“From the horribly beautiful mind of James Gunn,” read posters for The Suicide Squad, and that just about sums up this latest stab, slash and swipe at DC Comics’ bad boys (and girl). Gunn, who brought us Marvel’s ensemble Guardians of the Galaxy, revels in his task, which primarily involves nuking the memory of David Ayer’s widely panned 2016 effort Suicide Squad.
Some characters from that are retained – notably Viola Davis’ stern government operative Amanda Waller, who selects scumbags and offer 10 years off their jail sentence if they do her bidding.
Also returning is Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the mission commander, who this time leads a squadron into Latin American island Corto Maltese, which has been taken over in a military coup.
Naturally, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) – the most successful villain to come out of Ayer’s movie, with a stand-alone outing to boot – is back, and she’s as welcome a presence as ever.
But largely it’s a new cast, led by Idris Elba’s tormented assassin Bloodsport, who spends a lot of time squabbling with John Cena’s muscle-bound killer Peacemaker, as they Alpha-male their way through the story.
Daniela Melchior as the rat-whispering Ratcatcher 2 (think the Pied Piper, without the flute) and David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man (yes, he really does throw polka-dots at people) are two of the weirder characters.
And then there’s King Shark, a man-shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone, going down the Groot route) who finds it hard to resist his predatory impulses.
Their mission is to infiltrate a bizarre scientific experiment known as Project Starfish, conducted by the baldheaded mad genius Gaius Grieves (Peter Capaldi, superbly cast).
And from here on in, The Suicide Squad just gets stranger, with surreal interludes and sick and twisted gags straight from the James Gunn playbook.
From the opening sequence, cut to Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison, Gunn’s relentlessly entertaining film just doesn’t stop moving.
And yet it always has time for a moment of wonder, such as King Shark being mesmerised by some luminescent aquatic creatures, or a debate over the death of a minor character who has been quietly tagging along.
Filled with blood-soaked hyper-cartoon violence – including King Shark ripping a man in two in slow-motion freeze frame – it does everything a Suicide Squad movie should do.
Even the finale, as the gang come up against a larger-than-life opponent, will have you shaking your head in disbelief. As comic book films go, this one belongs on the naughty step.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.