The Suicide Squad. MA, 132 minutes. Three stars
Note the inclusion of the definite article in this film's title. Writer-director James Gunn's new DC movie is a sort-of reboot of, sort-of sequel to the inferior David Ayers-directed Suicide Squad (2016). There's no overhyped Jared Leto Joker this time, but plenty of new characters, a new mission, a surprise or two, and plenty of action.
There's also a lot of blood and gore, including one gratuitous shot inside a heart, so consider that a warning (or a come-on).
The violence, and surprises, begin with the pre-title sequence, so don't be late.
Task Force X is the official moniker of the reconstituted group: it does sound cooler, more mysterious and less ominous than their better-known nickname.
They're mostly made up of criminals recruited, or forced, to take part in a super-dangerous mission that will either end in death or a sentence reduction. And if they disobey orders, their heads have an implant that will, literally, explode.
This time, our anti-heroes are tasked with destroying Jotunheim, a Nazi-era prison and experimental laboratory located on the South American island nation of Corto Maltese.
Only a few of the earlier film's characters return, notably Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis), the cold-hearted mission assigner, Special Forces officer Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and the crazy but riveting Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Among the newcomers are the blindly super-patriotic Peacemaker (John Cena) and the mother-fixated Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who's more dangerous than he sounds.
The cynical Bloodsport (Idris Elba) - a sort-of replacement for Will Smith's Deadshot - signs on to keep his daughter from being imprisoned and becomes a sort of father figure to Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) - so called to distinguish her from her father, who also had a strong rodent connection - and the ever-hungry King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone).
Gunn also wrote and directed the Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy films so he's no stranger to making ensemble superhero action movies.
The Guardians characters were also antiheroes but less violent and more immediately sympathetic, on the whole, than the group in this movie. As non-human (or human-ish) anti-heroes go, the Guardians' wisecracking Rocket Raccoon and walking tree Gru were more memorable than the giant walking shark seen here.
While there are the usual comic book-style requirements to suspend disbelief in terms of characters' powers and actions and the storytelling, the film isn't just about blood and guts. There's a subtext about the US's international influence and its sometimes well-intentioned abuse of power and meddling in other countries' affairs that gives The Suicide Squad a bit of weight. Not that it's a major political statement, but it's more morally complicated than it might have been.
Oh, and stay until the end of the credits for a final, significant scene.