The Suicide Squad Review: A Violent Love Letter to the Outsider and Hope

Four Star Rating: ***½ 
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, David Dastmatchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson
Director: James Gunn
Screenplay: James Gunn
Based on: Characters from DC
Producers: Charles Roven, Peter Safran
Music by: John Murphy
Cinematographer: Henry Braham
Editor: Fred Raskin, Christian Wagner
Production Company: DC Films, Atlas Entertainment, The Safran Company
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Genre: Action/Adventure/Comedy/Fantasy/Crime
Rated: 14A (Ontario)/R (United States) - Graphic Violence, Coarse Language, Mature Themes
Release Date: July 30, 2021 (UK)/ August 5, 2021 (North American)
Run Time: 132 minutes

I am way late on this but hinted in my smorgasbord of reviews article that I wanted to do a full review for James Gunn's foray into the DC universe and the kind-of-but-not-really sequel, The Suicide Squad.

Gunn creates a motion picture that many were hoping and expecting with the 2016 version, but this time delivering a colourful, in-your-face, subversive and gory actioner stuffed with both dark and slapstick comedy. The magic of Gunn is that most movies that are this violent and use that violence as a source of humour would usually turn out to be mean-spirited and cynical, but all these elements come together to champion the outsider and have a powerful message about acceptance and compassion. 

Most violent and edgy comedic actioners feel forced when they try to put in messages about hope and love after most of the run time is driven by disregard for life, but it works due to Gunn showing empathy towards the characters and giving them real time to develop as characters and build relationships with each other. There is a very dark joke about one character being able to kill the enemy because he pictures them all as his mother, while that is morbid, the movie lets that one-off gag build towards seeing how each member of this ragtag team has struggled with rejection and working through painful pasts. It is the hurts that unite them, but also is what allows them to start accepting each other.

It is a powerful message that modern times needs to hear in a time where we're more prone to battle with each rather than seek understanding. It delicately expands that major theme while blasting out one of the more insane and funny adventures about a squad trying to destroy a McGuffin tower of a tyrannical regime. It is the The Dirty Dozen sprayed with packs of Skittle populated by Saturday Morning Cartoon characters that are on an acid trip. It is the only movie that I can think of where main monster is a giant starfish from space, which is absolutely absurd and fits in this crazy movie because Gunn pulls off making Starro the Conqueror fearsome and dangerous despite it also making you chuckle.

Viola Davis returns as Amanda Waller who once again assembles a team of criminals with the promise that their sentence will be reduced if they succeed on their life or death mission. Davis plays a very complicated characters she truly believes in her cause, and justifies causalities and damage as necessary to protect America, but she has a heartless and cold energy that burns away from the start of the picture. Clearly, the movie is showing how some wars and agendas of the government may not all be noble despite how some may try to convince themselves. and you can sense the echoes of the futility and dangers of war that often were explored in most past Vietnam pictures.

Another significant return is Margot Robbie in the role of Harley Quinn, and while Warner Bros. may try, I can't see how in the future you could ever cast anyone else in the role of this character. Robbie has immersed herself into this role and somehow juggles being a complete unhinged psycho while also being endearing, lovable, cheerful and kind. There is a lot of nuances that Robbie brings to Quinn as she is this high-energy extrovert that also shows moments of being fragile and deeply broken. Robbie has created one of the most fascinating comic book characters ever, and it is no shock that she recently declared she will take a break from the character, because she throws so much emotional energy into the role. In a fair world. she would be getting serious Oscar consideration, but I'm doubtful voters will bother with a popcorn muncher.

Who doesn't return is Will Smith, but he is kind of replaced by Idris Elba who is playing a different character called Bloodsport, but is a similar character who is an excellent marksman who is trying to repair his severed relationship with his daughter (played by Storm Reid). Elba's great here as he delivers the witty and humorous Gunn dialogue, but also comes off as a hardened figure who is trying to conceal his hurt and damage.

What really elevates this movie above just being a silly b-movie schlockfest is Gunn's empathy for the outsider and looking at how we can heal ourselves through taking the time to connect with each other. Elba does a great job at making Bloodsport seem that he only cares about himself, but pulls off several intimate moments where he shows compassion and deeply cares about his team. There is an especially touching dynamic between Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), as she breaks through his tough exterior and he becomes a father figure for her.

