Review: Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” is best DC movie since “The Dark Knight”

Peter Capaldi, Idris Elba, David Dastmalchian, and Daniela Melchior in The Suicide Squad / Warner Bros.

James Gunn’s latest comic-book-themed creation “The Suicide Squad” is a crass, profane, gory, violent triumph of a movie because at it’s core the film’s characters have heart. Gunn’s own oddball sense of humor doesn’t hurt the movie either.

This Warner Bros.’ confection is the best DC Comics-based movie since Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” more than a decade ago. Gunn’s sensibilities may not be for everyone, though. The movie is rated “R” for a purpose.

Even though the film is about super-villain scum being forced to do dirty work that heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole, when required these misfits rise to the occasion to battle the most monstrous and ridiculous threat this side of Godzilla in Starro, the Conqueror, a gigantic space-alien starfish, that made its comics debut along with the Justice League of America in “The Brave and the Bold” No. 28 in 1959.

Starro, who is mammoth enough to crush buildings, jettisons smaller versions of himself from gill slits that attach themselves to the faces of its victims, creating zombie-like drones who work en mass to do their master’s bidding. Their goal is to take over the world, and only the Suicide Squad stands in the way.

For those who luckily missed the 2016 first film, the Suicide Squad is basically and off-the-books U.S. squad of miscreants, forced to do government dirty work by Task Force X administrator/autocrat Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who has surgeons implant a tiny explosive device into the brainstem of each member to keep them on track.

Suicide Squad / Warner Bros.

If a Suicide Squader goes off mission, bails out, or needs to be neutralized, Waller has a little black box that makes them go kaboom. The high concept is “The Dirty Dozen” crossed with super villains rather than wayward military prisoners, concocted by writer John Ostrander in the mid-1980s. Ostrander has a brief cameo in the movie as the doctor who inserts one of the explosive devices.

The film is filled with gags and jokes with some hitting and others missing as the Squad works to fulfill their mission with plenty of casualties along the way. Only about a third of the film’s score of villains makes it to the climax of the movie, and other fall at that point.

Returning from the first film are Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Joe Kinnaman as Col. Rick Flagg, Waller’s right hand man in the field. Idris Elba plays Bloodsport, a mercenary who had the audacity to shoot Superman with a Kryptonite bullet. Promising newcomer Daniela Melchior is the heart of the movie as Ratcatcher 2, a young women with a device that allows her to control rats.

David Dastmalchian plays the Polka-Dot Man, an obscure and ludicrous Batman villain from the 1950s, and Sylvester Stallone voices Nanaue/King Shark, a large, lovable but dimwitted and dangerous shark-human hybrid who is as likely to eat one of the Suicide Squad as he is the enemy. Last but not least is John Cena’s oxymoronic Peacemaker, an ultra-violent, jingoistic vigilante who will go to any violent lengths to protect and promote peace.

They along with a gaggle of other super-villains are taxed with invading the fictional South American nation of Corto Maltese to destroy a secret U.S. scientific operation that becomes a threat that must be put down in the midst of a freedom-fighter coup d’etat attempt.

Gunn draws compelling performances from each of these leading characters, and while they are villains, each become endearing in some form or fashion under Gunn’s deft touch.

Gunn’s light but even-handed work with mostly third- and fourth-string DC characters shows that the relative successes and failures of other DC properties on the big screen has more to do with the individual creators involved with the pictures than the characters.

With Gunn headed back to Marvel Studios to work on a third “Guardians of the Galaxy” feature, it’s hard to know if he will make a sequel to this film; however, he has already shot a spinoff of sorts featuring Cena’s Peacemaker character that’s scheduled to debut on HBO Max in January.

“The Suicide Squad” is too violent, gory, and profane for kids, but those with teenage sensibilities, no matter their age, will appreciate the action and humor.

(R) 2 hr. 12 min.
Grade: B+

New in Local Theaters

The Suicide Squad (watch trailer) / (R) 2 hr. 12 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight

Nine Days (watch trailer) / (R) 2 hr. 4 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, and Glenn Strange in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein / Universal

Each August, Turner Classic Movies holds its “Summer Under the Stars” event in which each day’s slate of films features one particular actor or in Saturday’s case the classic comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Here’s the month’s full schedule.

Beginning at 5 a.m. Saturday morning 14 of their best movies, featuring their classic schtick of wise-acre straight man Abbott and dim-bulb funny-man Costello in all sorts of hilarious situations. On the surface, their act isn’t that sophisticated, but but their timing and delivery is always impeccable.

Unfortunately neither of the two films — “One Night in the Tropics” or “Naught Nineties” — that feature their best-known and most beloved bit “Who’s on First” is featured this Saturday.

However, I’d argue their best film is,”Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” from 1948, which is featured at 7 p.m. central on TCM. That movie killed!

When I say “it killed,” I mean it is ridiculously funny, but it also unfortunately drove a stake into the heart of the classic Universal Monster movies that were popular from 1931’s release of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” until the loosely organized cinematic universe ran out of juice with 1945’s “House of Dracula.” When you start playing your characters as the butt of jokes, it’s hard for them to remain scary.

As an aside, while I recognize most classic horror-film fans lump Universal’s three Creature of the Black Lagoon movies from the 1950s into the same category with the studio’s Frankenstein-Dracula-Wolf-Man opus, I personally don’t. The Gillman movies, while quite fun, don’t feature that thread of continuity that weaves through and binds the other films together. The Creature movies, to me, have more in common with the Godzilla series than Universal’s gothic-horror characters.

As for the film, Abbott and Costello’s characters Chick Young and Wilbur Grey are delivery men contracted transport a couple of large crates to McDougal’s House of Horrors. Unbeknownst to grumpy Chick and wide-eyed Wilbur, those crates contain the actual bodies of Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange).

Dracula has come to Florida to meet with Dr. Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert) who conspire to steal Wilbur’s suggestible and compliant brain to place it into the Frankenstein’s Monster’s hulking body to make the creature more controllable.

However, Larry Talbot, the Wolf-Man, (Lon Chaney Jr.) has been chasing Dracula around the world to stop his nefarious plot. He teams with Chick, Wilbur, and insurance investigator Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph) to try and stop Dracula and Mornay, and hijinks ensue.

While the move is silly, it actually features some of the most compelling monster action of all the Universal films, and if you ever wonder from which fount of inspiration the Scooby-Doo and Groovie Goolies cartoons of the late 1960s and early 1970s sprang, this movie is no doubt it.

The movie features a truly a tour-de-force performance by Costello as he is hounded by the Wolf-Man, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster in three very funny bits interspaced throughout the movie. As a big fan of the Universal monster movies, what I appreciate is that the movie has fun with the monsters, but it never truly makes fun of them.

For fright fans, the movie is significant because it is only the second time Lugosi played Dracula in his career, although he did play vampires in a couple of other movies that were heavily based on his characterization of the Transylvanian count in the 1931 classic.

The film also closes the book on Chaney’s Wolf-Man character that he originated in 1941, and features Strange’s third and final appearance as the Frankenstein’s monster. Strange, who started his career as a stunt man, is best known to Western fans for his long-running role as Sam the barkeeper on the TV show “Gunsmoke.” The 6-6 actor also played the villain Butch Cavendish in the 1950s “Lone Ranger” TV show.

The movie was a surprise hit for Universal, and its success launched a series of comedies where Bud and Lou ran into other frightening creatures like the Invisible Man, the Mummy, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Those films also play later Saturday night. However, “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” is by far the best of the bunch.