After the mixed reviews of director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016), some fan favorites, namely Harley Quinn, return in The Suicide Squad (2021). Sofia examines how director James Gunn’s new and improved version of this team of ragtag villains finally struck gold.
The newest DCEU movie The Suicide Squad, directed by James Gunn, premiered this past summer on August 6th. The film is a sequel and also, arguably a sort of reboot of the 2016 DCEU movie Suicide Squad. It brings back characters from the previous film like Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) while revamping the Suicide Squad franchise introducing more enjoyable characters and a more violent and humorous tone. The film has reached massive critical acclaim, surprising many audiences, including me, with its comedy, fun action, and entertaining plot.
I was pretty hesitant when I first heard about a new Suicide Squad because, like many others, I am not a big fan of the 2016 Suicide Squad movie; frankly I think it is one of the worst comic book films ever made. So, I want to take the chance to dive into these movies to see what exactly makes James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad work so well in comparison to its predecessor. What did James Gunn do to finally give audiences an entertaining and well-made Suicide Squad film?
First, let’s delve into the first movie. Directed by David Ayer, Suicide Squad premiered in August 2016. The narrative follows a group of outcast criminals including Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) who are assembled by U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to defeat a mystical being called the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Although the movie did well in the box office it was panned by critics and was considered one of the worst movies of the year. To put it simply, the film is remarkably awful in many ways. From a filmmaking perspective, it fails on various levels—from its dull cinematography to its bland lightning and sloppy screenwriting. On top of everything, the film is horribly edited, with scenes that don’t seem to begin and end smoothly; the movie just goes from scene to scene with no sense of progression.
The use of music in the movie is also incredibly messy. The film was famously criticized for playing popular songs in scenes that lacked purpose, songs which feel completely out of place and were mostly shoved into the beginning of the movie. This is seen in the Harley Quinn prison scene, which plays Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for mere seconds and then ends abruptly; a minute after the movie follows this up by playing yet another song.
The movie fails most miserably however with its characters. This story has a multitude of characters that are quickly introduced, making it very difficult for us to care about these new additions. Some are given glossed over and rushed backstories like El Diablo and Deadshot, whose stories fail to give nuance or humanity to their personas. The movie also has ridiculous characters like Captain Boomerang—a man who just throws boomerangs—Captain Croc—a crocodile man—and Slipknot—“ the man who can climb anything”—who get no development whatsoever. The movie does not embrace their ridiculousness and so, in the end they just come off as lame and boring. The characters also lack clear motivations and spout terrible dialogue which can be seen with Deadshot’s infamous line: “what are we, some kind of suicide squad?”
But now here we are, in 2021, and we finally have a great and hilarious Suicide Squad movie. In my eyes, all this is thanks to director James Gunn whose previous work on Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) prepped him well for this comic book flick with love-able CGI animal characters. It’s clear that he was given creative control in this passion project of his, making the movie wildly original and fun. The Suicide Squad is a step in the right direction for DC and is, currently, my favorite movie of this DC cinematic universe (even though let’s be honest, there’s not much competition there).
The movie follows a similar plot to the prior installment. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends two groups of the Suicide Squad task force to the fictional South American island Corto Maltese on a search-and-destroy mission. For most of the movie we follow the second group, comprised of their leader Bloodsport (Idris Elba), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone)—a walking, talking, and loveable CGI shark—the patriotic Peacemaker (John Cena), Polka Dot Man (David Dasmalchian) —whose powers are constantly made fun of since he can mainly throw polka dots at people—and the sweet Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) who can control rodents.
So like 2016’s Suicide Squad, the characters are pretty ridiculous. But this time, the movie embraces their absurdity. The characters are more skillfully handled; each character has a clear motivation and an engaging past. Unlike in the past movie, their backstories are not rushed or emotionally manipulative. This time around, their pasts are much better illustrated and at times their stories are also played for laughs. The best example of this is Polka Dot Man and his amusing traumatic past. He got his powers from his mother who worked for Star Labs all her life with the goal of making her kids into superheroes, accidentally giving Polka Dot Man his powers from exposure to an intergalactic virus. His past haunts him throughout the film as we learn that he sees his mom everywhere he goes and imagines her in place of the people he’s fighting, giving us some hilarious visual gags.
The characters are over-the-top, unlikeable, and crazy: exactly what I want from a Suicide Squad movie. The chemistry between them also works very well. Bloodsport and Peacemaker form a hilarious, competitive duo who always try to outdo each other in their kills which leads to some fun, gory action scenes. Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2 form a wholesome father and daughter relationship that help both these characters grow in the end. These characters are truly distinct since the movie really takes a lot of time and effort to make them come to life. James Gunn understands that the characters are the heart of the movie and are therefore what drives the comedy of the film.
That brings me to my other point, the comedy in this movie works much better than in the last film. The R-rating really helps the film out compared to the last PG-13 flick. Here, we get well-written raunchy humor and insane violence. The action scenes are extreme and gory with people getting blown up and getting attacked by aliens left and right. Not only that, but we also get hilarious visual gags with the CGI characters including my favorite Suicide Squad member the Weasel: a six-foot weasel whose design and mannerisms cracked me up every time. In the end, this sequel nails its comedic tone in a way that the first film was not even close to achieving due to its poor screenplay and inconsistent tone. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad has much more personality and is also a pretty original superhero movie. It’s told in a non-chronological order that works due to its excellent editing—finally—and screenwriting.
However, although this new flick is clearly better than DC’s first attempt, it still has a few problems. The movie’s humor and characters may be pretty original but its plot is very conventional. The movie also suffers from having too many villains—a problem we have seen in other superhero flicks like X-Men: The Last Stand, the Amazing Spider-Man 2, and The Dark Knight Rises. We have many antagonists in the film including two military generals, an evil scientist, Amanda Waller and a giant alien starfish; so, it gets a bit overwhelming. Many of these villains are also introduced towards the last act of the film, making the movie drag a bit towards the end. You definitely feel the over two-hour run time.
But ultimately, this movie is significantly better than 2016’s Suicide Squad and has become one of my favorite movies of the year so far. It’s an entertaining, R-rated summer blockbuster that made me laugh from beginning to end. I hope Hollywood makes more creative projects like these in the future. And I am also hoping for DC to make a Weasel stand-alone movie.
Check out The Suicide Squad in theaters or stream the film on HBO Max; and definitely don’t check out its predecessor.