If I’m being perfectly honest, because of James Gunn’s involvement alone, I already knew I was going to enjoy The Suicide Squad. Sure, some might assume that would be due to Gunn’s ongoing involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that’s probably true to a degree. But for me, it was more based on how much I adore his oft-overlooked superhero movie Super that came out in 2011 and how it effortlessly stole my comics-loving heart with its ragtag story about a very non-heroic guy becoming the hero in unexpected ways. Because for me, the things that I love about many of the Suicide Squad characters and their dynamics within the DC universe in general feel very connected to what Gunn was doing nearly a decade ago with Super. So, it was awesome to see some of the themes he explored back then fully realized in The Suicide Squad more than a decade later, with Gunn really doing his damnedest to celebrate all the wonderfully quirky and offbeat DC characters like only he can.
As I said, I already knew going into The Suicide Squad that I was going to like it—but I wasn’t expecting just how much I was going to absolutely love it, and how some of the some of the more unexpected characters would end up being my favorite aspects of the movie (more on that later).
While I won’t get too much into the plot of The Suicide Squad here (there are a lot of components at play in the narrative, and trying to put them all into some type of linear “point-A-to-point-B-order” would really do the nature of how the story is constructed in TSS a huge disservice), the essential things you need to know going into it is that while there are some ties to the other Suicide film here (most obviously in the return of certain characters), I’d call this film something of a soft reboot that takes some big swings while introducing us to a ton (and I mean A TON) of totally random, but wholly engaging characters that must come together in order to save the world. And like the previous film, it’s Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) behind Task Force X, who brings together this iteration of the “suicide squad” for a huge mission. Of course, because of their status as nefarious supervillains to one degree or another, Waller sees them all as expendable collateral in the mission, which of course doesn’t sit well with them.
And to me, that’s the heart of this Suicide Squad movie—finding the humanity in the inhumane, and while there are certainly characters in this that are beyond redemption, I really love how well Gunn’s script not only completely leans into the absurdity of these characters and their mission (which involves stopping Starro, a ginormous alien starfish whose plans involve trying to dominate our planet), but also gives every one of the members of this huge ensemble their moment in the spotlight, and ends up finding fantastic ways of endearing them to viewers. Gunn could have made us pity these characters because of their predicament, but instead, he does a fantastic job of making them all likeable (despite their villainous statuses and sometimes salty demeanors).
The only real exception to that is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), just because she’s already proven herself to be a fan favorite in previous films, so that resulted in me just loving Harley even more after The Suicide Squad, which I thought was impossible after Birds of Prey, but here we are.
In terms of all the new players in this Suicide Squad, we get Idris Elba as Bloodsport, John Cena as Peacemaker, Sylvester Stallone doing the voice of King Shark (Steve Agee plays him in the film), David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man, Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher II, Michael Rooker as Savant, Nathan Fillion as T.D.K., Pete Davidson as Blackguard, Peter Capaldi as The Thinker, and Sean Gunn as Weasel. Returning to the Suicide Squad universe are Jai Courtney (Boomerang), Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag), and the aforementioned Margot Robbie. And yeah, there are definitely a lot of different characters to keep track of here, but as I said, Gunn somehow miraculously gives all of them their due, regardless of how long they last onscreen, and several of the supporting players’ character arcs ended up becoming the things that I loved the most about The Suicide Squad (specifically, Ratcatcher II, Polka-Dot Man, and King Shark).
Honestly, though, I have no idea how on earth Gunn manages to achieve what he does with the storylines in The Suicide Squad, but he somehow makes it look easy as he weaves together this whole intricate plot involving a giant alien starfish and more than a dozen antiheroes who have their own respective storylines, plus some other subplots involving dictator regimes and the dynamics at Waller’s office as well. I am still in awe of just how well it all works together without ever losing focus or energy.
Something else that I really loved about The Suicide Squad is that the film is never afraid to get weird or go totally off the rails, and I feel like you can sense of some of Gunn’s previous work at Troma in here. That’s not to say that Gunn leaning into his own oddball sensibilities means that the film loses its way as a DC film—that’s definitely not the case. I just loved how well Gunn incorporates all these touchstones of a larger-than-life CBM into The Suicide Squad, but still also manages to utilize his previous experiences in making horror, and we see those terror-tastic tendencies on full display in TSS as well.
Visually, there’s a lot to really appreciate about the craft that went into bringing The Suicide Squad to life. Costume designer Judianna Makovsky really does a fantastic job with the costuming in TSS (I totally adored Harley’s red and black gear, but her gorgeous red gown is a total showstopper), and Legacy Effects absolutely nails the character design and prosthetics work, too. That’s also something else worth mentioning; while there are obvious uses of digital effects in The Suicide Squad (Starro, King Shark, and Weasel being three of the biggest components, and they all kick ass), there are a TON of practical effects at play throughout The Suicide Squad, ultimately proving that there’s still plenty of fun to be had with prosthetics and other in-camera makeup effects when you take the opportunity to use them (and have the time to do so, which is, of course, another important consideration).
Without a doubt, The Suicide Squad is my favorite comic book project that I’ve experienced thus far in 2021 (I know theatrically there hasn’t been much competition, so I’m including all the various television series in the mix as well, as there have been a lot of great CB stories being told on the small screen as of late), and it’s easily the most fun I’ve had at the theater all year long. It’s hard to create a movie that’s as brazenly bizarre as TSS is at times that also tells an endearing story about misfits forming their own family and finding purpose in their lives, but James Gunn has found a way to do just that. Plus, as if all of that wasn’t enough, Gunn also has crafted a top-tier DC movie and his own mega-budget Troma movie to boot, and that’s just frigging rad all around. It feels weird to say this, especially since I know that Gunn has more projects lined up in the future, but it truly feels like his career has come full circle on this film, and I loved how wonderfully unhinged The Suicide Squad is at times, where Gunn’s enthusiasm for crafting bizarre cinematic experiences is fully on display from start to finish.
Movie Score: 5/5