Warning: spoilers for The Suicide Squad
That's THE Suicide Squad. Not to be confused with Suicide Squad (2016). For my review of that film, click here.
Wow. I haven’t been that thoroughly entertained by a DC movie in quite a while. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed their films. If you’ve read any of my past DCEU film reviews, you’ll see that I do enjoy most of them quite a bit. However, I will say that this film was the most purely balls-out entertaining of the bunch. And for that, we have the ever lovable, always crazy, James Gunn to thank.
This feels like what the 2016 Suicide Squad was SUPPOSED to be: A rip-roaring, wacky, wild, and extremely bloody ride.
In fact, several plot points in this film even feel like a redo of sorts. Both the antagonist that takes over civilians to create an army and Waller using the team to clean up the nation's dirty work feel like James saw what Ayer tried to do in his previous film, but showed how to do them correctly this time around. Of course, this is all comparing this new film to the theatrical and extended cuts of the 2016 outing. If we do one day get the Ayer Cut of the film, we might have to have another conversation. But until that happens, James Gunn’s film is THE definitive Suicide Squad film.
Gunn uses a similar plot from the past film: a government team of villains is sent in to complete a mission, and if they don’t succeed (or go AWOL) the bombs in their necks will kill them. Gunn actually does an incredible job of showcasing the worse case scenario in the opening 5 minutes of the film. We watch a team of C to D class DC characters start a mission, only to be completely and mercilessly slaughtered before our very eyes. This opening does an excellent job of showing the kind of crazy mayhem this film is going to offer, while also throwing our expectations of who will live and who will die completely out the window. And setting the opening credits to footage of all of the A.R.G.U.S. employee's betting on who lived and who died is easily one of the darkest things we've seen in the DCEU. And that is just the start.
James seems completely aware of how ridiculous most of these characters are and he revels in their weirdness.
He even addresses how similar certain comic book characters are, with the scene introducing Peacemaker acting as pitch perfect satire of the "I have a particular set of skills" tropes in these movies. And Nathan Fillion's TDK using what is essentially a Three Stooges routine against armed men was utterly outrageous. James knows comic books are ridiculous and instead of trying to serious the film up, he shows us just how ridiculous this world is. But at the same time, he doesn’t forget the heart of the characters.
Gunn realizes that we really need to care about these characters. Idris Elba's Bloodsport might not be substantially different than Deadshot in terms of skill, but I certainly liked him more than Will Smith's character. John Cena's Peacemaker was also memorable. And who couldn't fall in love with Sylvester Stallone's dimwitted King Shark? The fake mustache bit was hilarious and totally adorable. Gunn fills each character with a realness that most of these kinds of movies miss out on. Some of it may be immature or silly, but it still feels real. Like Peacemaker and Bloodsport's competition over who is the better killer. Very childish, but very true to character.
This is also Margot Robbie's best turn as Harley Quinn. She was okay in Suicide Squad, and very good in Birds of Prey. But here? Here, the combination of her performance and Gunn's writing is a match made in movie heaven. This is certainly the definitive live action take on Harley Quinn. And I can only hope that Gunn continues to write material for her.
That is where this film succeeds where so many others have failed: character.
James isn’t cynical in his approach; he doesn’t say “this character is dumb, this one is cool,” He presents all of the characters as flawed and outrageous personalities. He is able to keep all the eccentricities while simultaneously making sure we still care of each for these people. They all feel truthful to James’ interpretation.
Does he tread on similar ground? Yes. The team dynamic here is essentially Guardians of the Galaxy 2.0: an intense warrior, a dumb but lovable strongman, an animal we adore, and the sarcastic and snarky leader who doesn’t want to be a leader. They’re all there. But James is able to mask them all in character quirks and personalities that I still enjoyed. So even though I saw the similarities, I didn’t mind them because he was able to make this film work on its own anyway.
