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Notes On A Film: The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad and Suicide Squad: the difference between the definite article and its absence – a discussion?

The Suicide Squad is technically a sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad, but you don’t need to know anything about the first film to understand and enjoy the second film (apart from wanting to watch Margo Robbie’s wonderful performance as Harley Quinn for the first time). The David Ayer-directed Suicide Squad received a critical kicking – it’s not good but it’s not as awful as suggested, although I may be biased because I’m a big fan of the John Ostrander-written comic book series (who even gets a cameo in the film) – but it was a success (and introduced Robbie as Harley), so we should be thankful.

The original film was too grim-n-gritty, suffering from the Zack Snyder approach to the DC comic book movies, with lots of visual darkness and too much emphasis on the gritty. This sequel is nothing like that – this film occurs mostly in daylight, for a start, it doesn’t have to take the Snyder angle and doesn’t take itself too seriously – and writer/director James Gunn has produced the perfect comic-book-to-film adaptation of the tone of Ostrander’s original. It’s incredibly violent, incredibly sweary and incredibly funny – a perfect combination.

The success of the film is the ability to understand and capture the tone – it realises that the story is silly but it is not stupid; the film is able to use low-tier supervillains, splatter the screen with viscera and gore, yet provide all the many characters with moments and some depth, while finding time for jokes and even emotional beats. That’s quite a balancing act, but Gunn handles it all with dazzling aplomb – we should be grateful that some idiots went through his Twitter account to find some offensive tweets (for which Gunn had already apologised) that got Gunn fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 by Disney (only to be subsequently rehired) and allow him the time to make this film.

The Suicide Squad (2021) film image

The set-up is familiar: Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) still runs Task Force X, which uses imprisoned supervillains for secret missions in exchange for time off their sentences. Here, she assembles a large team of old and new members: Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Harley Quinn return, but now we have Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Savant (Michael Rooker), T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Mongal (Mayling Ng), Javelin (Flula Borg), Weasel (Sean Gunn), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone). It’s a mission on the fictional island nation of Corto Maltese to infiltrate an old Nazi stronghold, so the team is split into two groups. And the first group is slaughtered in graphic fashion in the first few minutes of the film, all part of Waller’s plan and part of covering up secrets upon secrets, just in case you thought that some of the big names would reach the end of the film. It’s a bold opening gambit and sets the tone for the film.

The character interplay is what makes you care about the characters and find out what happens. The bickering between Bloodsport and Peacemaker (the ‘douchey Captain America’) over who is the best killer is a particular delight, Elba’s world-weariness in contrasts to Cena’s total commitment to the role of annoying blowhard with the silly toilet-seat helmet. Robbie steals the show as Harley Quinn again – her escape from the presidential palace is a highlight, as she shoots her way out and each kill is accompanied by an explosion of dayglo flowers – but the smaller roles also enrich the film. Melchior is a standout as someone who inherited the ability to control rats from her father (Taika Waititi in a flashback), but who bonds with the other members of the team. Dastmalchian is wonderfully odd as Polka-Dot Man with his seeming death wish and a bizarre obsession with his overbearing mother. Even Stallone’s voice work as King Shark is charming, despite the fact that the character keeps on eating people.

This film is James Gunn off the leash – it’s a visual extravaganza, with some brilliantly inventive camerawork and use of CGI, matched to a great soundtrack (as usual), with his outrageous sense of humour but also sincerity, allowed to make a film the way he wants to make it with material he cares for and knows how to achieve the best from all involved. It’s zany one minute, brutal the next, then emotional, and then you get a giant alien starfish walking through a city and controlling its inhabitants (what a world we live in where we have Starro as the threat in a DCEU film, and it wasn’t even in a Justice League film). This is ‘The Dirty Dozen but with supervillains’ that Gunn set out to make, with all dials turned up to 11 and embracing the absurd. It’s fantastically entertaining and I would be happy to see Gunn come back to make another Squad film (if he wasn’t already so busy).

Rating: DAVE

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