Released: 30 July 2021
Director: James Gunn
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $34 million
Stars: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone/Steve Agee, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Joel Kinnaman, Peter Capaldi, and Viola Davis
After Colonel Rick Flag (Kinnaman) and Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Robbie) are captured and presumed killed during a mission into the war-torn nation of Corto Maltese, Amanda Waller (Davis) blackmails former mercenary and marksman Robert DuBois/Bloodsport (Elba) into leading a new Task Force X team on a suicide mission into the nation to acquire Gaius Grieves/The Thinker (Capaldi), who has vital information regarding the mysterious and potentially cataclysmic “Project: Starfish”.
Task Force X, otherwise known by the more colourful sobriquet of “The Suicide Squad”, is a team of supervillains, anti-heroes, and convicts that first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #25 in September 1059. Created by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru, the team’s initial six-issue run was later expanded upon exponentially by writer John Ostrander in 1987; Ostrander defined many of the elements that are now closely associated with the team, such as them being commanded by Amanda Waller and forced into behaving under threat of remote execution. Due to the very nature of the team (the clue’s in the name after all), the Suicide Squad has seen many different incarnations over the years and has featured in a number of adaptations outside of the comics. They made their live-action debut in Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016), a film that arguably was the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) attempt to emulate the success of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014); despite heavyweights like Will Smith and Jared Leto attached and bringing in nearly $750 million against a $175 million budget, Suicide Squad was a critical disaster. However, Suicide Squad did give us Margot Robbie’s fantastic portrayal of Harley Quinn, which received significant praise (and her own spin-off), and there has been a major fan demand for Warner Bros. to release the director’s cut of the film.
Still, Suicide Squad made money and had a bankable star so a sequel (and several other spin-offs) was put into development. Perhaps because of Ayer’s public lambasting of Warner Bros.’ interference with his film, a new director was courted for the follow-up, with James Gunn being hired after he was briefly fired from Disney and Marvel Studios. Given complete creative control of the project, Gunn decided to produce a standalone sequel that featured some of DC’s most ridiculous villains and mashed them into a team of losers, misfits, and combustible personalities. Delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Suicide Squad was eventually released to overwhelmingly positive reviews that praised its action, gore, and humour. As of this writing, the film has only grossed $7 million at the box office but is projected to bring in $35 to 60 million and Gunn has already completed a spin-off series for HBO Max starring Christopher Smith/Peacemaker (John Cena).
My experience of the Suicide Squad is basically almost zero; they rarely appear as a team in the DC Comics I read and usually just kind of crop up as a team of misfits for DC’s superheroes to fight with. As a result, when I heard that Warner Bros. were going to be putting time, effort, and money into a big-screen version of the team, my first question was…why? Why are we getting that and not a standalone Batman movie for Ben Affleck, or a Flash movie, or a Cyborg one…anything but randomly tossing out a Suicide Squad film. To this day, I’ll never understand why Warner Bros. didn’t retool the script to have Batman battling against Waller’s team that acted as a prequel to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2014) and showed exactly how and why Batman has fallen so far into the dark by explicitly centring around the Joker (Jared Leto) killing Jason Todd/Robin. Instead, the film didn’t really add all that much to the DCEU; it completely wasted Will Smith on a nobody like Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (he really should have been Slade Wilson/Deathstroke) and was so cut up by the studio that it’s basically been swept under the carpet now, and that’s a shame as its cast and concepts could have been used to far greater effect in a Ben Affleck-led Batman film.
Thankfully, The Suicide Squad doesn’t go out of its way to retcon or erase the original film form continuity; I never expected that it would since Flag, Quinn, Waller, and Digger Harkness/Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) all returned to the film but you wouldn’t believe the arguments I had online with people who insisted that this wasn’t a sequel…when it clearly is. Sure, Harley’s reasoning for being back on the team is kind of hand-waved away and they don’t explicitly refer to events of any prefers DCEU films, but there’s an obvious and oft-stated familiarity between these characters, which is enough for me. Of course, we have a slew of new characters here, many of whom I am completely unfamiliar with, such as Bloodsport and Peacemaker. Although Gunn stated that he wrote the script specifically with Elba in mind for Bloodsport rather than a replacement for Deadshot…he basically is Deadshot but with a fancier suit. Like Deadshot, Bloodsport has a strained relationship with his daughter and is an expert marksman but he’s made a character all his own through his disinterest in joining the team, working with others, doing good, and his high-tech, quasi-alien suit that allows him to generate and assemble a wide variety of weaponry.
