FOR REFERENCE: This review of, “The Suicide Squad” is based on a theatrical and home viewing
Among the rather head-scratching release plans for the original era of the DC Extended Universe movies, easily the most bizarre of that lot was 2016’s Suicide Squad. This DC villain ensemble movie ended up being quickly and randomly tossed in with a bunch of Justice League-serving superhero blockbusters, despite the DC Comics property it was based on being rather obscure at the time. In hindsight, Suicide Squad being such an early DCEU addition felt like a blatant and arrogant attempt to reverse-engineer Marvel Studios’ surprise success with 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, another formerly obscure comic book property that was based around the leads being misunderstood criminals. Needless to say, this cynical effort didn’t go over too well with most critics and audiences, though Suicide Squad did nonetheless bring in enough box office earnings to greenlight a follow-up.
It would appear that Warner Bros. and DC have since dispensed with any other pretense regarding the corporate vision behind their Suicide Squad movies as well. Now laying their motivations bare, the Distinguished Competition ended up hiring Guardians of the Galaxy writer-director, James Gunn himself, following his brief firing from Marvel Studios over offensive tweets from a decade previous, to write and direct their second Suicide Squad movie. By this point as well, the project had been mostly retooled from being a sequel, to more of a soft reboot that was nonetheless still part of the established DCEU canon, and still briefly acknowledged, albeit largely distanced itself from the events of its 2016 predecessor. Gunn himself even cheekily called the follow-up, “The Suicide Squad“, a name that Warner Bros. surprisingly accepted for the final product, seemingly as a reference to the fact that both WB and DC would prefer that audiences simply forget 2016’s Suicide Squad movie ever happened.
Sadly though, it would seem that theatrical audiences at least didn’t embrace the joke. Despite being very successful on HBO Max, where it was ultimately the third-most streamed movie of 2021, only behind Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong, The Suicide Squad flopped at the box office, not even making its budget back in the end. Even so, critics and fans celebrated this follow-up as a more faithful and fun adaptation of DC’s expendable super-villain team. Indeed, I also have to agree that The Suicide Squad completely leaves its ill-fated 2016 predecessor in the dust, and I say that as someone that didn’t even mind the original Suicide Squad movie in the end! That’s what happens when you survive the likes of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman & Robin, Jonah Hex, Catwoman and Steel. Suddenly, Suicide Squad hardly feels like the most terrible DC movie in comparison!
Even then, I’d almost go as far as to say The Suicide Squad could be the new crown jewel of the DCEU overall! This cinematic franchise’s previous champion, 2017’s Wonder Woman, is certainly more audience-friendly, but The Suicide Squad’s gonzo commitment to hyper-violent anti-hero satire, along with its complete undressing of American foreign policy and government corruption in general, nonetheless deserves to be celebrated. In fact, it feels downright tragic that The Suicide Squad didn’t make more of a splash in theatres, since this loose DCEU follow-up fully unleashes James Gunn’s depraved genius to deliver one of the most deceptively lovable and memorable comic book movies since, well, Guardians of the Galaxy!
The Suicide Squad has a positively enormous cast of characters, and yes, many of them die horribly. A handful of these personalities return from 2016’s original Suicide Squad movie as well, including Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, but not even they are necessarily safe from the extra dangerous new mission that Waller’s Task Force X faces within DC tropical nation, Corto Maltese. The ‘no one is safe’ flavour of the storytelling does inevitably stabilize to some degree after the especially bloody intro, but The Suicide Squad still maintains much higher stakes than the majority of comic book blockbusters, something that’s further highlighted by its frequent use of extra disposable and obscure DC villains.
Among the many new additions to The Suicide Squad’s robust roster of D-list DC baddies, the ones that leave the biggest impression are no doubt Idris Elba’s Robert DuBois/Bloodsport, and John Cena’s Christopher Smith/Peacemaker, who serve as frequent rivals to one another. Elba’s Bloodsport may be a transparent stand-in for Will Smith’s conspicuously absent Deadshot, one of the main protagonists of 2016’s original Suicide Squad movie, but he does find a very worthy foil in Peacemaker, a character that’s about to headline his own HBO Max series. Elba and Cena work as subtly distinct, yet undeniably similar counterpoints to one another here, presenting a rather un-glamourous take on wet work that sees a clash between honour and self-indulgence, with both characters oblivious to the reality of how equally dysfunctional they truly are.
