2016 saw the release of what some (me!) may call one of the worst modern superhero films, Suicide Squad. So color me and everyone else surprised when Warner Bros. announced The Suicide Squad (2021) in 2018. Less of a sequel and more of a do-over, The Suicide Squad has one key difference from its predecessor: It’s written and directed by James Gunn, the man responsible for turning Guardians of the Galaxy into a household name. But based on sheer name recognition alone, another Suicide Squad film feels like box office poison (or box office suicide, if you will). Thankfully, The Suicide Squad rights a lot of the wrongs committed in the first film, and then some.
Right from the outset, the film wastes no time in establishing itself: Complete the mission; shave time off your sentence. If you disobey, a handy dandy neck bomb will ensure you never make the same mistake again. Goofy C- and D-list villains like Javelin (Flula Borg) and Weasel (Sean Gunn) reiterate the absurd fun that the film is aiming for. Just like its supervillains, the film drops the audience right into the action and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The beginning of this film is like a twisted version of Saving Private Ryan‘s opening D-Day sequence, only there’s a guy with a javelin. Like, a single javelin. If the title of the film alone isn’t enough of an indication, don’t get too attached to any single character.
While there is lots of death and gore, this film wouldn’t be the same without its heart. The original comic book run by John Ostrander and Kim Yale wasn’t focused on killing off its protagonists. Instead, it focused on injecting life and personality into the rejects of the DC Universe. Gunn is a lot more liberal with his killstreak, but he wears his influence loud and proud. This couldn’t be more clear than in the film’s treatment of the Belle Reve staff. They play a small role, but their chemistry shines whenever they’re on-screen. Fans (me, again!) of the Ostrander run will be satisfied to see familiar faces in John Economos (Steve Agee), Flo Crawley (Tinashe Kajese), and even Briscoe (Stephen Blackehart). And of course, the same goes for the Suicide Squad. With a cast consisting the likes of Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), there will be more than a few surprising favorites that will fuel endless fan conversations over who is the best Squad member. Even Colonel Rick “THIS IS KATANA” Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is elevated beyond being the military hard ass he was in the first film.
However, it’s Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2 and Idris Elba’s Bloodsport who maintain the emotional core of the film. The character arcs these two face really speak to the film’s theme that even the rejects and the weirdos of the world have a lot of love to give and deserve the same in return. John Cena’s Peacemaker is also a fun addition, but I found myself largely surprised at Cena’s dramatic acting chops. And, of course, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is just as vibrant as she was in Birds of Prey (2020). Her side plot sort of interrupts the film’s pacing, but it’s as unabashedly Harley Quinn as it can get, and reinforces her as a strong character that easily escapes the shadow of being “The Joker’s girlfriend.”
The plot features lots of twists and turns, but it never feels cheap or unearned because the protagonists are well-written and likable. However, everything comes together in the gritty and tension-filled final act with some jaw-dropping action set pieces. Along with solid visual effects (King Shark looking particularly impressive throughout), the practical effects truly heightened the sense of urgency in the final act. And if there was anyone who was going to successfully translate Starro the Conqueror onto the big screen, it was going to be James Gunn. The one antagonist who falls completely flat is Peter Capaldi’s The Thinker. Capaldi does a great job with what he’s given, and I love his goofy design, but the character could easily be any other generic mad scientist dumping exposition.
Though the film makes good use of it’s violent R-rated comedy, it can feel a bit indulgent just for the sake of it. For example, the decapitated head of a Corto Maltese soldier should be enough; we don’t need to see his eyes actively looking around—it’s just silly in all the wrong ways. And did the Squad really need to meet in a gentleman’s club instead of a regular club? I know it’s an R-rated film, but some of these bits just feel a little unnecessary.
Five years after the critically maligned Suicide Squad was released, Warner Bros. took a chance on James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and rolled a critical success (at disadvantage). It does what the first film tried to do, but better: A world-ending threat that actually works for the Squad, a team that actually feels like they’ve grown together, and a stronger focus on what made the original comicbook run so iconic. Even the reference to Superman feels more believable than the first film’s positioning of the Squad as a contingency plan against a hypothetical rogue Superman. But beyond the baggage of the first film and the influences of the comicbook run, The Suicide Squad is unequivocally a James Gunn film. It’s bloody, irreverent, and comes packaged with a heart of gold. This is a love letter to all the misfits and underdogs of the world and well worth your time.
The Suicide Squad
Starro the Conqueror10.0/10
- Starring: Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, Joel Kinnaman, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Sylvester Stallone, Nathan Fillion, Jai Courtney, Pete Davidson, Mayling Ng, Flula Borg, Steve Agee
- Writer: James Gunn
- Director: James Gunn
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Producers: Arianne Benedetti, Walter Hamada, Simon Hatt
- Music: John Murphy
- Cinematography: Henry Braham
- Film Editors: Fred Raskin, Christian Wagner
- Casting: Yiniva Cardenas, John Papsidera
- Production Design: Beth Mickle