REVIEW: The Suicide Squad [2021]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 132 minutes
    Release Date: August 6th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Warner Bros.
    Director(s): James Gunn
    Writer(s): James Gunn

Welcome to anything.

The opening battle scene to James Gunn‘s reboot/sequel (with the addition of an article), The Suicide Squad, couldn’t have been orchestrated better. It has everything you’d want from an ensemble superhero film: action, humor, suspense, uncertainty, and—I cannot stress this part enough—death. Real death. The kind you can’t walk away from (unless you decide to go the MCU or Arrowverse route and dip a toe in the multiverse sandbox). We’re talking beaches of Normandy in Saving Private Ryan levels of carnage (no, I’m not saying it’s on par cinematically) wherein everyone’s fair game … except Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), of course. She has her own lucrative franchise to ensure her pulse remains strong. It was shocking enough to have me thinking it was a character’s dream.

Gunn is effectively killing two birds with one stone here. He’s reminding people who only know him as the guy behind Guardians of the Galaxy that he got his start with Troma (Lloyd Kaufman cameo alert) and made his name with hard-R violent comedies. He’s also doing Warner Bros. a solid by cleaning up the mess they made with David Ayer‘s much maligned and (as Ayer continues lamenting) butchered Suicide Squad. If that means proving Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) isn’t kidding about the danger level of these Task Force X missions or how itchy her sanctimonious trigger finger is where exploding her assets’ heads is concerned, so be it. They gave Gunn the greenlight to throw a grenade and let the limbs fall. Except, again, for Margot Robbie.

Let’s be real here too. We don’t watch a film about criminals being coerced into heroic deeds because we desperately hope they let love and empathy into their hearts. We don’t go into a film called The Expendables hoping they’ll prove themselves indispensable either (despite the filmmakers apparently believing the opposite). The appeal lies in them literally being cannon fodder. Whereas Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are contractually obligated to survive whatever world-destroying villain has God-killing aspirations, a D-list weirdo who’s found while scouring a back catalog of comic books is just begging to go out in a blaze of glory. It’s amazing to me that Ayer’s film only killed, what? Three “protagonists”? They exist to die. They fulfill deranged fantasies code-of-honor heroes can’t. So go wild. Please.

Gunn complies with an even more eccentric group than before who’s willing to don whatever leather and spandex they need to feel cool. Gunn regulars Nathan Fillion (as T.D.K.), Michael Rooker (as Savant), and brother Sean (as Weasel) are on-board. Flula Borg (as Javelin), Pete Davidson (as Blackguard), and Sylvester Stallone (as King Shark, in voice only) join the team too. Add second-year players Robbie, Joel Kinnaman (as Colonel Rick Flag), and Jai Courtney (as Captain Boomerang) and you start realizing there’s way too many names, faces, and powers to remember. The herd must be culled and the how becomes our main reason to fully invest. There’s always more to take their place anyway. Just ask Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Peacemaker (John Cena), and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior).

That leaves Idris Elba‘s Bloodsport. Much like the film itself, he serves as a reboot/sequel to Will Smith‘s Deadshot as the sole character we do want to let love and empathy into his heart. He has a daughter too (Storm Reid‘s Tyla) and is willing to lend his expertise as a mercenary if it means being able to see her more (although what that entails both in the present and future is under very different circumstances). Waller wants him to be a leader. That he knows Flag from their military days only helps as far as easing him into that role. He’s dealing with certifiable lunatics (Polka-Dot Man and Peacemaker oftentimes make Harley Quinn look sane) rather than soldiers, but they’ll kill whoever he tells them for fun.

The mission: infiltrate the South American island nation of Corto Maltese and destroy a research facility built by the Nazis called Jötunheim. A coup has placed an anti-American government in-charge and Waller can’t allow them to have access to the projects being housed there knowing her country would be their first target for attack. And since this is a black ops mission, no one can know they are there. That means keeping a low profile (easy-peasy when one of your operatives is a walking shark God) and kidnapping their chief scientist, The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), to walk them through the gate. Don’t worry about the fact that a giant extra-terrestrial starfish known as Starro the Conqueror is imprisoned within the Jötunheim’s walls. They’ll have to get there first.

Don’t expect too much exposition regardless of the two-plus-hour runtime as only those characters who need motivation receive any. We learn a bit about Starro’s origins. There’s Bloodsport and his daughter, Ratcatcher 2 and her father (Taika Waititi‘s Ratcatcher 1—they can control rats like how Ant-Man controls ants), and Polka-Dot Man (because his power is too strange to take at face-value) and his mother (she serves as the hilarious trick to him getting violent in a way that warrants a psych evaluation). Everything else is in-the-moment drama and hijinks. They deal with the locals (Juan Diego Botto‘s Presidente, Joaquín Cosio‘s Mayor General, and Alice Braga‘s rebel Sol Soria), each other (Peacemaker and Bloodsport can’t help making everything a dick-measuring contest), and a more ruthless Waller than before.

This last aspect may not be executed to perfection, but I give Gunn a lot of credit for not forgetting her and the work that goes into keeping these rag-tag homicidal maniacs on mission. That means creating a bit of an office comedy subplot wherein Waller’s team (Jennifer Holland, Steve Agee, and Tinashe Kajese) are dealing with the moral (“Are we really going to kill kids to get this thing done?”) and amoral (“Place your bets on who dies first.”) effects of working for a government agency such as A.R.G.U.S. The stakes are low (even when pulling what should be a huge surprise but can’t be considering the alternative), but entertaining. And we welcome that reprieve since hundreds of nameless extras are mowed down throughout the main plot.

That Gunn introduces a giant alien while keeping the scope of what’s happening small (it helps being on an island wherein world domination isn’t threatened again like every other DCEU entry) is quite the feat and perhaps a necessary reset alongside Birds and Prey wherein the franchise doesn’t have to always pretend every film is apocalyptic. You’re allowed to build towards something and enjoy some diversions. Gunn knows this being the man behind that exact piece of the Marvel puzzle. I think he stretches himself too thin by the end’s contractually obligated vomiting of computer-graphics (even after killing three-quarters of his cast), but the jokes and action prove more than enough to compensate. With BoP and Shazam! by its side, DC may have actually turned this ship around.

[1] © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © DC Comics Caption: (L-r) JOEL KINNAMAN as Colonel Rich Flag, ALICE BRAGA as Sol Soria, DANIELA MELCHIOR as Ratcatcher 2, KING SHARK, IDRIS ELBA as Bloodsport and JOHN CENA as Peacemaker in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[2] © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © DC Comics Caption: MARGOT ROBBIE as Harley Quinn in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[3] © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © DC Comics Caption: (L-r) IDRIS ELBA as Bloodsport, JOEL KINNAMAN as Colonel Rich Flag, DAVID DASTMALCHIAN as Polka-Dot Man and PETER CAPALDI as Thinker in Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero action adventure “THE SUICIDE SQUAD,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

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