There also more comedic relationships as Quinn and Bloodsport play-off each other doing the routine of classic comedy teams like Abbott and Costello. John Cena's Peacemaker has a rivalry with Bloodsport where they both try to one-up the other by the number of kills that they make and how they end up doing them. Peacemaker is probably Cena's best performance on the big screen as he gets to delve into his comedic skills that he proved in movies like Trainwreck and Blockers, but also shows a tormented figure who clearly wants to do right but is torn by a distorted sense of justice that has been implanted into him. 

Considering Gunn is the man that brought us the smart aleck racoon and his best buddy the walking tree that just says his name over and over, you expect some oddball and eccentric characters. The aforementioned Ratcatcher 2 has the technology to control rats and have them do her bidding. Polka Dot Man may be considered one of the lamest Batman villains ever, but here he is actually interesting as a victim of an experiment gone wrong that now has an infection where he is overcome with polka dots that he must expel from his body as deadly weapons. Sylvester Stallone voices King Shark who is exactly what the name would imply, and has a lust for human flesh but also friendship. You also have Weasel who is a crazed anthropomorphic weasel and a scene stealer. Nathan Fillion plays TDK who has the odd ability of having his arms detach from him/

These are all the weirder and often forgotten characters from the DC comics, but that is what we love about Gunn, he embraces and loves those type of characters. He gives real life to them, and makes them rise above their initial goofy and jokey superpowers and designs. King Shark provide some of the bloodier and funnier kills as he east his victims, but he also is one of the most endearing characters with his innocence, and one of the great moments is his reaction when offered friendship. Ratcatcher 2 is someone who is broken over losing her father, but becomes the heart of this movie as she creates a bond with each character on the team.

On top of masterfully blending heartfelt character moments with over-the-top comedic gory action, The Suicide Squad stands out as fresh from a technical aspect compared to most of the other big event movies this summer. Cinematographer Henry Braham starts the picture with a gloomier and dark colour palate to set-the tone of those old-school hard nosed team off on a mission pictures, but then the colours start bursting through with an energy and sick joy to the spree of violence that shows the other side of the character's personality. The scene where Harley Quinn takes out an army with her javelin is one of the most memorable of the year because it embodies exactly what is likely going through her mind at that moment.

There is a playfulness to the picture with how they decide to inform us when we're in new locations or another chapters of the story or where these events are in the timeline. It makes the movie feel almost like an adult cartoon, but also adds to its irreverence. 

Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, the soundtrack drops a collection of classic songs and cult favourites. The music helps add the emotions and energy of the action and scenes by not reverting to obvious choices. It is never distracting or overwhelming, but the music choices add to the characters and moments. Plus, it is just a great and fun soundtrack, and this is a movie aiming for fun.

The biggest issue with The Suicide Squad comes from one of its biggest strengths, which is its constant seeking for jokes and being bizarre. There are a few gags here that when you give a bit of thought, it takes away from the emotional moment or becomes much darker when you think it through. The movie has a couple of scenes designed to shock that harms the storytelling a bit and hampers what could have been stronger character moments. But this is a very small criticism, and one that didn't come until I had a bit of time to sit with the movie. This easily stands up as the best movie I've seen in the theatre this year (Raya and the Last Dragon remains the best, but I saw that on Disney Plus).

So, the inevitable question is where does this one fit amongst the DCEU. Without giving much thought or revisiting any of the other movies, I'd say starting with the best it goes Wonder Woman, The Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, Aquaman, Shazam!, Man of Steel, Joker, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, Suicide Squad (2016). I should note here, I haven't yet got around to seeing either the Snyder Cut of Justice League or Wonder Woman 1984. At this point, I rank The Suicide Squad as one of the best DCEU and better than quite a few of the MCU movies as well.

This isn't going to be for everyone. It is R-rated and as I haven't hidden, it is very violent. The humour at times is really dark and there may be some twists that are unsettling if you give them actual thought. If you look past that, and see what James Gunn is trying to say, then it is one of the most uplifting and hopeful movies of the year. These outsiders find a family and push themselves to be better people, and that is something worth celebrating and taking to heart.