The Suicide Squad is less like a direct descendent of writer/director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy and more like its debauched third cousin once removed (possibly under penalty of law). That’s a compliment, as whack-a-doodle relatives are a biological delight, provided they’re the “harmless lunatic” kind and not the “QAnon cult member” sort.
Over the last few decades, we’ve gone from superhero movies created solely as a means by which to sell toys to a flick in which a giant kaiju starfish squares off against a guy who barfs interdimensional polka dots and a woman named Ratcatcher 2. People keep comparing the spike in comic book movies to the dominance of Westerns, but unless there’s a forgotten film in which Clint Eastwood’s horse starts speaking and then tramples a whole village to death, those parallel lines are now in a full V.
The Suicide Squad is not to be confused with Suicide Squad. Except, The Suicide Squad is absolutely a direct sequel to Suicide Squad, only it leaves Jared Leto out entirely. Let us, as a nation, agree to replace all Confederate statues with a bust of whoever made that decision. Second only to that, what Gunn gets spectacularly, brilliantly, almost profoundly right is that nobody gives a squishy pigeon fart about continuity issues. He delivers no boring backstories. No world-building. No set-up at all. It’s just “These naughty-bad supervillains must complete black-ops missions or they get their heads Scanners-ed. Go.”
The team this time consists of the following:
- Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) – Her skills include being overwhelmingly popular with fans and either inverting the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope or possibly making it worse, depending on how much you want to unpack.
- Bloodsport (Idris Elba) – He is not simply a different version Deadshot from the first film, just as this is not simply a sequel to the first film. Wink.
- Peacemaker (John Cena) – He is different from both Bloodsport and Deadshot because he has an even dumber hat.
- Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) – He’s also back from the first film and is as useful as a plastic bucket in a tsunami. He’s supposed to be the “good kind” of rah-rah patriot, if you believe such a thing exists.
- Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) – She controls rats and isn’t the first in her family to do it. It’s all right there in the name.
- Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) – His superpower relies heavily on needing cognitive behavioral therapy and portal vomiting.
- King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) – He’s basically a Great White God with the intellectual capacity of the dumbest puppy in obedience class.
Battling against a mind-controlling monster, the ne’er-do-wells do nearly well, and the whole thing is simultaneously both massive in scale and totally pointless. One of the worst critiques levied against films like The Suicide Squad is how much it cost to make something that will be adored by about the same percentage of the world’s population as actually washes their hands each time they use a public restroom. Is it your money? Was WB going to otherwise give that money to the impoverished? If billionaires want to set their money on fire by using computers to animate the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) staring down a several-skyscraper-sized creature named Starro, that is almost certainly less evil than whatever else they were going to do with it.
So setting aside whether this bloody shenanigans was a “waste of money,” let us ask instead “is it worth our time,” which is a valuable thing we actually own. The answer is a resounding “maybe!” Gunn’s writing is nowhere near as crisp as he so very clearly believes it to be, with one-liners and other dialogue that less “sing” and more “drunkenly does karaoke.” It’s funny-ish. It’s comedy-adjacent. Sorta. The action is often weird, which is a big plus. But despite all the “You’ll never believe who gets super-duper killed in this one!” hype, things do largely wind up exactly where you’d expect them to drop anchor.
All that being said, this is also so very easily the best DC movie yet. It is fairly unique for the super-genre. It is “for adults” without any grimdark brooding. It is effortlessly rewatchable to the point where immediately starting it again when it finishes yields a far greater return than watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League cut once. Before you fire off an email to me for that last line, please at least read the grade I gave a DC movie.
Grade = A-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Yasser Medina of Cinemaficionados says “Beyond the spectrum of masturbating fanboys in eBay-bought superhero T-shirts at 50% markdown who clap like seals at whatever they put on the popcorn table, I find the acclaim this movie has disconcerting.” [Full review in Spanish]
Amelia Emberwing at What to Watch says, “Script issues aside, The Suicide Squadsomehow manages to miss the emotional beats that Gunn’s recent filmography succeeds in. Needle drops are still present in this new chapter, but it feels as if the film is so focused on subverting expectations that it forgot that sometimes it’s better to be good than go across the grain.”
Wenlei Ma at news.com.au says “Gunn’s movie is wondrously wild, delightfully deranged and viscerally violent – and by viscerally, we mean actual viscera where bodies are ripped apart, blown up and munched on, blood and guts splattered everywhere. It’s not for the queasy.”