Witty, irreverent, and just plain weird, “The Suicide Squad” is a great summer blockbuster. It delivers a bonkers action-packed extravaganza filled with everything from delightfully creative and very R-rated murders to the hilarity of terrible people learning basic social skills.
“The Suicide Squad” is a soft reboot of 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” even featuring some of the same actors and characters, but disregarding most events of the preceding film. Since the previous iteration was truly unsalvageable, going in this new direction has allowed writer-director James Gunn the freedom to work the magic he’s known for. Indeed, Gunn’s film actually leans into its titular concept: characters die, villains behave villainously, and all of the main characters are disposable to those in charge — like, you know, a suicide squad.
“The Suicide Squad” is everything 2016’s version wanted to be: Where the previous iteration merely had several characters walking in the general vicinity of each other for an hour and a half and called that ‘family,’ 2021’s entry understands how to build believable and meaningful connections between its characters. Everything is earned, and it’s as easy to care about the characters as it is to laugh at them. The plot — a motley crew of untrustworthy superpowered convicts are sent to steal something from a country reeling from a military coup — quickly spirals into absurdity. While the ridiculousness goes a bit too far at times, Gunn handles the massive tonal shifts — from real emotional moments to slapstick mockery — reasonably well.
Conversely, the concept of villainy is considered with far more precision. As a film about villains, “The Suicide Squad” would surely fail to be interesting if it tried to follow the traditional superhero trope of protagonist facing and overcoming the antagonist. Gunn succeeds because his narrative considers what it means for an individual to be bad, as well as what it means when a figure in power is corrupt or an entire system is flawed. By treating the ideas of evil and malice with nuance, “The Suicide Squad” tells a compelling story about villains, without depriving them of all the traits that make these characters villains in the first place.
The most enjoyable aspect of the film has to be the wacky and interesting character work that the star-studded cast take on gleefully — Sylvester Stallone as the voice of a human-eating shark learning the meaning of friendship is a stroke of genius, and John Cena handles his role of a man willing to go to war in the name of peace with style. Daniel Dastmalchian as someone with deep-seated mommy issues who shoots polka dots from his arms and Daniela Melchior as a lethargic rat-loving adolescent each take on their respective odd-ball characters admirably.
Idris Elba kills it as the reluctant leader, and his character, Bloodsport, is an unequivocal improvement on 2016’s Deadshot; he’s grounded and compelling as he navigates his many complicated relationships. Harley Quinn’s return to the franchise is also welcome, as Margot Robbie is given an actual character instead of the shallow, misogynistic role she had to work with in “Suicide Squad.” And while Viola Davis is not given the most outlandish character — Amanda Waller is depressingly one note — her callous authority is central to the plot.
“The Suicide Squad” also joins the growing market of R-rated superhero movies, and Gunn certainly does not pull his punches in terms of gore or profanity. In fact, the violence is gratuitous within the first five minutes, and while some gory moments are clever or impressive enough to deserve their inclusion, there are many more that are simply excessive. There comes a point where the viewer doesn’t need to see someone’s organs ripped out every two minutes. While the executives at DC made the right move by disregarding the mess that was 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” it underscores how inconsistent the DCEU continues to be. Instead of an interconnected universe, their confusing roster of films is much more comparable to a sandbox where children pass action figures back and forth in an approximation of storytelling. Considering the budget and supposed expertise the studio has access to, the big picture is truly concerning.
Overall, however, “The Suicide Squad” is creatively shot, making use of excellent special effects, apt costuming — which unlike in 2016’s rendition, isn’t sexist — and an exciting soundtrack. As a ridiculous, clever and hilarious entry into the superhero genre, “The Suicide Squad” definitely deserves to be remembered as a summer hit.
Staff Writer Millie Mae Healy can be reached at email@example.com.