Warning: This review contains spoilers
In 2016, Warner Bros. Studios found themselves far behind the 8-ball with their comic book extended universe, the DCEU. Marvel films dominated the box office, allowing the studio to take risks by giving lesser-known comic characters their own film (Guardians of the Galaxy) and the risk paid off due much in part to two things: brilliant directing by James Gunn and a cast that not only oozed with charisma but were able to make a ragtag group of misfits loveable for the audience.
Warner Bros., on the other hand, kept stalling with each release. Man of Steel’s ending polarized fans, everyone loathed Jesse Eisenberg’s performance in Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice but the hate and vitriol for those films was nothing compared to 2016’s Suicide Squad. The film had a weak script (all they had to do was go up a building), studio interference (they insisted on a darker tone) and some uneven acting (while Margot Robbie and Will Smith were generally reviewed favorably, Jared Leto’s portrayal of the Joker ruined the film to many).
To rectify this, Warner Bros. gave Suicide Squad a soft reboot and brought in Gunn to rekindle the magic he found with Guardians of the Galaxy. With essentially zero studio interference, Gunn was able to deliver The Suicide Squad, a significantly improved film from its predecessor, but one that also suffers from its fair share of problems.
In many ways, the background of the Suicide Squad shares similarities to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Both are a ragtag group of misfit criminals (many people seem to forget that in Guardians of the Galaxy, the group met in prison and Gamora was considered a ruthless killer when she was introduced) and lesser-known comic characters who join forces to save the world. Where they differentiate is that while the Guardians of the Galaxy permanently become good guys, the members of the Suicide Squad are still villains at the end of the day.
Unlike the Guardians, however, the members of the Suicide Squad don’t have that same charm. Peacemaker (John Cena) is genuinely unlikeable (why is he getting his own miniseries?) and he shares a rivalry with Bloodsport (Idris Elba) that is akin to the one Thor and Star-Lord had at the end of Avengers: Endgame but a poorer version of it. On a positive note, Robbie for the third time delivers a true-to-the-comic portrayal of the wacky but endearing Harley Quinn and the R-rating allowed for a less tense performance from Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flag) and Viola Davis (Amanda Waller). In what has become the DCEU equivalent of Groot, King Shark may have become my new favorite character in the franchise. He is simple-minded, but an absolute brute with Sylvester Stallone as the perfect casting choice.
The story is much improved as well, as the Suicide Squad must go to the island nation of Corto Maltese and destroy a laboratory conducting a secret experiment known as “Project Starfish”. The plot allows for more scenery as the crew navigates from the shore to the jungle and then, ultimately, the city. Of course, Waller is not telling the squad everything only for them to find out the truth along the way.
Was hurts the script, however, is how unafraid Gunn was to kill off seemingly anyone and everyone at any given time. It appeared that anyone and everyone was in this script, so it was easy to imagine that there would be a lot of bloodshed, but with so much death so prevalent in the film, it greatly reduced the emotional weight of some of the more important deaths of the film.
Gunn also took full advantage of the R-rating (the 2016 version was rated PG-13) using much more colorful language and leaning into the violence in a stylistic way. Not every comic book movie should be R-rated but The Suicide Squad is definitely one of them. Deadpool opened the doors for this type of comic book film years ago and this film continues to push the envelope. In the age of nerd culture, we’ve really found the balance between family friendly content and the adult content and this film, like Deadpool shows that an adult theme comic film doesn’t need to be super serious or gritty. It can be off-beat, colorful, but still very much adult-oriented.
The Suicide Squad is a film riddled with enough blood and violence to make Quentin Tarantino blush and a good enough story to keep you entertained once you look past the flaws (and some plotholes). It’s a step in the right direction for the DCEU as they pivot into the next direction and ponder what’s next for their key characters.