John Cena is master of freestyle roasting, says Suicide Squad co-star

John Cena at the premiere for the film "The Suicide Squad" in Los Angeles, California on Aug 2, 2021.
John Cena at the premiere for the film "The Suicide Squad" in Los Angeles, California on Aug 2, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The thing that had writer-director James Gunn excited about doing superhero movie The Suicide Squad is an obscure character from the DC Comics universe - Polka-Dot Man.

The psychologically traumatised villain summed up Gunn's take on the movie, a follow-up to 2016's Suicide Squad.

"I liked the idea of the Suicide Squad being about Z-grade supervillains - sad sack soldiers used as disposable warriors," the 54-year-old tells the press at an online conference.

"So, thinking about which persons were the most pathetic supervillains, Polka-Dot Man was one of the first to come to mind."

The Suicide Squad opens in cinemas on Thursday (Aug 5). While some cast members from the first movie return - among them Margot Robbie as villainess Harley Quinn, Joel Kinnaman as government operative Rick Flag and Jai Courtney as weapons expert Captain Boomerang - the story is a standalone that does not pick up from the 2016 film.

Played by David Dastmalchian, Polka-Dot Man, also known as Abner Krill, joins the squad on their mission after having lived a tragic life that has scarred him mentally while also granting him the power to blast targets with the coloured projectiles that give him his name.

He is a tragicomic character with an odd power, says Gunn, but that is what makes him interesting.

"He's a deeply sad guy whom a lot of people will see as a joke, but underneath, there's a lot of substance. He's like a lot of people who are thought of as jokes."

Meanwhile, another class of costumed vigilantes get to do what they like and their actions are never questioned, Gunn says.

"Batman, Superman and Thor are good guys and they go around beating up people. We have to believe that's okay," he adds. "But we don't live in a time of black-and-white heroes. The Suicide Squad mirrors us more than the big heroes."

Gunn, who helmed the two Guardians Of The Galaxy films (2014 and 2017), was recruited in 2018 after David Ayer, director of the first movie, stepped aside because of scheduling conflicts.

He joined the project after he had been temporarily sacked by The Walt Disney Company from Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3, due in 2023, after some of his old tweets were condemned by an online group. Disney rehired Gunn in 2019.

The Suicide Squad stars (from left) David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man, John Cena as Peacemaker, Idris Elba as Bloodsport and Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

At a separate online conference, Dastmalchian says his character's weak and creepy nature tempts squad members into bullying him. For one scene, Gunn asked the cast to hurl improvised insults at his character.

Dastmalchian, 44, found one person to be exceptionally skilled at freestyle roasting - wrestler and actor John Cena, who plays the swaggering and obnoxious super-soldier Peacemaker.

"Cena could spit insults like it was his second job. He's a great actor, wrestler and comedian, but insult creator should be on his business card," he says.

"I was standing there getting humiliated in front of the Suicide Squad and a tear was slowly rolling down my cheek."

Speaking at another conference was Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman, who plays American soldier Colonel Rick Flag.

In the 2016 film, his character was emotionally tortured. He had a "heavy heart", Kinnaman, 41, says.

As Gunn was writing the screenplay for the new movie, the actor suggested to him that he start with a blank slate for Flag, to "reinvent the character".

Kinnaman says: "The new Flag has a little more lightness and I think it does his character and this film more justice. And it became more fun for me to play him."

The Suicide Squad opens in cinemas on Thursday (Aug 5).