The surprising heart behind The Suicide Squad however is more frequently propped up by King Shark, a humanoid, highly durable and rather unintelligent shark man that’s physically portrayed by Steve Agee (who also appears fully human as an aide to Amanda Waller), and voiced by Sylvester Stallone, as well as Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man, played by Ant-Man alum, David Dastmalchian. King Shark and Polka-Dot Man are probably the most pathetic among The Suicide Squad’s semi-recognizable DC personalities, though the way their characters evolve over time still manages to feel strangely intriguing and inspiring. King Shark strikes up an unexpected friendship with Daniela Melchior’s Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2, an all-new female variation of a rather obscure Batman villain, most notably, while Polka-Dot Man goes on a surprisingly heartfelt journey of finding self-worth, despite outwardly identifying as a worthless freak of extraterrestrial science that’s defined by mommy issues and no apparent desire to live, even while possessing surprisingly useful metahuman powers.
Even the ultimate threat behind The Suicide Squad (one liberally spoiled in the movie’s marketing, sadly), manages to be an unexpected DC personality that somehow finds the heart within the monster. That threat comes by way of ‘Project Starfish’, a.k.a. Starro the Conquerer, a long-running alien DC villain that also happened to be the Justice League’s first foe in DC Comics lore. In the case of the DCEU however, Starro is another personality that may not be what they seem, one with its own agenda while it’s experimented upon by Gaius Grieves/The Thinker, another all-new revision of a familiar DC Comics persona, played by Peter Capaldi.
As destructive and unrestrained as these DC personalities often are in The Suicide Squad, their themes surrounding the subjectivity of evil and its shifting through political interests manage to strike a chord, and constantly keep audiences on their toes. Like I said, certain characters may not be what you expect here, and several definitely won’t have the narrative progression that you may expect. Even as fate appears perpetually unkind to an ensemble of amoral lead characters that may very well deserve it however, you still find it in your heart to root for them, if for no other reason than the fact that they still manage to feel like deceptively complex human beings by a certain point, if they manage to survive long enough.
The Suicide Squad’s premise is rather simple; A group of incarcerated DC villains are forcibly conscripted by government overseer, Amanda Waller to infiltrate DC’s fictional tropical nation, Corto Maltese in an effort to investigate and stop something called, “Project Starfish.” As straightforward as this effort may seem at first however, it’s mostly a suicide mission, one that simply marks the latest in Waller’s surprisingly ruthless designs for the DC criminals that are unfortunate enough to end up under her supervision at Belle Reve Penitentiary.
Fortunately, even while this movie carries predictably little regard for the lives of its eclectic cast of DC villain protagonists, most of its story progression still manages to be surprisingly engaging, challenging audiences to find character investment within a narrative that almost dares you not to. The Suicide Squad’s many twists and turns do a great job of keeping things fresh as well, as an initially straightforward mission objective inevitably becomes complicated and full of fatalities, an issue that only grows in scope until it appears to encompass all of Corto Maltese, and potentially the world beyond. If you’re having flashbacks to the ineffective, overblown climax from 2016’s original Suicide Squad movie however, rest assured that the growing threat behind The Suicide Squad feels much more organic and credible, even as it nonetheless builds up to a similarly big, destructive climax.
Running at a surprisingly robust 132 minutes however, it is true that some spots in The Suicide Squad’s storytelling can drag, especially during the second act. It’s not nearly enough to take away from the litany of highlight moments that unfold throughout the movie, but it’s still true that most of said highlights occur within the first and third acts. Even so, The Suicide Squad presents one of the most bold, memorable narratives to come out of the DC Extended Universe so far, one that finally allows this formerly misguided cinematic property to truly find its voice, while delivering another eccentric opus that you definitely wouldn’t see from the likes of Marvel!
