Film Review – The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad (2021) is an exuberant, violent, and hilariously goofy superhero romp. It acts as an excellent course correction from the abysmal Suicide Squad (2016) and demonstrates – once again – that Warner Brothers and DC are willing to give their filmmakers more wiggle room with these tentpole projects. Where the output from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more consistently watchable, the work from WB/DC have increasingly been more artistically interesting. When you watch an MCU film, you more or less know what you’re going to get. With WB/DC it’s a complete toss up, which is not always a bad thing.
This comparison cannot be better exemplified than with James Gunn, who helmed the Guardians of the Galaxy entries in the MCU and has taken over writing and directing duties here. While both franchises showcase Gunn’s eccentric style, you can see the stark differences in what he could get away with. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) feels more in line with its Marvel counterparts where The Suicide Squad stands as its own unique entity. In fact, the bloody, R-rated nature of Gunn’s style here reflects much of his earlier work. The dark humor he incorporates is reminiscent of what he did with Slither (2006) and to a larger degree, Super (2010).
The freedom to get wacky and unpredictable is what makes this entertaining. We’re never exactly sure where things are heading, whom we may run across, or even whom will survive. Early on, Gunn makes it explicitly clear that no character is safe – anyone could be killed in the blink of an eye. The more absurd the material gets, the better the movie becomes. This is the kind of story where a walking, talking shark that eats humans is accepted like no big deal. Characters dress themselves in ridiculous costumes and go about their day without a second thought.
The premise is simple enough. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) – head of the black ops agency Task Force X (aka “The Suicide Squad”) – returns to recruit supervillains to take part in a deadly mission. Her rag tag group of misfits include Bloodsport (Idris Eliba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Nanaue/King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and a host of others. They are sent to South America to take down a secret conspiracy known only as “Project Starfish.” Each member is enlisted for their abilities. Ratcatcher 2 can communicate with and summon an army of rats to do her bidding. Strangest of all is Polka-Dot Man, who (as the name would suggest) can fire polka dots out of his body like a shotgun blast.
Despite how bizarre each of the characters are, Gunn’s writing and direction grounds them enough for us to understand them. They’re all given an opportunity to reveal themselves, even within the whirlwind of chaos and destruction. We learn of Polka-Dot Man’s emotional problems stemming from his mother. Him seeing his mother’s face everywhere he turns mirrors his mental state. Ratcatcher 2 is given a chance to express why she has a connection with a rodent that most would find repulsive. Her history with rats is surprising endearing. If there is a central character, it would be Idris Elba’s Bloodsport (aka Robert DuBois). His strained relationship with his daughter (Storm Reid) fuels his motivation and is the basis for his involvement with the squad.
The tone gets bigger and more outlandish the further into the story we go. Gunn is not afraid to construct big, splashy scenes simply for the sake of splattering the screen with mayhem. He is willing to include an action set piece that adds nothing to the plot except for a funny punchline. There is a carefree attitude, as though he is letting things get carried away just to see where it will take him. Gunn will jump forwards and back in time to get different perspectives. He avoids losing cohesion by adding bits of text (“3 Days Before,” “2 Hours Earlier,” etc.) but presenting it in clever ways, like in the sand or with blood. This freewheeling style does create a loose overall effect. There are sequences that take too much time, such as a romantic side story involving Harley Quinn. But it all comes back around in the third act, where we get a massive climactic battle that is preposterous – turning this into an all-out monster movie.
The Suicide Squad is like watching a kid playing with random action figures, conjuring up whatever scenario their imagination lets them. The film embraces its weirdness and utilizes it as a strength, not a weakness. Everything feels like it hangs in the balance – the master plan can fall apart at any moment. There’s a level of tension in seeing who will get betrayed next, or who will suddenly kick the bucket. A lot of modern blockbusters have adopted the theme of “family,” but few have been as dysfunctional as this one.