The Suicide Squad : Review
The tenth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) hits like a sledgehammer wrapped in whoopee cushions and slathered in KY Jelly. Writer/director James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is everything you hoped it would be – fast, loose, funny, and absolutely gory – with the bonus of not taking itself seriously. All of the DCEU films to this point (even WW84) took themselves way too seriously, with humor varying between outright slapstick to gallows jokes to unintentional yuks. Here, Gunn is let all the way off the chain, unrestrained by a preordained PG-13 rating, unencumbered by family-friendly studio directives, or having to carefully fit into something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), resulting in being the first genuine James Gunn film since his 2010 superhero movie satire Super. That’s not to say his MCU films were any less “Gunn” than this one; those showed him ably and impishly stretching the limits of the Marvel mold with his own brand of hijinks.
The Suicide Squad treats us to exploding heads, dismemberments, impalements, bloody gunshot wounds, and eviscerations… and that’s just in the first five minutes. With only four characters (but not their specific characterizations) returning from David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad, more room is made for a depth-filled cast expansion, which includes Idris Elba as Robert “Bloodsport” DuBois, John Cena as Christopher “Peacemaker” Smith, Sylvester Stallone as the voice of walking CGI shark Nanaue, Daniela Melchior as Cleo “Ratcatcher 2” Cazo, and David Dastmalchian as Abner “Polka-Dot Man” Krill. Joined by the returning Dr. Harleen “Harley Quinn” Quinzel (Margot Robbie), Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and coldblooded A.R.G.U.S./Task Force X director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a more unlikely band of troublemakers there never was.
While the brains and brawn are represented by most of them (Nanaue’s definitely got brawn, just not the other thing), two of them – Ratcatcher 2 (so named because her father, the original Ratcatcher [Taika Waititi] is deceased) and Polka-Dot Man – bring some wild unpredictability to the mix, both in personality and ability. Aided by pet rat Sebastian, Ratcatcher 2 has the ability to command rats anywhere she goes, and as a result of experiments run on him by his own scientist mother as a child, Polka-Dot Man shoots… polka dots at his targets. The damage each might be able to do might not be apparent immediately, but one of Gunn’s humor staples is to tease things along as much as possible until finally giving us the full picture later in the film, and when that drops… yikes.
Gunn simplifies the plot to one single mission which occupies the film’s running time: Invade the small island nation of Corto Maltese (a name which should be familiar to DC fans) with the purpose of infiltrating a high-security lab called Jötunheim to destroy it and everything within. Rumor has it that Jotunheim was a lab where exiled Nazis continued their revolting experiments after the war, its most recent project – Project Starfish, headed by scientist-for-hire Gaius “The Thinker” Grieves (Peter Capaldi) – being the primary focus for Task Force X, colloquially known as the titular “Suicide Squad.” But where’s the fun in a single mission? Of course, little blips, hiccups, and errant bollocking about waylay the team, most notably the respective captures of Harley Quinn and Rick Flag.
This is where Gunn gets to be Gunn, throwing his characters into battle against opponents and friendlies alike. He pits Bloodsport and Peacemaker against each other, using everything from their sharpshooting to their criminal/American Boy worldviews as equal weapons in their back-and-forth. Elba and Cena are absolute magic together, with Bloodsport’s befuddled disbelief at Peacemaker’s brochacho-like, ten-hut forthrightness providing laughs for the film’s entirety. Truth be told, Bloodsport’s befuddlement extends to everyone else on the squad, as he feels he’s a babysitter put in charge of what Armageddon’s General Kimsey (Keith David) called “a bunch of r****ds I wouldn’t trust with a potato gun!”
Lest you think it’s all fun and games, there are dark turns which balance out the ragtag party-like atmosphere. The ruling family – children and all – have just been hung in a military coup, appointing Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto) as the dictator who allows Major General Mateo Suárez (Joaquín Cosío again playing a heinous military general – see Quantum of Solace) to use whatever’s in Jötunheim to force the rest of the world to its knees. There’s something in there that has caused the disappearances of political dissenters, politicians, and countless scores of men, women, and children, and both Luna and Suárez are hellbent on unleashing it, even if it means killing children (which Harley Quinn definitely doesn’t like).
There’s something else about Jötunheim that shakes the very core of Task Force X, which is where loyalties are tested and brutally brought into sharp relief. The script doesn’t mince words or actions regarding these plot movements, and while the subject matter is familiar, Gunn is given the freedom to venture into the dark parts of the military complex and the defense of the greater good, storylines which are usually handled in similar films by a good beatdown which turns outliers to the light side. Not here. This is a potential all-out war on humanity, morality, and the world itself, and Task Force X is the locus that might kick it all off.
All the choices Gunn makes – from the actors to the filmmaking team – serve to make something we haven’t seen in quite a while: a large-budget, mega-star-studded, professionally done grindhouse film. Editors Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner let the onscreen energy speak for itself, keeping Henry Braham’s spirited, encompassing photography intact, plying us with large swatches of action and interaction to keep us glued to every scene. Whether it’s a bus ride game of the dozens, Harley Quinn going hand-to-hand with the Corto Maltesian military, or an apocalyptic run through battered city streets, the throwback photography and editing let us enjoy the ride without having our attentions thrown off by jarring cuts.
Our ears are treated to jukebox favorites – one being a definite nod to the 2004 reimagining of Dawn of the Dead, directed by DCEU fanboy god Zack Snyder and written by Gunn – and John Murphy’s rock-heavy, head-banging score, the latter of which makes our heads bob while bombs explode, bullets whistle past, and our anti-heroes do the slo-mo walk of glory (a couple of times, just for good measure). And visually holding the team together are Judianna Makovsky’s inspired, delightful, and often downright hilarious costume designs, which range from the colorful to the tactical to a crisp pair of tighty-whities.
The Suicide Squad is not James Gunn bringing his Marvel sensibilities to the DCEU; it’s Gunn being given a platform he’s never been given before with one express instruction: “Just be you.” From Scooby-Doo (which he wrote) to its sequel to Slither to Super to Guardians of the Galaxy to its sequel to this movie, his films have brought the most far-flung, disjointed, broken, abhorrent, and kind-hearted people together to fight for a common cause. By far the most entertaining and repeat-watchable DCEU film, The Suicide Squad plays finds Gunn in his wheelhouse, having a grand old time and doing the happy dance while body parts, viscera, and joke after joke hit the screen like birds saying “Hello!” to windows.
MPA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Contains mid-credits and post-credits scenes.
Running time: 132 minutes.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.
In theaters and on HBO Max on August 6, 2021.