The Suicide Squad
James Gunn's soft reboot unleashes his creativity and humor
Despite the DC superhero brand not having as much success in creating a universe as their rivals at Marvel, a new structure is being pivoted to. By largely abandoning the idea of a saga of films within the same universe, DC has allowed its filmmakers to have more liberty and fun with its IP. As such we’ve had such impactful films as Joker (2019), such enjoyable comedies as Shazam! (2019), and thrilling action with Wonder Woman (2017). The latest sign that DC has abandoned the idea of a shared-universe comes with the soft-reboot/sequel of Suicide Squad (2016), titled The Suicide Squad (2021).
The Suicide Squad follows a slightly different group of superpowered villains from the original film. We still have government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), using these dangerous criminals to do dangerous missions under threat of death and benefit of reduced sentences. As such we are able to see the likes of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) again from the first film, but are also introduced to new characters with the deadly Bloodshot (Idris Elba) the rat controlling Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), the shark humanoid Shark King (Sylvester Stallone), and the bloodthirsty Peacemaker (John Cena). The new group is tasked with infiltrating a Caribbean nation state to steal state secrets.
This new The Suicide Squad is written and directed by James Gunn, who after his temporary dismissal from Disney and his Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, switched over to Marvel’s rivals with this film. Here he was given complete creative freedom, including an R-rating. This is encouraging seeing that studio interference and forced reshoots are what condemned the original Suicide Squad to become such a slog. Gunn brings forth his signature humor, and the lack of guard-rails makes him go truly off on his style.
Gunn has shown that he is extremely capable of crafting an enjoyable story with lesser-known comic book characters, as he did with Guardians of the Galaxy. Having more famed characters to choose in The Suicide Squad, however, didn’t encourage him. As such he dives even deeper into the vague and seemingly random comic lore, bringing in such characters as Polka-Dot Man, The Detachable Kid, and a giant starfish named Starro. In many ways, Gunn is exploring and exposing the ridiculousness of comic-book heroes, a satire that is long overdue in a cinematic movement that has dominated the past decade.
Gunn structures his story with a simple narrative, of getting from point A to point B, and allows himself to craft a comedy and satire around this spine. From the get-go, Gunn doesn’t shy away from fully committing to a joke, even if it means killing a major character or altering certain superhero narrative rules. His unleashed creativity delivers some incredibly original moments, such as Harley Quinn slashing and dicing her way through enemies with cartoon birds and flowers spouting from her opponents’ wounds, or a seeming sitcom office story taking place with the government agents working for Waller. Gunn even goes as far to bring about a shallow portrayal of American imperialism, showing Peacemaker as a supposed man who fights for liberty and peace, but who quotes “I don’t care how many men, women, and children I must kill in order to get it.” Or another scene where the Suicide Squad massacre an entire camp thinking it must be the enemy only to discover they were the freedom fighters. It proves to follow a refreshing pattern of mainstream movies starting to be self-critical with the cliched and propagandistic images of the US that had been sustained in blockbusters.
Gunn is able to bring about a great visual palate, using largely dull and gray backgrounds, and making his supervillains extremely colorful. This achieves an effect similar to that in a comic-book, where certain characters jump out of the page. It helps push forward the idea of the exaggeratedness and ridicule of certain characters’ costumes or powers. Gunn is also adept with his action scenes, leaning into R-rated gore and violence, and using comprehensive long shots and smooth editing.
The Suicide Squad perhaps falters with its story and character development. By giving Gunn such a loose rein, the comedy and action is given more attention. This makes the resulting plot and devolution of the narrative to feel slightly inconsequential, and you never fully care for the fate of the ensemble. Gunn does take certain moments to build character, most of these coming with the surprising breakout performances of Melchior and Stallone (yes, Stallone). However, these aren’t enough to make them empathetic or as memorable as Peter Quill or Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy.
As such, the lack of balance is why slight studio interference is important to achieve a well-rounded film. However, to see a creative mind, such as Gunn’s, with unlimited bounds and having a blast is incredibly enjoyable. The Suicide Squad is certainly one of the better and more enjoyable superhero comedies/satires to have come out, and showcases why Gunn is an exciting talent to keep an eye on.