Movie Review: “The Suicide Squad”

It would be wrong to think that James Gunn has taken, wholesale, his work on the two “Guardians of the Galaxy” Marvel movies and simply moved the concepts over to DC for their “Suicide Squad” sequel, “The Suicide Squad” (yes, really, that’s the name of the sequel). By the same token, it would be equally wrong to not recognize many of Gunn’s stylistic flourishes in this DCEU movie as being similar to those offered up in his MCU work. Heck, he even went so far as to cast some of the same actors from “Guardians” in “Suicide Squad.”

None of this is a slight on the movies (new or old). Instead, it offers useful entry point to discuss “The Suicide Squad,” because thinking about it like an R-rated version of “Guardians of the Galaxy” helps convey not just some of what is taking place in the movie, but how it all unfolds as well. For both films, essentially, you’ve got a ragtag bunch of anti-heroes who are banding together (by choice or not) to do something that is going to help the world (or galaxy). Furthermore, Gunn maintains his use of humor, offers up a plethora of needle drops, directs excellent action sequences, and still has some problems actually delivering a coherent story and deep character moments. This last in fact occurs with a number of characters in “The Suicide Squad.”

After 2020’s “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” Margot Robbie’s appearance here is a notable comedown. Partially that is due to this being an ensemble effort and partially it’s just because even when she is on screen, she doesn’t have a lot to do. When her hero moments arrive, they’re great, but watching it one can’t help but feel like Robbie, even with this largely new cast, is still the standout and deserves more time.

Also returning from the original “Suicide Squad” film is Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, and Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller. They are joined by an incredibly large number of folks including (but certainly not limited to) Idris Elba (as Bloodsport), John Cena (as Peacemaker), Daniela Melchior (as Ratcatcher 2), Pete Davidson (as Blackguard), Michael Rooker (as Savant), Nathan Fillion (as T.D.K.), Sylvester Stallone (the voice of King Shark, who on set was played by Steve Agee), David Dastmalchian (as Polka-Dot Man), and Peter Capaldi (as Thinker).

Attempting to give everyone their due in such a large cast is exceptionally difficult, so while Courtney might get exactly what he deserves, others come up short. This isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, but when characters aren’t developed properly and then needed for big moments later in the movie, it certainly becomes one. Such is the case with both Rick Flag and Thinker. The former is one of the leaders of the Squad and just isn’t given enough depth for some of the decisions he’s forced to make as things unfold. One can assume that he’s been affected by the previous film, but none of that is addressed, the sequel simply has no time. It also fails to develop Thinker as anyone worth matching the Squad up against. This is supposedly a truly super-intelligent human being and the audience sits there and waits for him to do something… anything, really. He is far more acted upon without a comeback of any sort than a thinker. Capaldi brings the same sort of manic energy he often imparted on “Doctor Who,” but Thinker could really be excised from the whole affair without changing much at all.

Perhaps the true standout in the film is Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man. He is not only interesting, but we get a true sense of why he is the way he is and he becomes a sympathetic character as we learn about him. Gunn is able to actually give the character depth without losing any of the humor he attaches to him early on. As with everyone else, you end up wanting more of Polka-Dot Man, but (yet again) such is the peril of an ensemble picture.

Portions of the middle of “The Suicide Squad”—the bits one could argue are really about building character—tend to feel a bit laggy as they’re a huge adjustment in tempo from the early action sequences and the ones the audience knows are coming in the future. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is a tendency when exploring our anti-heroes to stick to a surface level rendering.

It may sound like simply giving the movie a pass, skipping over the notions of story and character development, to finish by concluding that the movie is fun and Gunn’s propensity for needle drops still works and that there’s plenty of blood and guts and Starro to go around. But, there is some character development, this mainly with Bloodsport who takes on a lead role in the Squad, much to his chagrin. His relationship with both Ratcatcher 2 and Peacemaker are telegraphed from the beginning, but at least there’s a logical build there as opposed to having nothing at all occur.

If you don’t particularly like the “Guardians of the Galaxy” comparison made in the opening paragraph, try this one – do you remember that great “Bohemian Rhapsody” trailer WB offered up for the first “Suicide Squad” film, the one that made the picture look bloody and dark, yes, but a whole lot of fun? What Gunn has done with “The Suicide Squad” is to come closer to delivering on that promise than the original movie did.

This is decidedly a crowd-pleaser of a film. It is loud and bloody and full of humor (and more than a few f-bombs). Parts are off the wall insane and parts are tedious. People will leave the theater happy, but repeat viewings may disappoint as any in-depth examination can’t help but point out the hollow nature of it all.

photo credit: Warner Bros.

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