Suicide Squad, The (United States, 2021)

August 08, 2021
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Suicide Squad, The Poster

With The Suicide Squad, James Gunn becomes the second high-profile Marvel director to moonlight in the DCEU. Fortunately, Gunn’s effort is significantly better than Joss Whedon’s career-killing turn with Justice League. Gunn, temporarily fired by Disney from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (he has since been re-hired), had an opening on his schedule that Warner Brothers was willing to fill. The result is such a vast improvement over David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad that it’s difficult to reconcile there being a connection. (Note: Ayer has disavowed the theatrical cut of the film, claiming that it doesn’t represent his vision.) Although technically a sequel, The Suicide Squad features only three returning characters. It isn’t necessary to have seen the first film to appreciate this one.

From a pure entertainment perspective, The Suicide Squad is one of the most entertaining comic book movies in recent years. On balance, Avengers: Infinity War was a deeper, more thought-provoking, and all-around better movie, but The Suicide Squad is at least as fun, if not more so. It’s almost certainly the Gunn factor; the writer/director (who was accorded carte blanche by Warner Brothers) infuses this film with the same quirky, breezy attitude that made both Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 compulsively watchable. The Suicide Squad is too long – cut 20 minutes off the running time and it would have been nearly perfect – and the action becomes repetitive but there’s a lot more to like than dislike about the production.

Like the comic book that inspired it, The Suicide Squad follows the misadventures of Task Force X (a.k.a. “The Suicide Squad”), a group of incarcerated super-villains who are offered sentence reductions in return for teaming up and going on government-sponsored black ops missions. Each of them has an explosive implanted in the back of their skulls that can be detonated remotely – this ensures they won’t go rogue. The director of the program is Amanda Waller (returning actress Viola Davis) and, in many ways, she’s more ruthless than the villains who work for her.

The storyline is straightforward. Task Force X is sent into hostile territory (the island of Corto Maltese) to destroy Jotunheim, a structure that houses the mysterious “Project Starfish,” which is deemed to be a major threat to U.S. security. Two teams are sent in. The first is primarily a decoy. Most members of this group are killed in the initial onslaught, with only two survivors: Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Waller’s deputy; and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the homicidal manic romantic who seems to have finally gotten over being dumped by The Joker. Team B is led by Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and features Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and Nanaue the King Shark (voice of Sylvester Stallone). After rescuing/reuniting with Harley and Flag, they set their sights on the main mission: capture The Thinker (Peter Capaldi) and “persuade” him to get them into Jotunheim so they can blow it up.  None of them is prepared for what they find inside: the monstrous Starro (or, as one of Waller’s people calls it, a “freakin' kaiju”).

Gunn makes maximum use of the freedom afforded by the R-rating, turning in the most violent film (to-date) made from either a Marvel or DC title (moving past contenders Deadpool, Logan, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League). It’s a good-humored gore-fest and finds comedy in the carnage. Although much of the action in The Suicide Squad is unremarkable, this is a funny movie – funnier, in fact, that most of what is being sold as a “comedy” these days.

The biggest joke appears late in the film. Starro, the creature that turns out to be the Big Baddie, is unapologetically, intentionally cheesy. The sight of the creature (a giant starfish) navigating the terrain is enough to provoke guffaws. Not since the deleted end sequences from Little Shop of Horrors (where a building-sized Audrey II ran amok) has there been such a silly-looking monster. The battle against Starro isn’t played entirely for laughs but the tongue-in-cheek aspect is always present.

As has been true of the two previous films in which she portrayed Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie is perfectly cast. She is ably assisted by Idris Elba, who has joined the select few to appear in both MCU and DCEU films (although his role here is more substantial that his appearances in various Thor movies). John Cena, who seems to be everywhere these days, has an appealing cluelessness (Cena called Peacemaker “a douchey Captain America”). Sylvester Stallone’s monosyllabic Shark King, this movie’s version of Groot, is effectively rendered via motion capture to be more frightening than cuddly.

Now that the DC movies are finally moving beyond the dark, cynical perspective offered by Zack Snyder, they have entered a more palatable territory. With The Suicide Squad, Gunn shows that there are ways to keep things edgy while at the same time offering enough humor and action to maintain the crowd-pleasing elements. After the release of Ayer’s Suicide Squad, I was dubious about another outing for the members of Task Force X. With Gunn at the reins, those doubts have been erased and, if the director stays around, I’ll look forward to another adventure with these characters.

Suicide Squad, The (United States, 2021)

Director: James Gunn
Cast: Margot Robbie, Juan Diego Botto, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Sylvester Stallone, David Dastmalchian, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Daniela Melchior, John Cena, Idris Elba, Joaquin Cosio
Home Release Date: 2021-10-26
Screenplay: James Gunn
Cinematography: Henry Braham
Music: John Murphy
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers/HBOMax
Run Time: 2:12
U.S. Release Date: 2021-08-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Genre: Action/Adventure
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.90:1