place of Will Smith, you've got Idris Elba. Jared Leto's emo-core Joker is nowhere to be seen, mercifully, and the few components that did work from the original - Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman - are held over and utilised far better.
Director James Gunn is no stranger to big ensemble comic-book movie. 'Guardians of the Galaxy' was an unlikely choice for Marvel initially. None of the characters were terribly well-known outside of deep comic-book fans. Likewise, the cast was - aside from maybe Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, both of them in voice roles - not made up of name-recognition actors at the time. With 'The Suicide Squad', James Gunn utilises the same creative instincts that made 'Guardians of the Galaxy' a hit while adding in more cursing, more blood, more gore, with fewer needle drops featuring boomer rock.
In a way, this is probably Gunn at his strongest. His directorial debut was a grizzly horror-comedy, 'Slither', that dealt heavily in '80s horror tropes. 'PG Porn' was a sly, subversive TV series about, well, the title says it all. Even his scripts for the live-action 'Scooby-Doo' movies had a playfully dark edge to them. 'Super', which starred 'US Office' alum Rainn Wilson, was about a deranged fry cook who decides to become a superhero vigilante who beats the shit out of people with a wrench and fails miserably.
'The Suicide Squad' isn't nearly as twisted as any of these, however. Rather, he's taking 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and removing the guardrails that Disney placed on him. King Shark, voiced by Sylvester Stallone, is basically Groot but he eats people alive. Peacemaker, played by John Cena, is Star-Lord but with absolutely no sense of human empathy and loves "liberty" so much that he's prepared to kill men, women and children for it. As it's 'The Suicide Squad', they're sent in on a mission that is most likely to result in serious harm and death, is morally dubious to begin with, and will likely see them going off the deep end at any given moment.
The cast feels secure in their roles. Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn is in full bloom, and you can see that she's not only got hold of the character, but that the script gives her room to breathe. John Cena's Peacemaker has some of the best lines and jokes in the movie, utilising his gigantic frame for comedic effect at every available opportunity. Idris Elba is the cocksure smart-ass to a tee, Joel Kinnaman's Col. Flagg is the straight-man to everyone else, a role he bravely assumes in a movie where everyone gets a quirk, and even Viola Davis gets a big blow-out scene in this. Again, James Gunn's script and direction means he can juggle a big cast easily and drop whoever he needs, whenever he needs, because that's the core concept - they're all disposable. Even the most ridiculous characters - David Dastmalchian's Polka-Dot Man - get a good airing, and as well, provides for one of the most out-there moments in a mainstream comic-book movie.
All this said, 'The Suicide Squad' does have the usual caveats. There's a CGI finale that sees half a city destroyed and barely acknowledges it. It also drives up to the edge of of exploring the superhero / military complex, but then backs away just as it's about to get interesting. This has always been an issue in superhero movies that's never been fully explored or fleshed out in a meaningful way, and for all the aggregated articles about how James Gunn thinks superhero movies are becoming boring, he's still made one that follows a formula he helped to develop and used again, except with a harder edge to it.