Bloodsport not only immediately clashes with Waller when she threatens his daughter to coerce him into leading her new Suicide Squad, he also forms a fast rivalry with Peacemaker; another character I’m not too familiar with, Peacemaker is a unit of man who is so obsessed with peace that he’s willing to kill anyone to attain it. A psychopath hiding behind patriotism, Peacemaker is adept with melee weapons and guns but his presence by no means makes Bloodsport redundant as their personalities and methods are entirely different. Garbed in a ludicrous comic-accurate costume and built like a brick shithouse, Peacemaker is seemingly willing to align with the team to achieve peace but continuously grates against his teammates. He and Bloodsport often engage in a silent, unstated competition to see who can kill the most people in the most flamboyant or impressive ways but he does find common ground with the team when they share a few drinks while staking out the Thinker’s favourite night club.
Returning from the last film are Rick Flag and Harley Quinn; unlike in the first film, Flag has, apparently, lost the rod up his ass and is a far more laid back and amiable character. Rather than seeing commanding Task Force X as his duty or a punishment of sorts, he treats them like friends or comrades and strikes up a camaraderie with most of them. While he also butts heads with Peacemaker, he has a former relationship with Bloodsport that allows the two to work as a more cohesive unit and, in turn, help galvanise the team of misfits into coming together in a workable strategy. Harley, by comparison, is largely the same character as before except her craziness has been dialled up somewhat. Still a bit of an odd choice for such a team, Harley proves that appearances are deceiving as her craziness makes her a formidable and unpredictable opponent who is just as likely to bust out a rocket launcher as she is to strangle a man to death with her legs during severe torture. Harley has a bit of a side story where she’s courted by President Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto) and provides much of the more explicit comedic moments thanks to her trademark mad-cap nature and her gunning down countless soldiers while animated flowers and birds fly around in the background.
The team is rounded out by a couple of new characters, most notably Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher II (Melchior), Nanaue/King Shark (Stallone/Agee), and Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man (Dastmalchian). While we learn a bit about Bloodsport and his relationship with his daughter and there’s a bit of character development for Quinn in her vow to not let men use her again, we don’t really learn too much about Peacemaker’s background and these three latter characters get quite a bit of play and have quite an impact on the film. We learn all about Ratcatcher II’s childhood, for example, and her fondness for rats (which Bloodsport is deathly afraid of); despite her lethargic attitude and borderline narcolepsy, she is also the only one of the team to actually befriend and treat King Shark like an actual person rather than a burden. King Shark looks absolutely fantastic and is characterised as a ravenous, child-like creature who is often the butt of the team’s mistreatment, though he is also responsible for some of the film’s most humorous moments. And then there’s Polka-Dot Man, a ridiculous character on paper who is given new life as a bat-shit insane psychopath who is constantly spawning and at threat from cosmic polka dots thanks to his mother’s experimentations. By the finale, his character arc becomes a tragic story of redemption, of sorts, since he begins the film literally hoping for them all to die and end sit ready to sacrifice himself to save Corto Maltese from a rampaging monster.
Behind the team, safe in the United States, is the ice-queen herself; Amanda Waller is just as impassive and manipulative as ever, fully prepared to use any means necessary to coerce the convicts into getting bombs implanted into their necks and heading out on a suicide mission in the hopes of shaving ten years off their sentences. Once they’re out in the field, Waller tells them only what they need to know and, the moment they go off-mission, doesn’t hesitate to remote detonate the bombs and blow their heads off. Similar to the last film, Waller’s motivations for the team’s excursion into Corto Maltese are shrouded in deception and revolve more around trying to cover up America’s part in Project Starfish rather than destroying the weapon but, this time around, her control staff are aghast at her extreme methods. Also similar to the first film is the fact that the team is battling against an army of foes rather than tackling a singular enemy head-on; the Thinker fills the roles of a secondary antagonist to a degree, being a maniacal scientist who has gleefully spent the last thirty years experimenting with Project: Starfish on humans in a variety of gruesome and reprehensible ways though, in the end, his role in the story is quite small beyond the team forcing him to get them into Jötunheim, the Nazi-era bunker where the project is based.
