Dark and bloody: "The Suicide Squad"

On a secret mission, the Suicide Squad heads to a mysterious island to ... well, kill people.

Grimy, cynical and exhausting, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad taps our collective anxiety about everything and saves the world with plenty of explosive gore. You’ll just want to take a bath after it’s over.

As suits a blockbuster filmmaker who began his career with such low-budget gross-outs as Tromeo and Juliet and moved on to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, this 132-minute product plays like a 90-minute late-night creature feature bloated to big-budget excess. But underneath the muck and star power, there’s a heart, however mistrustful of authority it may be in a world gone mad.

Based on the villainous DC Comics team, Gunn’s film essentially reboots David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad, using some of the same cast. Gunn ramps up the carnage with a cadre of convicts culled by mysterious U.S. government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).

Pulled out of prison to take on a top-secret mission, this anti-hero sideshow includes Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a deadly beauty in clown makeup; Bloodsport (Idris Elba), a killing machine who doesn’t want his daughter (Storm Reid) to end up in jail like her dad; and Peacemaker (John Cena), a brute happy to use his all-American power to save the world, even if it means killing countless men, women, and children.

These mercenaries are charged with destroying the mysterious Starfish project, which threatens to control the minds of everyone on the politically volatile island of Corto Maltese. But is that the real mission?

The ensemble cast largely rises to the chaotic challenge, with Elba’s reliable charisma grounding the action and Sylvester Stallone doing all he can as the voice of Nanaue, a dumb humanoid shark.

What drags this Squad down is the dark tone of Gunn’s film. And while the squad cracks jokes, the humor is dark and bloody, just like his cruel charges.

All this starts with promising energy, but Gunn’s script slogs through most of a dreary midsection. Still, by the final act it turns into the colossal monster movie Gunn was born to make, with oddly resonant spectacles that seem to refer to 9/11 (a falling tower) and the coronavirus (“Cover your face!”).

That may be too much trauma for some viewers to deal with right now. Even if the world is saved, it seems to come at the cost of innocence: Are superhuman criminals our only hope against such evil? If that seems like a suicidal prospect, that suits this bleak franchise, and The Suicide Squad, however pessimistic, scratches a thrilling midnight movie itch.

Action/Adventure, rated R, 173 minutes, Santa Fe Regal, Violet Crown, 2.5 chiles

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