The Suicide Squad is revolutionary.
There. I said it.
Having spent the past few minutes trying to come up with a brilliant lede for this review, I figured — why not just go for it? Just spoil the entire review with a sentence that basically gives it all away.
Because the easy part is explaining why The Suicide Squad is so great.
It’s funny. It’s rude. It’s unpredictable and irreverent. It red-shirts actors who deserve more than five minutes of screen-time, and it’s everything you won’t see in the next four Marvel movies coming out by the year’s end.
That’s because The Suicide Squad dares. It’s the anti-superhero movie with a twist — it’s everything a superhero movie should be if you stopped painting by numbers and had a lot more fun.
Continuing off the premise of the first Suicide Squad movie, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) returns as the lead for a black-ops team filled with criminals forced to do her bidding. In the name of national security, the expendable members of Task Force X are sent on suicide missions. Those who survive and save the day get their sentences reduced, but it’s curtains for anyone else who fails to survive or comply with Waller’s strict orders.
After his daughter is caught shoplifting, Robert DuBois (Idris Elsba) signs up as a team lead in order to keep her from being throwing in prison. Leading the team as Bloodsport, a mercenary whose uniform holds an array of parts that can be combined to form weapons of mass destruction, DuBois heads to the island of Corto Maltese to keep an extinction-level event away from America.
Now, while the synopsis might sound linear, the movie is anything but. Like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction which played fast and loose with non-linear storytelling to give viewers the back, side, and front story, The Suicide Squad pulls similar inspiration from pulp novels to deliver a hyper-violent visual extravaganza that’s somehow grounded in super-serious themes like family and trauma.
The film’s first scene introduces us to Michael Rooker’s Savant who spends his time practicing his ricochet skills against the four concrete walls of his cell. After the quick intro, he’s tossed immediately into a mission that plays like the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, complete with a cast of household names who die brutal and pointless deaths.
Weasel (Sean Gunn) drowns before the team gets on the beach. Pete Davidson’s character turns mole and suddenly gets shot in the face. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang dies after Mongal (Mayling Ng) goes berserk and pounces on a helicopter. And poor TDK (Nathan Fillion), whose identity and powers were kept a secret from audiences until now, is revealed to be The Detachable Kid, a character created for the movie whose powers include being able to detach his limbs and send them off to his bidding.
Telepathically moving his arms to the weirded-out soldiers defending the island’s beachfront, TDK begins to — in complete futility — slap them and their guns. In response, the soldiers fire on his limbs, sending shots of pain back to the poor villain who’s left convulsing madly on the sands of the beach during a montage highlighting the fatalities and deaths of the team we thought would stick around to save the day.
And the thing is, in the midst of all this carnage and brutal violence, I could only do one thing.
And that’s the sheer genius of The Suicide Squad. It plays against the average superhero movie by inserting anti-climactic deaths of characters and forcing you to believe anyone could die at any moment. It’s like a superhero version of Game of Thrones that doesn’t fizzle at the end. Instead, it keeps ramping up with more action, more comedy, and more sick burns. If comedy roasts were a movie, and the topic was the MCU, The Suicide Squad goes straight for the throat with a razor-sharp script that eviscerates both the mind and heart.
Elba as Bloodsport is amazing, but isn’t he always? While other A-list actors play their characters as if they were dressing down, Elba’s performance is sincere and filled with emotion. John Cena as Peacemaker gets to display his comedic chops, and the chemistry between Cena and Elba makes for the best anti-buddy duo since Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
Standing out from the ensemble cast that also includes Margot Robbie’s best Harley Quinn and David Dastmalchian’s brilliant Polka-Dot Man is Daniel Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2. The team’s runt, she’s a stand-in for DuBois’ daughter. Melchior gives the character so much innocence and charm, and you can’t help but empathize with the one person who shouldn’t have been on the team to begin with.
And that brings us to the essential emotional center of the entire film — the premise that hurt people hurt people.
Over and over, the concept of hurting children is brought up by the various characters who argue over which crime is the worst. It’s the personal trait that defines true villainry in a movie stuffed with bad guys. When Weasel is first introduced, their fatal flaw is how many children they’ve eaten. When the squad is ordered home while an extraterrestrial threat decimates the island, it’s the plea to save the children that spurs the team to disobey Waller.
And that alien starfish that ends up being one of the greatest villains in a comic book movie has its own origins as a child taken from its home in space floating among the stars.
Ultimately, the point is accountability, and the true villain is government policies that place priority on one nation’s wellbeing over the rights of others to have basic security and human rights.
It recalls the child detention centers that have been such a sticking point. I know this is getting political, but there’s a point being made.
When we look back at every war that ever started, we can see that conflicts start where children have suffered.
You probably didn’t think The Suicide Squad would go that deep, but you also probably didn’t expect a superhero movie to look so beautiful. There are moments in the movie that look so surreal, and Gunn somehow finds the extraordinary in the ugliest moments.
The Suicide Squad is revolutionary. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll get it if you watch it.
So do it.
The Suicide Squad (2021)
Directed by: James Gunn
Screenplay by: James Gunn
Starring: Michael Rooker, Viola Davis, John Ostrander, Joel Kinnaman, Nathan Fillion, Jai Courtney, Flula Borg, Mayling Ng, Pete Davidson, Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Sylvester Stallone, Alice Braga, Peter Capaldi, Juan Diego Botto, and Joaquín Cosio