The Nitty-Gritty (Minor Spoilers Ahead):
Like the first film, The Suicide Squad (terrible title, by the way; adding a “The” to a sequel’s title is always a red flag for me and smacks of laziness) uses music to punctuate many of its scenes. Unlike that film, though, it benefits from far better editing and pacing; where Suicide Squad was like a frenetic music video (especially in the first ten minutes or so, which bombard the viewer with so much sensory input that it’s nearly impossible to know what’s going on), The Suicide Squad is far more deliberate and conservative with its use of music and edits. The film begins in media res and then flashes back to show us how Waller’s two teams ended up being recruited and sent off to Jötunheim and, at various points, the film cuts off a dramatic reveal or moment to skip over to the other characters and show us what they’ve been up to. The film also contains a number of creative on-screen titles, presumably to make the film easier to watch when on HBO Max or simply to add to the zany nature of the film.
Where The Suicide Squad really stands out from, and trumps, the last film is in its use of gore, copious swearing, violence, and explosive action. The first film felt like it was holding back by having the team battling glorified zombies but this one pulls absolutely no punches; the opening scene alone sets the tone by showing Flag lead a doomed beach-front assault that sees members of his team getting immolate, shot to pieces, and blown into bloody chunks. King Shark is responsible for many moments of bloody violent thanks to his ravenous hunger and the competition between Bloodsport and Peacemaker lead the two to murdering numerous members of the Corto Maltese rebellion. Hell, Harley gets an entire side plot where she fights, shoots, and kills her way out of Luna’s mansion and the film’s hard-hitting action scenes are punctuated by endlessly entertaining explosions, gore, and over the top violence that finally does what the first film so desperately tried to do (i.e. take what we saw in the first two Deadpool films (Miller, 2016; Leitch, 2018) and ramp it up a few notches).
Gunn packs the film with all kinds of C- to G-tier characters from DC Comics’ vast library; given free reign to use, and kill, whichever characters he wanted, no character is safe no matter how powerful they are or how established they are from the first film. This is exemplified in the gory opening but continues throughout the film as the team are constantly against the odds, and themselves, and comes to a head in the finale. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say that the team end up battling against Starro the Conqueror since trailers and interviews have already shown this but seeing Starro, of all things, onscreen is just…exhilarating. Reminiscent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Starro goes on a rampage through Corto Maltese, spewing out tiny Facehugger extensions of itself to instantly create an army of brainless zombies to spread its influence and oppose the Suicide Squad. Even better, Starro is presented in full daylight and looks equal parts incredible and ludicrous, which is entirely the point, of course. Still, I am a little confused as to where these Suicide Squad films feel they have to pit the team against armies of zombie-like enemies and cosmic-level threats when they’re arguably better suited to black ops missions and such but seeing the remnants of the team come together as a unit to try and take Starro down is something that appeals to the comic book, action, and Kaiju fan in me and it was massively entertaining as a finale. It’s just a shame that we’ll probably never see these characters interacting with the Justice League given the state of the DCEU.
While I don’t agree with the state of the DCEU, or Warner Bros. decision to funnel funds and certain actors into projects like The Suicide Squad when they should be concentrating on bringing some of their more well-known heroes and properties to life, and while I had some problems with the film’s presentation (those titles, for example, were a little distracting at times), The Suicide Squad was an absolute blast. Clearly evoking the bombastic action movies of the eighties and nineties and embracing the most ridiculous aspects of the source material, it presents its over the top characters and premise without shame or embarrassment and goes all-in with the concept of a team of disposable misfits being in over their heads. Punctuated by some amusing moments and character beats, copious amounts of gratuitous gore and violence, and a surprising amount of poignant heart and characterisation (to say nothing of a few unexpected twists along the way), The Suicide Squad more than makes up for the failings of the last film. Again, it’s just a shame that it’s so unpredictable as to whether or not these characters will actually interact with their respective heroes in the wider DCEU as I’d love to see more of them and for the DCEU to actually, properly bring all these disparate threads together but if all you’re looking for is a kick-ass action film that isn’t shy about pulling its punches then The Suicide Squad has you well covered!
Have you seen The Suicide Squad? If so, what did you think to it and how would you rate it compared to the first film? Which of the new characters was your favourite? Who did you think was going to die and who were you surprised to see survive? Are you a fan of the Suicide Squad concept and comics? Would you have preferred to see the villains appear elsewhere, like in a solo Batman or Flash movie or do you think it’s a good thing that the DCEU is so sporadic? Are there any villains you’d like to see included in another Suicide Squad film and are you going to be watching the Peacemaker spin-off? Whatever your thoughts about The Suicide Squad, feel free to leave a comment below.