‘The Suicide Squad’ Movie Review: James Gunn Executes Formula

To say The Suicide Squad is better than the 2016 DC Comics movie is no surprise. If they’re going to make another one, there was nowhere for writer/director James Gunn to go but up. Faint praise may be all the praise one can muster for The Suicide Squad but knowing the Suicide Squad that may be more than enough. 

Suicide Squad members Joel Kinnaman, Idris Elba and John Cena stand in front of an upside down truck
L-R: Joel Kinnaman, Idris Elba and John Cena | Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics

Which characters are in ‘The Suicide Squad’?

Gunn sets up his Suicide Squad much more concisely this time around. A brief opening montage explains it all. If a prisoner helps on this mission, they get 10 years off their sentence, but Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) puts an explosive in their skull in case they go AWOL. Despite this brevity, The Suicide Squad still flashes back to deliver more exposition after the first action scene. 

The cast is so sprawling it would be irrelevant to name every DC supervillain included in this Suicide Squad. That’s kind of the point. There are so many, they’re truly expendable. Top billed include returning Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and newcomers Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Peacemaker (John Cena). 

The Suicide Squad: Idris Elba threatens Viola Davis
Idris Elba and Viola Davis | Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics

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The new Suicide Squad has to go to Corto Maltese to stop the leaders of a coup from using alien beings against the U.S. It is a generic “infiltrate the factory and stop this mad science experiment” plot, but even that is okay because the point is how these irreverent characters handle a stereotypical comic book mission. 

Nothing matters in ‘The Suicide Squad’ 

Gunn definitely takes an irreverent, nihilistic approach to The Suicide Squad. The idea is nothing matters, so anything goes in The Suicide Squad, but the film becomes a victim of its own anarchic attitude. Since nothing matters, nothing really matters. 

Characters dying are supposed to establish stakes if anyone can die, but they don’t. All they do is violates trust. Why should we care about any team member if you use them for a cheap shock? Deadpool 2 already did the same joke, and it was old then too. In 2021 killing characters is not even surprising. This is a post Game of Thrones and Walking Dead world. 

Suicide Squad: King Shark eats a person
King Shark | Warner Bros. and DC Comics

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So, you can have fun taking nothing seriously. You can watch The Suicide Squad for two hours but not invest in it. Don’t give The Suicide Squad too much credit for being subversive, though. If you think about any of its outrageous moments for a second, they’re pretty superficial.

Pure, unadulterated James Gunn

To his credit, Gunn does embrace the antihero qualities of the characters. Bloodsport is not a mercenary with a heart of gold. He’s a real deadbeat who tells his daughter to her face he doesn’t want to be a father. Yet he’s still doing the mission to keep her out of prison, so… Waller definitely seems over it in this one, which is appropriate. She’s in charge of the worst team in all of DC. Her staff also places bets on which team members will die, so Gunn expands Waller’s attitude to an entire office culture.

The Suicide Squad almost has something to say about going in half cocked and making things worse, but there are no consequences for that either. This is the illustion of being edgy. There are no stakes so Gunn isn’t really violating anything. 

James Gunn directs Idris Elba on the set
L-R: Idris Elba and James Gunn | Jessica Miglio/DC Comics

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The action is loud and violent. The director of Super sure indeed got to make his R-rated DC movie. It’s as chaotic as a Suicide Squad movie should be, but beyond turning the genre on its head, what is there? The cast is so sprawling that the first half of the movie is just episodic vignettes. There are some fun Harley and Bloodshot shorts, and they come together as a unit in the second half. The chapter titles seem arbitrary divisions. They indicate vignette segments so it’s perhaps more like issues of a comic than disjointed segments of a movie. 

And he’s still the Guardians of the Galaxy director with a music budget, so he can set action scenes to “People Who Died” or Louis Prima’s cover of “Just a Gigolo.” Harley Quinn has a good fight scene. There’s another fight scene shown in the reflection of a helmet which is a cool shot. It’s a colorful film, so it’s more beautiful than most DC movies.

You know if you’re on James Gunn’s wavelength or not. If you are, The Suicide Squad is his R-rated anarchy with a big budget. The next one may finally be the definitive Suicide Squad movie but this is the best Suicide Squad yet.