Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Depending on how one counts, this is the 10th or possibly the 11th installment in the DC Extended Universe or DCEU. It’s more of a sequel to Suicide Squad (2016), which was about a woman working for the government who gathers a group of villains to undergo covert missions that required people with super or nearly super abilities. The context of that 2016 film made sense, or at least it referenced the film that preceded, that being Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). This film doesn’t really give any indication of where in the timeline it exists. This film is being released after Justice League (2017) in which Superman is resurrected and joins with other super-heroes like Wonder Woman and Aquaman. This film also is being released after Shazam! (2019) in which a Superman-like hero emerges.
Writer-director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy and Super) doesn’t let us know where in the DCEU timeline we are. We assume that we’re possibly some short amount of time after the events in the 2016 version. I suppose that this film would make sense if it stayed before the time of Justice League because given what happens here, it wouldn’t make sense if Superman, Wonder Woman or Shazam were around. Yet, even in the context of the 2016 film, Wonder Woman is still around, so why she wouldn’t show up is baffling.
Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Fences) stars as Amanda Waller, the Nick Fury of this story. She’s the one who assembles the team of super-powered or super-powered adjacent people. She’s a no-nonsense, bad-ass, ice queen who doesn’t care about any of the characters. One got the impression that Nick Fury didn’t care or he was like a soldier, focused on accomplishing the mission and protecting the country. Amanda appears to be similar but to the nth degree. She seems super cynical and super cold-blooded. The problem is that cold-blooded nature seems to pervade the entire film.
Amanda forces a group of villains or criminals as mercenaries to head into an island nation where a coup d’état occurred. Amanda wants her team, known as Task Force X, to destroy a target on the island where a secret project is being developed that could end the world. However, it becomes clear that the plot only exists as a bare-bones vehicle to allow Amanda’s group to go into this place and kill a bunch of people. It also becomes clear that Gunn only wants to revel in the killing of those people. I understand that a lot of action films and even a lot of horror films revel in the killing of people. In a horror film though, the tone often is that those killings and the killers are bad and shouldn’t be celebrated. In an action film, the tone is that those killings and the people being killed are bad and their deaths can be somewhat justified, even if not in reality.
Gunn’s film here has a different tone. It has the opposite tone in fact. A third of the way through, there is an action scene where Task Force X kills a bunch of people. The people aren’t attacking them. The people are merely relaxing in a camp in the jungle. One person is killed while asleep in a tent, and even when it was happening, I questioned who those people being killed were and if they deserved this. It’s revealed afterward that those people didn’t deserve to die. It’s revealed that those people were innocent and in fact were good people trying to help, and their deaths are brushed off as a joke, a lame joke. It’s a joke with some pointed commentary toward American military strategy, but it falls flat.
Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop and The Killing) co-stars as Rick Flag, a colonel who has been chosen to lead Task Force X. He’s the one who’s the most unsure about having a team of criminals, but he does so because he’s a good soldier who believes that he’s doing the right thing to protect his country. John Cena (F9: The Fast Saga and Bumblebee) also co-stars as Peacemaker. The film doesn’t give us too much about Peacemaker’s backstory, except that he has training as a soldier. It’s not even clear why he’s in prison or what his crime was. It seems he has no moral dilemma with murder. By the end, Colonel Flag and Peacemaker clash over that fact.
The hypocrisy of Gunn to spend the majority of the film not caring about the killing of people to then pivot to two characters arguing over killing people feels disingenuous. He confirms how non-genuine he is when the very end of the film involves tons of dead bodies all over the place and his protagonists literally stepping over those bodies without any of them being mournful or sympathetic to those deaths. In fact, Gunn plays upbeat music, as those characters step over those dead bodies without a second thought. If the film doesn’t care, then the question becomes why should anyone in the audience?
Idris Elba (Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw and Thor) also stars as Bloodsport. Even he says in the film that with Peacemaker, his presence is a bit redundant because his abilities aren’t different from Peacemaker. The film gives him a fear or phobia of rats that he has to overcome, but other than that, I’m not convinced that his presence here was necessary.
Margot Robbie (Bombshell and I, Tonya) also stars as Harley Quinn, the female equivalent to the Joker who is in a lot of ways the comic relief. She steals the show in how wild and funny she is. However, even her comedy and charm aren’t enough to overcome the misanthropy on display here.
Rated R for strong violence and gore, language, sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 12 mins.
In theaters and HBO Max.