(NOTE: The ‘Spoiler’ section, when clicked, discusses whether The Suicide Squad has any post-credits scenes, whether it features any additional DC character appearances of note, and whether it ties into any known future projects in the DC Extended Universe.)
Outside of that lone post-credits scene however, The Suicide Squad doesn’t tease any other DCEU projects, and nor does it feature appearances from other DC personalities of note. It’s a surprisingly self-contained experience that only briefly mentions Superman in passing during the recounting of Bloodsport’s backstory, and otherwise never references any lore established by the DCEU’s flagship heroes so far. Even the events of 2020’s Harley Quinn-centric Birds of Prey movie are more or less ignored here, with no explanation as to what happened to Cassandra Cain after she rode off with Harley following the events of that movie. 2016’s original Suicide Squad movie is given a brief tip of the hat with an early mention that Harley, Rick Flag and Captain Boomerang are previously acquainted with each other though, as well as Amanda Waller.
Before he was famous for his work on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies, James Gunn cut his teeth with low-budget exploitation outfit, Troma Entertainment. Troma movies are infamous for being ultra-violent, tasteless and shocking, and that’s perfect in the case of The Suicide Squad, since it allows Gunn to embrace his Troma roots once again. Even then, Gunn’s direction is still reined in a little bit. This is a high-profile DC anti-hero blockbuster, after all. Still, Gunn’s semi-mainstream direction concessions are ultimately fairly minor in the end, and Gunn is nonetheless openly relishing the opportunity to push the superhero movie genre into irreverent new lows.
As violent, strange and savage as Gunn’s direction can often be throughout The Suicide Squad however, the true genius behind the movie often lies in how it manages to find humanity within the most outwardly worthless cast of DC villains imaginable, at least beyond the obligatory return of fan-favourite, Harley Quinn anyway. Harley naturally continues to steal the DCEU’s narrative focus with her own sustained bid for independence and recognition, one that sees her undertake her own unique arc in The Suicide Squad, nicely allowing Gunn to play with Harley’s eccentric psychology throughout various visual and character beats.
Regardless of scope however, even the strangest and most ridiculous personalities throughout The Suicide Squad still manage to feel like they matter, at least to the viewer, if not Amanda Waller and her stooges. Even this movie’s ultimate climax manages to balance a larger-than-life wave of pure chaos that nonetheless funnels down to an introspective, bittersweet conclusion. Despite its frequently bleak, nihilistic outlook however, Gunn’s direction also prevents The Suicide Squad from ever truly feeling futile or depressing. In fact, if anything, it’s a celebration of the displaced and the downtrodden, as well as a kooky power anthem about seizing agency among the pathetic. As much as its widespread carnage and death initially feels unfiltered and meaningless, The Suicide Squad does manage to have something resembling a point in the end, delivering a surprisingly inspiring message even within one of the most dark, misanthropic DCEU tales to date.
If you were hoping for The Suicide Squad to deliver another jukebox musical’s worth of retro pop hits throughout its soundtrack, a la Guardians of the Galaxy, you may be a little disappointed. Just a little. Gunn’s usual composer collaborator, Tyler Bates even ended up dropping out of this project in the end, whereupon he was replaced by John Murphy, best known as the composer for crime-oriented movies like Snatch, Miami Vice and one previous brush with comic book movies, Kick-Ass.
Murphy still sneaks a few licensed songs into the score for The Suicide Squad, though they’re usually more downbeat and less readily recognizable tunes than what Guardians of the Galaxy would be expected to offer. There’s even a tie-in single made for The Suicide Squad, “Rain”, which you may remember from some of the movie’s trailers, another more morose song that draws deliberate attention to the apathy surrounding the lead villains’ mission. Fortunately, Murphy’s score, while it’s a little more bittersweet than you may initially expect, still delivers plenty of macho, upbeat and zany compositions to balance out the music suite, creating an unpredictable, chaotic music selection that feels nonetheless well done, not to mention incredibly true to the anarchic flavour of the Suicide Squad franchise in general.
