By Jason Delgado
DC Films and director James Gunn have been much maligned in recent times, for mistakes made both professionally and personally. Joss Whedon’s poorly received (by fans and critics alike) Justice League was the straw that broke the DC camel’s back, after a string of violent, and different characterizations of classic heroes in Zack Synder films, which had already divided fans. There have been other decent DC movies since JL, but ironically, none of them have truly stood out to me other than the Synder cut of the Justice League.
Gunn has been at the top of his game with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, but faced a personal crisis in 2018 when he almost lost his career due to cancel culture coming after him by resurfacing old, crude tweets that Gunn made, in retaliation for him speaking out against the President at the time.
Like LL Cool J sang in Mama Said Knock You Out, “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years!” Hollywood loves a good redemption story, and both DC and Gunn are back with The Suicide Squad.
James Gunn’s version of The Suicide Squad is a quirky, funny and fun-filled, Guardians of the Galaxy-like R-rated take on yet another band of misfit characters. It’s full of Gunn’s signature artist style, with a colorful visual flair (characters like Polka-Dot Man and Harley Quinn utilize attacks that dazzle the eyes) and cool camera stunts throughout, such as a fight sequence that’s shown through the reflection of a shiny helmet. Another Gunn staple of using an awesome rock soundtrack of hidden gem songs (such as the alt rock classic, “People Who Died” by The Jim Carroll Band) is used effectively in the film.
David Ayer’s critically-panned version of Suicide Squad (I enjoyed it at the time, but not enough to watch it again) was released five years ago to the day, while Gunn’s version is a brand new take on Task Force X, featuring several actors from Ayer’s version, including superstar Margot Robbie, the esteemed and talented Viola Davis, as well as solid actors Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney.
The 2021 version of The Suicide Squad is another comic book style Dirty Dozen-type mission, but it centers on Bloodsport, played by the brilliant actor Idris Elba (Pacific Rim), as a deadly scoundrelous assasin and de facto leader of the squad, along with a ragtag band of criminals like the hilarious scene-stealer John Cena (I never thought I would utter those words after some stiff performances in other films) as Peacemaker, who has the exact same skill set as Bloodsport, but is willing to “kill women and children to keep the peace.” The way that these two characters playfully banter and try to one up each other with elaborate kills is a highlight of the movie.
The rest of the cast is terrific as well, with relative newcomer Daniela Melchior as the sleepy Ratcatcher 2 (as relatable as can be for someone who has rats for friends) and David Dastmalchian (Prisoners) as a neurotic character called Polka-Dot Man, who sees his hated mother everywhere. Gunn actually chose Polka-Dot Man for the film by Googling “who is the dumbest supervillain of all time.” Sylvester Stallone employs his usual assortment of grunts appropriately here as the voice of King Shark, a funny cross between Drax and Groot, but with an appetite for flesh. Rounding out the main cast is Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) as a not quite as quip-filled version of Harley Quinn compared to Birds of Prey, which featured her as more of a Deadpool-type of character, which I preferred.
The Suicide Squad starts off with a bang, but the frenetically funny pace tampers off a bit at times in the second act and on in the movie. Moments when the film strays from the absurd (I like that the main villain of the movie is a gigantic mind-controlling starfish from space) and becomes a “regular” movie are the least interesting parts to me. The film also seemed to wrap up a little too nicely given who these characters are, but Gunn has stated that there originally was a darker ending, which may have made more sense.
I find that the main strength of the movie is the way that Gunn makes these strange characters so loveable, relatable, and humorous. Not very original, you may say, in comparison to his work at Marvel, but it’s like in sports when a team keeps running the same play that can’t be stopped. Why change it up when it’s working so effectively?
James Gunn was given artistic freedom on The Suicide Squad, according to a recent article by the Hollywood Reporter, something that David Ayer was not given on his movie. I’m glad that the new regime at DC Films has seemingly learned from the mistakes of the past, because it’s better for the fans when both Marvel and DC are firing on all cylinders.
I give The Suicide Squad three and a half hot sauce packets out of five. It’s a fun and spicy ride if you’re in the mood for a raucously good time!