★★★★ / ♥♥♥♥
The Suicide Squad directed by James Gunn is the latest adventure of the Suicide Squad introduced by David Ayer in 2016. Keeping few of the original roster, the new film features an all-star cast including Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, John Cena, David Dastmalchian, Peter Capaldi, the voice of Sylvester Stallone, and cameos galore. The first film isn’t necessary to understand or enjoy Gunn‘s new take, which starts by efficiently recapping the premise of the series: A handpicked team of incarcerated villains go on secret government missions to reduce their jail time. The catch is that these are extremely dangerous missions and if they go rogue, a bomb implanted in their neck will immediately explode.
James Gunn is well-known for his Guardians of the Galaxy films at Marvel, and much of what he does well there has been passed on to here. I would even say some of the style of The Suicide Squad was more impressive, like the chapter titles and a key scene with Harley Quinn going on a rampage. I loved the horror vibes, the twisted psychology of most of the characters, the layers of double-crossings, and even some emotional surprises. I appreciated that the film tried to make impactful statements, like about fatherhood, or America’s role in international politics (although I don’t think it fully lands the latter message because of a decision made at end of the film). The film makes good use of practical effects, practical suits, and especially practical sets, which is a refreshing change for a modern major superhero movie and an appropriate fit for such a grounded war movie. Shockingly, the gritty practicality makes the intense computer effects look even better because the audience already feels grounded in the reality of the film.
The relationships between characters was one of the biggest highlights, thanks to the great writing and acting. I loved the surprise of seeing which characters became friends and which ones immediately became enemies. Gunn adds greater complexity to most of the characters than I expected, to the extent that I wished some of the side characters were more developed. The tragic backstory of David Dastmalchian‘s Polka-Dot Man was a total surprise and it was a genuine joy to see the consequences of it affecting the film. Daniela Melchior‘s Ratcatcher 2 was also a scene-stealer who really gave the film a warm emotional center. In an equal and opposite way, I was gleefully terrified by John Cena‘s Peacemaker.
But after seeing some rave reviews online, I was a bit disappointed I didn’t love the film more as a whole. The needle drops felt a little overdone, to the point that they started to feel more like wallpaper than actual elements of the story. At that point, why not just use score? In spite of a few laugh-out-loud moments, most of the humor fell flat for me, with a lot of great lines spoiled by the trailers.
In my opinion, the plotting was the weakest element of the film. While the basic structure is pretty much what I expected, the scene-to-scene storyline seemed overly complicated. With so many ongoing plotlines (not all important), some of the interstitial scenes felt a bit aimless and confusing, and with heavy exposition, sometimes even boring. I would have liked more depth to characters, in particular the villains, to understand their motivations with greater clarity. The script works so hard to give us exciting moments and a large cast of characters that I wish they all had more depth and time to breathe.
Multiple scenes in the first two acts felt like standalone episodes, which is cool for an episodic adventure series, but a little offbeat for a movie that’s struggling to build momentum. When the first round of deaths happen, I wish we could have gotten at least some basic emotional attachment to those characters. If we understood and related to them even a little bit, their deaths would have meant something more than shock value and dark humor. Even the agents in Amanda Waller’s office, who enjoy much more screen time, have very little backstory or motivation. Their only purpose is to serve the plot and add humor, but we don’t know their names any more than we know why they work for such a dark job despite clearly being uncomfortable with it. Bloodspot (played by Idris Elba) has an arc with his daughter that could have been a major framing device for the film, yet the film skips the full resolution even with two end-credits scenes. That is to say, the movie focuses on breadth so much that it sacrifices depth. The plot tries to be so big that it spreads itself too thin.
By the third act, I felt a little lost in the overall story map of the film. I had lost my orientation in the structure of the script and didn’t know where the story was going (not necessarily in a good way). There’s a sequence with a MacGuffin that made me sigh heavily. To some viewers, it could feel like a fun trope, but to me, it felt a bit tired, especially after Gunn did something similar with the Orb in the first Guardians movie. I think the whole script could have used some edits to trim the loose ideas or incorporate them into the film itself better. The whole film could have been more streamlined from top to bottom, with all the characters working towards clearer end objectives. That being said, the whole final battle is amazingly ridiculous and as a DC fan, it was surreal to see a villain like that brought to life so realistically and menacingly.
Overall, The Suicide Squad is an enjoyable film that’s well-written and stylishly directed. It’s strange that we got a second Suicide Squad movie before a second Superman movie, but this was mostly spectacular, so I’m not complaining! This is a great movie to have, that maybe I never asked for, but it’s cool that it’s here. I’m very happy that James Gunn got to cross over into the world of DC, and I’m excited for what surprises might be announced next!
The Suicide Squad is now in theaters and on HBO Max. The spinoff TV series Peacemaker will be releasing in January, exclusively on HBO Max.