Gunn nails the tone in this DC supervillain do-over

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | August 6, 2021

The Suicide Squad
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3 out of 5

There’s a key difference between the previous and current incarnations of DC’s Suicide Squad that isn’t directly about the two films’ respective quality.

In David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad, the government, embodied by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), had the common good in mind when it sent society’s worst criminal elements into battle.

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, on the other hand, doesn’t think highly of the powers-to-be. In fact, it depicts them as lazy and inept. Yes, Waller is still a force to be reckoned with, but she’s more interested covering her behind than saving the world and she has zero qualms about sacrificing supervillains as long as it gets her team closer to the objective.

And so it is that The Suicide Squad dares to ask: why be loyal to a country that literally wants you dead? It doesn’t really have an answer, but this cynical approach obviously works much better for the anarchistic, antihero-packed source material.

The mission this time — bring down a dictator who might be hiding a kaiju — is also more geared for a fun ride than the last film, where they fought… a witch? Sure. And instead of wasting half the movie introducing villains who are guaranteed to die, Gunn does the smart thing and allows the characters’ traits to emerge throughout the mission, even as they’re killed. Not unlike what he did with Guardians of the Galaxy.

Because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the characters are way more fun than Ayer’s hard-assed dullards. As the theoretical leading man, Bloodsport, Idris Elba doesn’t care as much about coming across as a bad guy, unlike Will Smith who tediously needed moral justifications for his murders. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) gets a poignant monologue that in three minutes moves her character forward more than the entirety of Birds of Prey. John Cena is a hoot as Peacemaker, basically a libertarian on steroids. David Dastmalchian as the Polka-Dot Man makes the audience squirm with his mommy issues. The Suicide Squad even transforms Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) from a total bore into a guy worth rooting for (though at your own peril).

Maybe it didn’t need to be two hours 12 minutes long but for the most part, The Suicide Squad earns its length. One last thing: expect Cancel Culture warriors to be angry about a number of things. If they weren’t, the Troma-educated Gunn (remember, this is the guy who made Slither) wouldn’t be doing his job.