When director James Gunn takes the helm of a superhero movie, we should know by now that we might not get a typical caped heroes affair. His previous work on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy franchise had him lift some of the most obscure characters from Marvel's back catalogue and create a pair of comic masterpieces quite unlike anything we'd seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before.
Now, Gunn has jumped ship to join the world of DC Films, and if you thought the Guardians' talking raccoon and sentient tree were obscure, you'll have a treat in store when you meet the characters that make up the team of super-villains unwillingly working for the government in his new take on DC's Suicide Squad.
“Super” villains is perhaps something of an exaggeration for this team of misfits brought together by Viola Davis's Amanda Waller, head of the Task Force X programme. Ratcatcher 2, for example, can talk to rats, while Polka-Dot Man throws polka dots at his enemies. Javelin, on the other hand, possesses a javelin – that's his sole superpower.
Gunn insists that there is method to the madness of his character selection, however. “I selected them all in very different ways because I knew the kind of story I needed to tell,” he tells The National. “With Polka-Dot Man I really wanted to use a character who was thought of as a lame super-villain. I literally put into Google 'who is the dumbest super-villain of all time' and Polka-Dot Man always came up near the top. I love rats, so Ratcatcher 2 was an easy one. I wrote Bloodsport for Idris [Elba] because I wanted to work with Idris, so it wasn't a matter so much of who the character was, it was, let's find a character who is obscure that we can build as our own cinematic creation for Idris. Every character was different.”
It was widely reported early in the movie's production that Elba would be taking on the role of Deadshot, played by Will Smith in the previous, 2016, Suicide Squad movie. That role was ultimately left unfilled in order to allow a potential return for Smith in future, but Elba reveals that neither of these roles were the ones he was initially approached about. “The first conversation was actually about me playing Ratcatcher. That was a really short conversation,” he says, with a laugh. “We really moved on very quickly.”
However, not all of the gang this time around are entirely new to the squad. Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn for the third time, but the Australian star says we can expect to see a whole new side of the psychiatrist-turned-psychopath this time around. “I loved getting to play a Harley who is in the mindset of being single and ready to mingle,” she says. “I haven't played that version of Harley before. She's always been very committed to Mr J [The Joker] or just fresh out of a break-up with Mr J, and James put in a lot of very funny potential love interests throughout the film, which doesn't always end well, obviously.”
Another familiar face is Joel Kinnaman's Colonel Rick Flag, the Green Beret colonel given the unenviable task of keeping the squad on mission in the field. Like Robbie, Kinnaman says he relished the opportunity Gunn provided to bring out a new side to his character. “We had such a good script, so I was just happy to get to do this new version of Flag that James wrote, and spread some comedic wings,” he says. “It's the second time I've done it, but I felt like I was doing it for the first time. Me and James had a couple of conversations early on and we decided that I was not going to be bound by what we did in the first film and just let this be a new experience. I had so much fun with it. It was just a completely new experience, and it felt like it was almost a new character.”
Gunn's love of comedy is evident throughout the returning and new characters. From John Cena's Peacemaker, whose skill set is, most annoyingly for him, identical to Bloodsport's, but with the addition of wearing what looks like a very shiny toilet on his head, to introducing us to a host of new peripheral characters in the film's opening scenes only to kill them all off in under 10 minutes, irreverence is the keyword here. We should also mention that the film's main baddie is a giant pink starfish that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants.
Perhaps the prize for greatest achievement in self-mocking comedy should go to another new cast member, however – the megastar Sylvester Stallone as King Shark, a monosyllabic, land-dwelling, giant shark whose greatest achievement is perhaps successfully resisting the urge to eat his fellow squad members. Gunn proudly notes that he wrote the role “especially for Sly", seemingly with the sole intention of ruthlessly mocking the star's own, frequently dialogue-light and far-from-highbrow performances in action movies from Rambo to Demolition Man.
Stallone takes it all in his stride, however, although it sounds like he may already be plotting his revenge. “Yeah, yeah, it's great. I really appreciate it. I owe you, James,” he tells Gunn as our call is coming to a close. “That's it, the next Rambo? You're the first victim. The very first one.”
The Suicide Squad will be in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday, August 5