The critically acclaimed writer behind Tromeo and Juliet (1996) has directed a movie.
After some behind the scenes studio drama let James Gunn have enough spare time between Marvel movies to sign a contract, DC gave him carte blanche to make another adaptation of the Suicide Squad comic series. Is it a sequel to the original? Eh, not really but it assumes you know the concept and kept the same actors as their roles. The first Suicide Squad (2016), directed by David Ayer, was a walking corpse of a film that could be seen riddled with studio involvement and lack of vision. Whether Ayer’s cut is worth watching might never be known, but the film we got sought to largely be an even more obnoxious, crazy attempt at a Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) for a Hot Topic crowd. The film’s core audience demographic were people who would dress up as Jared Leto’s Joker and Margot Robie’s Harley Quinn. Needless to say, it was a movie without much to like.
So, immediately out of the gate: The Suicide Squad a better film than its predecessor. Gunn gets enough creative freedom and has enough competence to make a coherent, exciting film. Creatively it’s much more rewarding, and watching it feels less cynical than most of these films.
The plot is similar to other Suicide Squad storylines: the United States government has a top secret military program hiring supervillains to perform covert operations for the sake of commuting their prison sentences. It’s The Dirty Dozen (1967) with super powers. The cast of this film is large for a reason: Gunn sought to make an actual Suicide Squad adaptation. Ayer’s original was far too forgiving. Though members of the team in the comic usually don’t die, a large part of the appeal of the team is they largely can die. No one is safe. In a film this translates to large body counts. The film is rated R for a reason. It’s gorey and vulgar, possibly to its detriment at times. The humor is more crude, but this is actually Gunn letting loose. His Troma background actually is able to shine a bit more here.
The performances are largely fun and comedic. Even with the returning actors, there’s an accomplishment in suitable casting. The biggest problem with the film is when it tries to draw sympathy for its characters. The scenes and moments largely feel obligatory (and they probably are, even thematically, to show us the “real” bad guys) but still end up feeling disjointed. They still never feel like a “family.” This is also because the team is largely split and separated for lengthy portions of the film. Harley Quinn goes the entire time without knowing certain character’s names, a fact that makes for a fine joke, but for anyone hungry for an actual team film you’ll clearly be missing a component.
But there is heart. It’s just in everything else. The wacky dialogue and combat, the plot’s twists and turns allow for a moral ambiguity most comic films try not to flirt with. If you roll your eyes at this statement, here’s a better way to say it: though the film’s use of government conspiracies don’t necessarily surprise anyone, characters like Amanda Waller (played again by Viola Davis) and Peacemaker (John Cena) are characters that a marvel film will half-commit to before waffling to a less compromising position. Peacemaker is what John Walker in Disney’s Falcon and The Winter Soldier series wants to be if that story actually wanted to say anything.
Though the film isn’t really impressive visually, there are moments you can point to with thought and effort, and unique action sequences are usually a highlight for me when they elaborate on character, and this film does that properly. The story is cluttered, but it’s largely fun. If you find yourself failing to care about a character, don’t worry, they won’t live long.
None of them will. The film only lasts two hours. Then they’re all gone.
I think something to actually criticize Gunn on here as well are the needledrops. The Guardians of the Galaxy films cleverly utilized their robust soundtrack to enhance scenes, and while I particularly like the song choices, they don’t feed into each other here nearly as well.
I don’t know how to talk about this film to someone who is on the fence. This film isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t meant to be. I know that James Gunn got to make a movie he wanted to make and he threw in a bunch of colorful characters in an underutilized universe and made a fun movie for it. It’s not nearly as polished or thoroughly enjoyable as some of his other ventures, but it doesn’t want to be and I love that.
If it means anything to anyone, this is probably the best DC film. In almost every way. In some ways, it’s better than any Marvel film. Because Marvel wouldn’t even make this film if Deadpool starred in it. Also, Starro the conqueror is in the movie. That’s rad.