Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone.
While critical reception to David Ayers’ 2016 vintage of the DC Comics anti-superhero team might skew more towards the negative, this soft reboot from James Gunn hot off a firing and then very prompt un-firing by the House of Mouse is getting much better reviews.
This time Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends a group of supervillains – Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Ratcathcer (Daniela Mechoir), Peacemaker (John Cena) and Polkadot Man (David Dastmalchian) along with several others under the guidance of Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to the South American Island nation of Corto Maltese to stop a nazi experience that has been waiting for the chance to be unleashed.
Whatever else may be true of Ayer’s version much of the casting remains exemplary, and Gunn smartly brings back many of the best cast characters. Kinnaman is less out of his depth this time as Flag, while Davis could do this stern authority thing in her sleep frankly. The DCEU still belongs to Robbie’s pitch-perfect casting as Harley.
The new characters actually manage to hold their own, John Cena’s douche-bag Captain America is hilarious, while Idris Elba has less of the faux-cool of Will Smith, Bloodsport works better because he is the Tommy Lee Jones of the film, not tolerating any of the nonsense the rest of the team throw at him. Though it’s actually Melchoir’s Ratcatcher that proves to be the best of the lot and Sylvester Stallone as the voice of a man-eating shark with a dad-bod.
Gunn feels a much a stronger director here, on his fifth film, he is much more stylish than he was in his indie movies and his big Disney ventures, though the DNA of his previous four remain. It’s still about rogues trying to do good, there’s a strong theme of redemption and there’s this feeling that Gunn truly loves his characters.
Though that’s not to say he doesn’t have a Tarantino-level of disregard when it comes to how lives and dies. It’s not just the faceless goons who rack up the body count, Gunn slaughters tons of name characters without fear. Which while at times is refreshing can also be a little jarring when you’re trying to buy into the stakes of the finale.
Gunn’s writing isn’t always top form either, some of the jokes don’t land the way they should and a recurring mother issue joke simply isn’t that funny and the reuse of it draws attention to it. But, there’s the sense that the characters are so beloved by Gunn that at times he wishes he could just keep them in a room and have them talk to one another.
There are also way too many characters, arguably this is the point but it feels like Gunn is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks when fewer key players would have felt more satisfying, and yet there’s never the sense that it’s box ticking, it does feel like it’s there to beef out the world of the DCEU.
Perhaps to it’s credit the film is also massively entertaining, Gunn handles the action very well, knowing when to go for hard to stomach gore and when to pepper in the absurdity, it’s less brutal than Snyder’s stuff, but it’s also harder edged than the more recent crop of films.
What will be the film’s biggest virtue to many is its lack of connection to other DCEU films. It references them in a slight manner, and it’s still in the continuity but it works much better as a fairly stand alone adventure that people can just stroll into, enjoy and leave – it’s not setting up another twenty movies which can sometimes be a little tiring.
While the film does have flaws, it’s sometimes a little too knowingly pleased with itself, it does have a go-for-broke sensibility that sees Gunn at his least polished but most fun best, and offers a great showcase to the new characters to hopefully return, and a reminder that just as Downey was to the MCU and Jackman was to X-Men, Robbie is the soul of this movie-verse.