The rest of the sound design throughout The Suicide Squad is similarly rather bombastic, to the point where it can feel very in-your-face. This could sometimes lead to a few intentionally overwhelming audio moments in theatres, even if they still felt in good fun. Even when viewed at home however, The Suicide Squad is extra energized with a potent enough sound system, which brings its over-the-top action to amusing and engaging new heights. If you have an appetite for destruction, it will be beautifully fed across an ambitious, intentionally overblown soundscape, one that’s fiery, gory and fully unhinged throughout.
The Suicide Squad may do away with that moody Zack Snyder-esque gloss that’s all over many other DCEU productions, but it’s still a colourful, visually striking guerrilla movie that finely balances a weird sense of sugary, grimacing grit across its visual suite. Even in contrast to the extra vibrant Guardians of the Galaxy movies, The Suicide Squad delivers a whole new visual palette, one that somehow manages to feel both grimy and eye-catching. It actually succeeds more than the DCEU ever has before when it comes to balancing a bit of a gloomy undertone with an outer layer of comic book flavour, one that’s nicely topped off by some amusingly violent flourishes, even during establishing text.
Of course, as much as it’s the subtle visual touches that can leave the biggest impact in The Suicide Squad, when this movie wants to go big, it still manages to be a work of visual genius. The intro and climax often flex the spectacle best, for example, since they deliver the two flashiest and most destructive sequences in the entire movie, moments that also happen to be when The Suicide Squad is at its most strangely surreal. Another trippy highlight on this note is a much-publicized escape sequence surrounding Harley Quinn, which provides a surprisingly compelling window into the childish, but deadly psychology of one of the Suicide Squad’s most beloved recurring members.
Now that writer-director, James Gunn isn’t bound by a PG-13 mandate as well, The Suicide Squad’s other major visual strength surrounds how ridiculously violent it is. Characters literally get ripped apart in several scenes, resulting in big splashes of blood and huge trails of viscera, and that’s not even considering the brutal shootings, stabbings and other more grounded methods of murder that nonetheless explode with the misanthropic flavour of an exploitation movie. Really though, that’s more than a natural fit for a movie about DC villains that are literally being exploited by the American government. Fortunately for them, these collared baddies give as good as they get!
The Suicide Squad quickly demolishes the failed experiment of its 2016 predecessor, proudly standing alone as the Suicide Squad movie that DC fans and general moviegoers deserve. Sporting a hard R-rating and an eyebrow-raising disregard for the lives of many of DC’s least noteworthy villains, James Gunn’s brief defection to the DC Extended Universe effortlessly keeps pace with his comparably stellar work on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Better still is that The Suicide Squad could be the best DCEU movie released to date, period, if you’re willing to embrace its proudly tasteless, defiantly misanthropic political and humanitarian satire.
While it could have done with just a teeny trim during its more sluggish second act, the vast majority of The Suicide Squad excels as a brash, violent celebration of the worthless and the lowly. It’s a surprisingly potent redemption fantasy for anyone that’s struggled with the feeling of being inconsequential in their own existence, an anti-superhero movie in the best possible way. Like the best of surprisingly smart blockbusters, The Suicide Squad isn’t shy about disguising itself as a bunch of snarky, faux-macho nonsense, only to eventually reveal a surprising sense of love and optimism amid what’s otherwise a cinematic orgy of roguishly cynical destruction and gore.
The Suicide Squad may have been the only proper new release for the DCEU in 2021, but it’s such a great movie that it thrives even without any other DCEU vehicles managing to premiere last year. This follow-up’s disappointing box office returns may sadly leave the future of its cinematic franchise in doubt, but even if the live-action Suicide Squad saga decides to move full-time to HBO Max from here, I can’t wait to see how else James Gunn may be able to paint the DCEU red!
- Comically exploited villain protagonists with surprisingly heartfelt arcs
- Mischievous, yet brutal tone that wonderfully maximizes its R-rating
- Strong soundtrack and visuals that excel at every level
- A few slower stretches in the second act