The Suicide Squad (2021) Review: DC finds redemption in Gunn’s career-defining take
It’s nothing short of a miracle that DC’s latest venture onto the big screen, The Suicide Squad, rights two wrongs in recent history. When David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was released back in 2016, it carried a faint reminiscence to DC’s iconic band of bad guys but lacked pretty much everything else to be a great film – especially for a struggling DCEU. With it being panned pretty much across the board, any hopes for a sequel or some kind of continuation were pretty much dashed until an error from Marvel opened up a grand opportunity.
After being abruptly fired from Marvel for “offensive” old tweets, DC scooped up Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn to take on a DC property of his choosing. On day one, he was pretty much given the keys to the kingdom and apparently was even offered to make a Superman movie. However, he eventually settled on something akin to Guardians with a new Suicide Squad film and was basically told to do what he wanted. With his vision being unrestricted, Gunn was pretty much allowed to make the movie he envisioned, a mindset that Warner Bros. and DC should have more often. The fact that this film even exists is incredible and the final product is one of DC greatest films of all-time.
In its most basic form, this new Suicide Squad film isn’t all that different from the first. Once again, the cold and calculated Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has picked a bad batch of villains and forced them together to go on a confidential mission to stop a threat that could put the world in jeopardy. However, Gunn’s storytelling execution not only captures the essence of the Suicide Squad, but legitimately creates a moving comic book. This film really feels like you’re watching a Suicide Squad comic series come to life on the big screen with each text transition acting like a new entry/chapter in the series. Every choice he makes feels right at home with what the Suicide Squad is all about and that comes through from the very beginning.
The opening is a masterful showcase of the unpredictability of the Suicide Squad and the kind of banter you’d find within a group of villains coming together. There’s an excellent blend of backstabbing, betrayal, and bloodshed that make for a delicious cocktail of R-rated guts and glory and some deaths that prove that no one, absolutely no one, is safe. There’s even plenty of fun hilarity with the group trying to figure out what the hell Weasel (Sean Gunn) is and wondering how the hell TDK (Nathan Fillion) made the team given his ridiculous, pretty much useless powers. There’s also a great reunion between the only returning squad members Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and a chance meeting between Harley and Javelin (Flula Borg) that sets up one of the best running jokes in the film. It’s easily one of the most unique openings of any comic book movie and gets the ball rolling on Gunn delivering his strongest characters, story, and dark fun yet.
With most of the squad from the original film MIA, Gunn brings on a lot of new talent that represent some of DC’s most under-seen villains. For instance, Bloodsport (Idris Elba) might hold a strong reputation for putting Superman in the ICU with a kryptonite bullet and you might have seen Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) on a list of the most ridiculous Batman villains, but rarely are they ever given the spotlight. Honestly, this has always been the beauty of the Suicide Squad as it’s allowed lesser-known villains an opportunity to be something more and after seeing them here, you certainly won’t forget this squad anytime soon.
Bloodsport’s design is really awesome with how he turns everything into a weapon, even parts of his armor, and that small bit of lore of what he did to Superman instantly gives him a badass reputation. It makes his action sequences super unpredictable and the killing match he has with squadmate/frenemy Peacemaker (John Cena) is a wild bloodbath. Elba is excellent in giving Bloodsport this likeable badassery and Gunn’s writing does wonders with Elba’s performance to break down his hardened persona. The connection he grows with a young Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior) that reminds him of his daughter is very touching and a certain phobia he has makes for some delightful light-heartedness that comes together in an oddly adorable arc. Even his leadership arc is strong, and this film could easily be a big breakout moment for Bloodsport as a character.
Bloodsport isn’t the only one who has a massive breakout in this film as there are plenty of breakout performances that are a blast to watch. Cena has had some good performances in films like Blockers, but here he really steps up his comedic game. Peacemaker is essentially an overgrown boy scout and Cena evokes that greatly throughout. With his own sense of morality and plenty of outrageous weapons, Peacemaker does anything but keep the peace and Cena provides some great charm in his best performance yet. There’s also a great twist that further shows how he defines his own meaning of peace and with what’s shown here, that solo Peacemaker series can’t come soon enough.
Melchior is also great as the daughter to the original Ratcatcher (Taika Waititi) and her small, rodent sidekick Sebastian instantly captures your heart. There’s something about her more positive outlook and attitude that adds a welcomed warmth to this band of villains. Melchior’s performance makes the Suicide Squad a little less villainous with the genuine heart she adds and its nice that her story pays homage to her father while charting a new path for her character. Dastmalchian perfectly brings out Polka-Dot Man’s lameness well, to the point where crappier villains like Calendar Man (also played by Sean Gunn) make fun of him, and the way that his toxic relationship with his mother comes out throughout the film is hilarious. His powers can be a little generic and it does feel like Gunn missed an opportunity to do something really awesome with Polka-Dot Man’s different colored dots since they all do something different usually, but he’s still much more than meets the eye. The true comedy king of The Suicide Squad is undoubtedly King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) as Stallone’s voice work and Gunn’s vision make him so adorably lovable you just want to give him a hug.
Gunn even does a lot for some of the returning players. Flag has a lot more to him this time around that gives Kinnaman more likeable and deeper material to work with. An inconvenient truth he learns shows the sense of good he has in him that inspires others and he feels less like an annoying babysitter here. He’s glad to be around and it makes his presence much more fun and meaningful. Robbie continues to kill it as Quinn and Gunn clearly has a lot of fun writing things for Harley to do. He further develops her story of self-worth in a nice way, creates a visually stunning action sequence that blends reality and her own twisted cartoony version of it, and gives her a really great running gag with Javelin’s javelin.
Where Gunn really nails adapting Suicide Squad is in his depiction of Amanda Waller and her behind the scenes crew. Although Waller might never find herself in a jail cell, she’s undoubtedly a villain, possibly worse than anyone in the Suicide Squad, and Gunn holds nothing back in showing that. There’s no line she’s too afraid to cross and she treats everyone around her as if they are expendable. Her band of computer lackeys share this same sense of darkness but are far from being villainous. They may fail to do their full research, leading to the untimely demise of some, and make bids on who’s going to live and die, but they have their limits. Gunn capturing these behind-the-scenes players as much as Waller is what makes his adaptation so game-changing as it allows for other perspectives on the situation to come in and there’s this great turn for them just before the final fight that’s unexpectedly amazing.
Honestly, there’s no short of mind-blowing moments with The Suicide Squad. The action is R-rated gory goodness at its finest and really lets villains be villains. The moments where they’re at each other’s throats and even finding time to show who’s really the best is the Suicide Squad at its finest and the bouts between Peacemaker and Bloodsport are a master craft in villainous rivalry. However, it’s even better to see them come together as Gunn is just a master at writing stories about a group of rag tag nobodies finding commonality to come together and its what makes his storytelling so relatable and special. Also, the finale that brings Starro to life is just amazing from start to finish and Gunn excellently finds a goofy and ridiculous villain fitting to deliver a one-of-a-kind finale.
The Suicide Squad is absolute redemption and superbly brings the titular rag tag villain squad to life in an action-packed, blood-spilling epic that boasts some of Gunn’s most brilliant writing and direction to date. Gunn made something that lacked charm a couple years ago absolutely filled with it and with his time at Marvel seemingly possibly coming to an end with one last Guardians film, DC and WB should really consider bringing his vision back for more than just the Suicide Squad.