As someone who sat through all three installments of the Human Centipede trilogy, I think it could be said that I have a high tolerance for cinematic ultra-violence. So none of the bloody goings-on depicted in The Suicide Squad that have reportedly upset some people—the neck-snapping and the head-ripping, I guess, and probably the sight of somebody being torn in half from top to toe—upset me even a little. More disturbing, to my mind, are the bad jokes that don't land and the creative disarray into which the movie sometimes sinks. Writer-director James Gunn, a veteran of the Troma Z-movie factory, has imbued the picture with a proud neo-junkiness, and the good news is that, to a certain extent, it's intermittently entertaining.
The story…well, how much do you really need to know? The Suicide Squad has been reconstituted this time out, with only fan-fave Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and colorless team leader Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) left over from the near-universally derided first film. (Boomerang artist Jai Courtney is also in evidence early on, but very briefly.) Now, government black-ops weasel Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has bolstered the group's numbers with an infusion of likable new bad guys. Bloodsport (Idris Elba) has the distinction of having once defeated Superman. The right-wingy Peacemaker (John Cena) sports a shiny super-helmet that resembles nothing so much as a bedpan. ("It's a beacon of freedom!" he protests.) Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) is a gifted vermin-whisperer. King Shark (a scion of Hawaiian piscine royalty equipped, for no pertinent reason, with the voice of Sylvester Stallone), is mostly very hungry. And Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) is basically ridiculous, flicking out lethal polka dots at his assailants. (He's the squad's weakest link.) There are also some moonlighting celebrities on hand, but don't get attached.
DC Comics aficionados will already be familiar with the squad's target this time out: Corto Maltese, an island "off the coast of South America," where the Nazis once built a notorious "medical" center called Jotunheim, which is now a laboratory dedicated to the welfare of an aquatic creature called "the Beast." I won't go into detail about this monster except to say that its pink-and-blue color scheme put me in mind of a Mardi Gras cookie and that it strongly recalls the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. The thing is not scary or gross or anything else of a useful monster-y nature; it's just a salute to the cheap sci-fi behemoths of the 1950s. If only it were funnier.
Humor is problematic throughout the film, generally striving too hard for R-rated edginess. When Harley straggles onto a bus and tells her teammates, "Sorry I'm late, I had to go number two," the joke just lies there. And when she looks up at a sudden cloudburst and says, "I love the rain, it's like angels splooging all over us," the awkward imprecision of the metaphor subverts its intended effect (the texture of rain and the texture of splooge being in no way similar).
So what's to like about this movie? Not an awful lot, I'd say. The action scenes are jumbled, the technical quality of the images sometimes seem a little cruddy (perhaps another nod to low budget film-craft?), and the story occasionally plods. The cast is game and likable, however, and the movie is arriving at a time when the sort of big superhero epics with which Hollywood rules the world are not in overabundant supply. This will surely do for now.