WHAT I LIKED: On the one hand, James Gunn's 'The Suicide Squad,' seems intent on being as silly and irreverent as possible.
Sure, like its (thankfully pretty unconnected) 2016 counterpart, the story is about a group of serious criminals with special abilities who are sent on a government mission where they'll be killed by a sour-faced Viola Davis if they don't comply. But the difference is that this one has a giant marauding blue and purple starfish, a man who shoots polka dots out of his hands and explodes if he doesn't defficate the dots at least twice a day, Sylvester Stallone as a half man half shark figure who rips the heads off anyone he can get his jaws (and paws?) around, and a girl who somehow controls rats with a glowy stick.
Because the squad are all delinquants with little investment in the mission, they take none of it particularly seriously, so there's more opportunities for jokes, effing and jeffing, and excessive Tarantino-esque blood and guts than you can possibly imagine. What's more, everything is stylised within an inch of its life to the extent that it feels like Zack Snyder has taken LSD, run round the Warner Bros lot, and pointed his camera at anything and everything he could find on the shelves. At times, that's enjoyable to watch, as Gunn has clearly always had a knack for the quirky and fun with his Jukebox soundtracks (there's one particularly brilliant use of Louis Prima's 'Just a Gigolo,' behind a Harley Quinn bloodbath action sequence here) and flippant humour, and it's great to see him let off the reigns.
But more than any of absurdity, the reason your eyes and bum will respectively stay on the screen and in your seat is that Gunn also utilises his other big talent - the ability to add humanity to even the strangest of chatacters.
To give an example, the film opens with a carnage-laden set-piece, but soon flashes back to a rather touching scene where Idris Elba's central character Bloodsport is in prison and sees his daughter after she's committed a minor crime. Outwardly he has no care for her, and the way both he and the young actor play up their angry detachment is moving, but as soon as she's put in danger by Davis' manipulations, we know he's going to drop the act and do what he can to save her from any pain.
Ultimately though, he's a failed father who thinks he has no value, and the more time we spend with the other members of the squad, the clearer it becomes that none of them have any self-worth at all. That's only unlocked because Gunn allows some time between all the madness to focus his script and camera on exposing some of their vulnerability. We hear a rather tragic story about the rat girl's childhood, the shark thing is revealed to be sad, lonely and friendless, and even the sycophantic Harley (Margot Robbie) gets some development beyond the usual ogling in a scene where she talks almost earnestly about her history with bad partners.
At this point, these characters' bodies are just tools of the state whether their minds like it or not, and that - along with the occassional cuts back to Davis' evil puppet-master in the control room, and a vaguely interesting set of reveals about US involvement in the South-American island where the mission takes place - makes for a surprisingly engaging set of characters who you root for precisely because they've been writtten off. You really do long for them to find some worth and free themselves from their masters, so seeing them become some kind of twisted set of friends and attempt to find their own way through the mission is undoubtedly engaging.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: There is an awful lot of madness on display, and at times the leering and playfulness can get a little tiring. After all, it's a general rule that things normally work better when you *don't* chuck everything and the kitchen sink at the screen, and it has to be said there's probably one too many silly side characters, visual effects gags and explosions to distract from the engaging stuff here which tip you beyond the realms of a smile and into an eye roll.
VERDICT: An often absurd and irreverent film that chucks everything and the kitchen sink at the screen, 'The Suicide Squad,' is both fun and occasionally irritating, but it works because, within all of the madness, James Gunn finds the time to develop human stakes and characters.