There really was nowhere to go but up after the first Suicide Squad film. Despite making nearly $750 million worldwide, David Ayer's ugly, noisy disaster marked the nadir of modern comic book movies. But thankfully DC has seemingly learned their lesson, focusing less on strict continuity and more on giving filmmakers their own sandbox to play in. After Disney hung James Gunn out to dry, Warner Bros. snatched him up and basically let him do whatever he wanted for this sequel. His fingerprints are all over it - absentee fathers, abundant needle-drops - but manages not to feel like a bloodier Guardians of the Galaxy.
One of the concessions Gunn got was free reign to kill off any character he saw fit. While who will survive is fairly obvious in some cases, most of the sprawling cast is used as cannon fodder. Whether we've just met them or come to kinda sorta care about them, he's all too ready to gleefully end their lives. That's just one difference from the first film. Proudly wearing its R rating, there's no shortage of dismemberments, shootings, stabbings and explosions. In fact, this is probably the most disgusting wide release movie since Gunn's own Slither 15 years ago, from which the finale borrows liberally.
Idris Elba stars as Bloodsport, who's pretty much exactly the same character Will Smith played in the original, but with a different name. Returning are Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, much improved here) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, great as ever), joining new recruits Peacemaker (John Cena, far better than in F9), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). The latter is no stranger to comic book movies, having popped up in The Dark Knight and two Ant-Man movies, as well as The Flash and Gotham. He gets his biggest role to date, showcasing his talents and the incredible make-up and VFX work that show off his powers.
The film is structured like a graphic novel, with titles marking each segment. Their mission is to destroy a lab in a fictional Latin American country that's been overtaken by a military coup. But just like the previous entry, not everyone has all the mission objectives, nor is everyone trustworthy. That leads to some fun twists and turns and attempts at critiquing U.S. foreign policy. It could come across as phony, but there's something resembling an edge here, unlike Jared Leto's take on the Joker from the original. The film also gives us the chance to slow down and hang out with our core team. A scene where they cut loose at a cantina is a highlight.
Ultimately, The Suicide Squad is not a great film, nor does it strive to be. It's extremely violent and often hilarious, and made by someone who actually reads comic books. That's harder than it looks.
*This film is available in theaters and on HBO Max.