‘The Suicide Squad’ Review: Gunn Gets It Right
By Daniel Rester
The DCEU has had its ups and downs over its timeline since its debut with Man of Steel in 2013. One of the bigger disappointments in the filmography is David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016), which puts DC side villains on a good guy mission. The film has its moments but is largely a mess, supposedly because the studio took it away from Ayer and hacked it up before release. Whatever the case was, the bad guys now have a second shot with James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Thankfully there’s a vast improvement in quality the second time around.
With the concept of Amanda Waller (the always great Viola Davis) running Task Force X and sending villainous prisoners on suicide missions already set up in the first film, Gunn is able to jump right into the new mission and characters without need for much exposition. Unfortunately for them, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) are chosen for another mission. Gunn was smart to bring back some of the best characters from the first film, with Robbie’s psychotic Quinn front and center much of the time again.
The three are joined on their new mission by colorful newcomers like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Michael Rooker), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), and more. The group is tasked with destroying a laboratory called Jötunheim containing a threat called “Project Starfish.” If they try to evade the mission, the explosive chips inside their heads will be detonated by Waller. If they succeed, they get lighter prison sentences.
Gunn takes the oddball charm he showcased in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and brings it to the DCEU, along with some R-rated gore. Despite the R-rating and extreme violence, The Suicide Squad is much lighter in tone than the PG-13-rated first film. And yet Gunn finds a proper balance with the carnage and heartfelt moments. He takes breather scenes to make us actually care about these many characters, even down to silly people like Polka-Dot Man having pathos and smart writing around them. The plot is much more focused, better paced, and less flashback-heavy this time around too.
While Gunn and his creative team bring the wild visual touches (King Shark ripping people apart is marvelous), a terrific soundtrack, and strange writing, it’s the cast that shines the most. Everyone is wonderful here in different ways while they have strong chemistry together too. Elba and Cena are hilarious as they bounce off of each other as Bloodsport and Peacemaker fight for top dog spot (including in a standout scene in a village). Stallone brings a Groot-like charm to the simpleminded King Shark, while Melchior is the surprising heart of the film as Ratcatcher 2 (who can summon hundreds of rats to do tasks for her). Gunn lets all of the squad cast members have shining moments, though the non-squad people — like Alice Braga as a freedom fighter and the people in Waller’s control room — are admittedly thinly drawn and boring.
The Suicide Squad takes a lot of big swings and hits most of the time. This includes the climactic payoff for “Project Starfish,” which I won’t spoil. Let’s just say there’s a weird choice of character to bring to the screen and in lesser hands could have failed. But Gunn makes ridiculous and offbeat choices like that work by committing to them and finding unique ways to display them. I mean, he managed to pull off Polka-Dot Man in fun and interesting ways!
While it sucks that Ayer’s vision didn’t come through for the first film, I’m glad Gunn was able to pull off his shot with The Suicide Squad. Who knows all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that happens and how much the studios got involved with cutting up each film. We just see the final product and hear stories afterwards. As for final products though, this second film has a much better balance and focused vision on display.
My Grade: 8.2/10 (letter grade equivalent: A-)
Running Time: 2h 12min