August 7, 2021

Review: “The Suicide Squad” Shows Just How Great Comic Book Movies Can Be

One thing writer/director James Gunn is excellent at are conversations between intentionally quirky characters that come off as awkward at first, but end with a witty comment that make you smile and think that was amusing — what a clever dialogue that informs both characters involved. His new DC Comics film, The Suicide Squad, is absolutely chock-full of moments like these.

Keep in mind, I’m not complaining about these — they’ve been a Gunn staple since 2006’s Slither — but never have his style been so omnipresent than in The Suicide Squad. This is what happens when a director is given complete creative freedom on a no-holds-barred comic book film, and it’s absolutely glorious.

The cast of The Suicide Squad (which acts as a sequel/reboot to the 2016 film of a similar title) is littered with colorful characters, cherry-picked from the DC Comics by Gunn for their particular, oftentimes wacky, skills. TDK (Nathan Fillion), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Savant (Michael Rooker) and Javelin (Flula Borg) are among the supervillains recruited by big-time government suit Amanda Waller (a returning Viola Davis) and Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnamen) to liberate an island that recently experienced a violent coup and a change of leadership. No one is safe, and anyone could die at any moment — so don’t get attached.

On another, similar mission is Peacemaker (John Cena), a douchey Captain America type; Bloodsport (Idris Elba), the man who, according to Waller, “put Superman in the ICU with a Kryptonite bullet; Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior, the film’s standout); Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian); and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), an anthropomorphic Great White who’s the son of a shark god. You can’t make this stuff up, and that’s what makes all of their interactions so entertaining — they’re so absurd that you never would’ve thought you’d ever see them on the big screen.

Ridiculous amount of characters aside, The Suicide Squad is as unexpected as it is hilarious. Gunn’s humor as well as his style shines through, helped by unexpectedly amazing comedic actors Elba, Cena and Stallone. The film is at its best when the characters just bounce off of each other, the mood notwithstanding — it could be serious, playful or urgent, and the characters will always work well together.

Unfortunately, I fear that The Suicide Squad has been overhyped by the stellar early reactions. Mark my words, it’s a great movie and a really fun experience, but early reviews and pre-screening reactions made it out to be one of the best comic book movies of all time, a sentiment I’m not sure I’d agree with. It certainly benefits from its R rating (anything that could be present in an R-rated movie, The Suicide Squad has it) and James Gunn’s unique approach to character and story, even including some experimental tactics that pay off wonderfully. I must admit I did go in with unreasonable expectations, inspired by the aforementioned internet reviews, and I wasn’t exactly disappointed but I came away wanting something more.

I don’t know how I could’ve gotten more — The Suicide Squad literally has everything — but I think this is a lesson that applies for most viewing experiences: going in blind will produce the purest opinion, untainted by prior reading or (potentially) unrealistic expectations. I often find myself checking Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB numbers, much to my own chagrin, desiring to know what to expect from a film, when I should be patiently waiting to form my own thoughts. Hopefully The Suicide Squad is the last victim of my over-inflation of expectations.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning Peter Capaldi, who is essentially playing Malcolm Tucker if he were an evil super-genius, and Margot Robbie, returning to do her thing as Harley Quinn for the third time. They’re major parts of the film, but I don’t have too much to say about them beyond that they’re doing great work. I hope we get to see more post-Doctor Who genre work from Capaldi, and Robbie’s incarnation of Harley Quinn is undoubtedly the best ever portrayed on screen.

If there are things to be learned from The Suicide Squad, it’s that highly creative filmmakers like James Gunn produce their best work with unbridled innovative freedom, and that R-rated DC movies get to showcase the best they have to offer.

Just think about it, the best DC movies of the last decade have been rated R — Joker, Birds of Prey, Zack Snyder’s Justice League…I’m beginning to think this may be the future of DC. Marvel has found a nice PG-13 niche, while DC works best on a mature level. If you had told me when Batman v Superman came out in 2016 that five years later I’d be seeing King Shark rip people in half and the Thinker being ripped apart by a titanic starfish, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Superhero films have gotten much more adventurous this decade, and I already love it.

There’s a lot to love in The Suicide Squad, which is partly why it works as an experience as well as simply a film. It might fall just short of a masterpiece, but that is in no way a detriment. By God, James Gunn has done it again. [Grade: A]

Director/Writer: James Gunn
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, Joel Kinnamen
Rated: R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Available: HBO Max
Fun Fact: James Gunn was bored during the COVID-19 quarantine, so he wrote a series centering around Peacemaker (John Cena), which was produced and is set to debut on HBO Max in January 2022.

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