the suicide squad

After the cataclysmic train wreck that was 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” any expectations for a sequel were already low. Let’s just say anything featuring John Cena is not exactly encouraging unless you consider “Fred” Oscar-worthy. 

But James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad” makes you wish that it was the original “Suicide Squad” rather than the stand-alone sequel. A foul-mouthed, irreverent and witty superhero romp, it’s the kind of absurd ultraviolence you didn’t know you needed. Like its predecessor, “The Suicide Squad” follows Task Force X — a ragtag group of supervillain convicts who barter for time off their sentences by performing tasks for an antagonistic U.S. official. 

You don’t even need to watch the previous “Suicide Squad” to understand the generally generic plot, in which Task Force X performs a “suicidal” task to avoid getting their heads blown off by microchips courtesy of the slightly crazy Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) who is in charge. This time they attempt to infiltrate the imaginary Latin American island of Corto Maltese to prevent a dangerous dictatorship from exploiting a potential world-dominating extraterrestrial project.

Aside from Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Colonel Flag (Joel Kinnaman), few of the original cast make the jump to the sequel. The rest of the team is a misfit group reminiscent of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” There’s the reluctant leader Bloodsport (Idris Elba), the hypocritical Peacemaker (John Cena), the rodent-queen Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), the disturbed Polka-Dot man (David Dastmalchian), and the lovable comic relief King Shark (Sylvester Stallone).

Smartly, Gunn refrains from recapping the characters’ tragic pasts, foregoing the soapy mistakes of the movie’s predecessor in favor of a bloody, kick-ass opening with exciting soundtracks and ludicrous supervillain fights. 

From then on, the plot slows to petty squabbles between Bloodsport and Peacemaker, which somewhat detracts from the excitement of the opening. Gunn still makes a point to overstuff every scene with as much gore, guts and overexaggerated action as possible. Oh, and John Cena in tighty-whities, of course. In some ways, the violence is almost a relief from the family-friendly fetters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if it can get visually overwhelming at times. 

The problem with all this action-packed gore is that there is little time to flesh out the actual narrative of the movie. The plot is disjointed and chaotic, a combination of witty one-liners and dick-measuring contests that climaxes with one ultimate boss fight. 

Despite all this warmongering, Gunn is able to inspire sympathy and understanding for the characters, even the strangely endearing King Shark. There’s just something about those dead shark eyes that make you want to give the big bastard a hug. This whole team dynamic is a useful framework for showing why supervillains do what they do, without completely detracting from the weight of their actions. Even Starro, the boss villain the movie surrounds, is given some sense of humanity when it admits that it was “happy out in space, doing [its] own thing” before it was captured and exploited by the Americans. 

Narratively, “The Suicide Squad” is an overstuffed and absurd movie. That doesn’t make it any less entertaining. With just enough aggrandized violence, memorable characters and genuine comedic moments, “The Suicide Squad” is a breath of fresh air from DC’s history of dark superhero cinema. Even if it’s trash, it’s poetic trash.