The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad 2021
It still feels kind of good to be going back to theaters despite the returning dread for the unusually large group of unvaccinated masses that may force the rest of us back into some form of lockdown or at least a return to mask wearing. But besides all of that I did make it to my local theater rather than spending the $15 or however much it is to get a month of HBO Max and watch this film at home like so many people out there decided to do. I did quite enjoy the experience and I even shelled out the extra cash to see this on an IMAX screen though I was slightly underwhelmed as well as slightly nauseated from the opening scene. The picture was very clear and sharp, but I didn’t feel that much of a difference between a regular digital projection, and at least this specific IMAX screen. It’s also unclear as to how well the movie is doing in terms of popularity as most of the critical reviews as well as most personal reviews from people I know have been extremely positive, but the actual box office numbers are quite low. It’s likely largely a factor of the HBO Max availability at no extra charge with small contributions from the Covid resurgence and the poor reception and unclear differentiation from the previous Suicide Squad film. But all of that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, what really matters is that I had a grand time watching this film and am ready to discuss it in full, including the large number of gruesome deaths that take place. So if you’d rather be surprised by who lives and who dies, read no further. The rest of you, enjoy.
There is some discussion as to the fact that this movie is neither a sequel nor a reboot, but let’s face it. It is absolutely a sequel. There is nothing in this film that overwrites what happened in the first Suicide Squad and everything that happens could very conceivably have happened a few years after the first movie with no huge jumps in logic. The tone and style change are things that have always happened in sequels. But first and foremost, this has become a James Gunn movie through and through. There has been a definite shift in the past few movies towards something with more visual flair and humor and Gunn was the perfect choice to follow up with the shifts made by Cathy Yan in the previous movie Birds of Prey. Gunn was allowed total freedom and brought in so many third and fourth string characters, yet there is an absolute love of these characters and the comics that introduced them that you can’t help but see that come across even as they are gruesomely killed right before your eyes.
Some people might question the decision to go for the extreme violence and occasional brief nudity, both female and male, but this is one of the few storylines where it fits and it works. This isn’t a heroic story, this is a low down, dirty mission of a movie filled with villains and those in charge don’t care whether or not they live or die. In fact, it’s likely that in Amanda Waller’s mind, the best case scenario would be if they successfully complete the mission, yet all die in the process. It works because it’s villains against worse villains led by arguably the worst villain of them all in Waller herself. She wastes no time at all showing how far she is willing to go to get the results she’s after as she extorts Idris Elba’s Bloodsport into joining the group by insinuating that she will make sure his teenaged daughter busted for a minor theft would get sent to Belle Reve, the prison with the highest mortality rate.
Despite the fact that all the characters in The Suicide Squad with the exception of Rick Flag are villains, the movie does a good job at making them all sympathetic to a certain degree. Bloodsport is very similar to Deadshot in the last movie as a soldier for hire with his own personal moral guidelines that don’t always line up with the law. John Cena’s Peacemaker is a mirror to Bloodsport, the film even makes a joke that their backstories and abilities are nearly identical. The main difference is that Peacemaker’s morals actually line up much more closely to Waller’s especially when he turns on the team at the end to complete the mission rather than do what the other characters believe is right. Ratcatcher II is the most sympathetic as she is more or less the least violent of the group, she controls rats and has a very emotive and friendly rat named Sebastian around her at all times. King Shark, or Nanaue as he’s mostly referred to throughout the film is basically a big, loveable oaf who occasionally eats people whole. He looks absolutely gorgeous as a fully CGI character using motion capture from Steve Agee and voicework from Sylvester Stallone. He has plenty of quiet moments where they are somehow able to elicit emotion from his solid, black eyes and monosyllabic vocabulary. Polka Dot Man was another surprisingly sympathetic character based on the absolute dregs of DC characters. They gave a villain who throws polka dots at people a very sympathetic backstory where a child of a scientist was experimented on and given this extra terrestrial virus that gives him his powers but also is always on the verge of destroying him. He has depression and extreme resentment of his mother which is visually used to hilarious results as the audience gets to see him project the image of his mother onto the giant starfish monster at the climax of the film. He is also one of only two casualties in the group of villains we follow through most of the movie and his death was appropriate, but also quite predictable within the context of this movie where he gets smashed directly after his brief moment of triumph.
Out of all of the characters, Harley Quinn is one who needs to have her own section to discuss. Margot Robbie has played her in only three DC movies and yet she has made a huge impact on the role, more or less making it her own. In a relatively short time, the character has evolved quite a bit from a Joker fangirl, to an independent-yet-still-crazy villain in Birds of Prey, to… well she’s actually pretty much the same character here as she was in Birds of Prey, and credit to Cathy Yan and Margot Robbit for getting her here. She is now the property of no one, as evidenced by her adjusted tattoo, and while she is more of a side character in this film she still gets several moments of her own to shine. In fact, as the only surviving member of the first Suicide Squad group she spends a lot of time as an outsider rather than a member of the team. We get to see her romance the disposable corrupt government leader, but she really comes into her own during her escape from captivity, killing her captor with her legs before using her feet to grab the key and free herself. She then goes into a cartoon enhanced killing spree to escape the compound while blood becomes flower petals and cartoon birds through her eyes. And yet when all is said and done, she acts like it was just a regular day.
There does have to be a few comparisons to the first Suicide Squad, one of the complains was about the needle drop aspect of many of the songs, and while Gunn is known for his taste in iconic-yet-nostalgic songs, after kicking the movie off with Johnny Cash’s Fulsom Prison Blues, the songs never felt like the focus of the scene. Instead, they felt more complementary and rarely detracted from what was going on, even if you knew the song quite well. The backstories and visual text on screen were also more subtle. Ratcatcher II has a great moment when she is going into her backstory and it’s presented initially through the reflection of the bus window they are all riding in. The on screen text is also diagetic as blood, needles, or fire forms the words to let the audience know where they are in place and time as the narrative occasionally jumps backwards a few days or hours. This film really lets the audience know what it’s going to be from the opening scene where the entire group save for Harley and Flag get brutally killed, and the tone doesn’t let up from there. It’s darkly comedic throughout, but the characters have enough sympathy going for them to keep you invested through the end. It’s not quite up there with Birds of Prey, but it’s pretty close and a far cry better than most of the early dour offerings of the DCEU. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.