This film is also an example of how to use popular music properly. Gunn understands that the music must share the same vibe as the rest of the film. You’ll notice that aside from a few songs, all the music in this film has roughly the same tone. Suicide Squad (2016) had music all over the spectrum and it clashed in tone. Birds of Prey fared better in this regard, but it still featured some songs that didn’t quite fit. Also, Gunn doesn’t cut his film to the beat of the music to the degree of those movies. If you do that too much, it makes it feel like a music video. But here, Gunn keeps it feeling like a film. A film with a rhythm that the music accentuates.
This is a beautiful love letter to the wacky and wild comic book characters we often forget about. The misfits and the weird. It shows that even the dumbest or silliest abilities can make all the difference. And just like the rats that Rat Catcher II controls: "if they have a purpose, so do we all." And doesn’t that say something about all of us? I think that’s absolutely beautiful. James takes the care to make sure each character has a substantial arc. Yes, even Polka Dot man.
I wept tears of joy for him.
And I shouted out “NO!” when he was killed. He was a hero. He was everything we could have hoped for and more. He was beautiful. What’s funny is I knew James would do this to me from the very first trailer. I just had a feeling that he would make me love this stupid character, and he absolutely did. Huzzah for fucked up character development!
The film isn’t quite perfect though. As mentioned above, there are some similarities between this and a few other films. In addition, cutting away from the cliffhanger with Rat Catcher II and Peacemaker to King Shark during Act 3 throws a wrench into the pacing. At first I was like “Oh no! Same mistake as Birds of Prey”. But yet again, Gunn shows that if you’re going to do something like interrupt rising action, you have to do it right. He follows up that cliffhanger with the most beautiful, heartfelt scene in the movie. So even though I think that 8 minute backtrack to show what everyone else is doing does mess with the pacing a bit, I don’t mind it too much because what James gives us during that sequence is fantastic.
Another small complaint: I understand that the flowers appearing behind Margot Robbie during her solo action scene are a visual extension of Harley’s personality. It’s similar to the animation done in Birds of Prey. But I do question the motivation behind them popping up in that exact moment for her as a character. Is it the release? Does this act push her over the top? Or is this just a peak inside her brain? It’s a small nitpick because I think that sequence is done very well, but it was a small question I had.
The tone of this film is not for everyone. You certainly need to know what kind of film you’re getting into. James is no longer held back by budget or a PG-13 rating here. And this is a man who was raised and cut his teeth on Troma films. As such, The Suicide Squad is haggard as all hell. The humor is very childish and raunchy, and the violence is extremely over the top. This is easily the most fucked up movie in the DCEU so far. It's honestly pretty fucked up even for typical film standards. But it’s all done with such gleeful irony and love of the insanity that it works really well. But I LOVE James Gunn’s style and his sense of humor, so if that’s not your bag, you’re probably not going to enjoy it as much.
The Suicide Squad reminds me of Doom Patrol (currently starting up its 3rd season on HBO MAX) in that it fully embraces the absolute depraved insanity that is featured in the comics.
The opening with Weasel drowning was the perfect way to set up the sense of humor this film has. Hilarious and totally messed up.
RIP Captain Boomerang. As my favorite character from the first film, I was really hoping he would survive a little longer, but dammit if he didn’t go out in one of the most gnarly deaths of the movie.
Peter Capaldi's Thinker didn’t do much thinking did he?
This was John Cena’s best performance in any film to date. James really nailed how to direct that man properly. “Starfish is slang for butthole. Any connection?” was one of the funniest lines in the film.
But fuck Peacemaker.
"I'm a fucking superhero!" Yes you were, Polka Dot Man. Yes you were.
Bottom Line: I laughed, I cried, I shouted at the screen. This was a wild ride! Some characters do seem a little familiar, and that flash back before the Peacemaker climax is maybe just a tiny bit too long. But much like how Zack Snyder’s Justice League was Snyder unplugged and uncut, The Suicide Squad is James Gunn personified. So those nick picks aside, this was pretty much the perfect viewing experience. So including annoyances with editing and some similarity, this would give this film a 8.5-9/10. But hot damn. When viewing it, those grievances really fall by the wayside due to how outrageously entertaining every moment of this film is. So for me, this is the first film in the DCEU (and the first film here at Brett’s Flix) to get the coveted: