Review: The Suicide Squad (2021)

Premiere Impressions

The Suicide Squad’s marketing has been relentless. This is the one movie this year, so far, that I feel like I just have not been able to escape. The trailer seemed to play at every screening I attended, and the internet has been full of pre-release Suicide Squad content. I open with this for two reasons: one, all the pre-release material really focused on hopeful expectations for a superior sequel; two, the marketing absolutely shaped my viewing experience and my thoughts on the film post-viewing. (This is where I admit that I thought the film looked horrendous from the advertising.)  

The Suicide Squad takes place some undetermined time after the events of the first film, 2016’s critically derided Suicide Squad. In this adventure, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has once again rounded up a group of lesser-known DC villains and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) to save the world under the threat of immediate death. The team in this iteration includes Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchoir), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone—no, seriously). Their mission is to stop the Thinker’s (Peter Capaldi) dangerous experiments on an outer dimensional, giant starfish alien named Starro. Surprisingly, the film makes that seem a lot less ridiculous than it reads.

In terms of expectations, as I mentioned, I was not looking forward to this movie like so many fellow nerds were. I though the trailers made the film look like it was trying too hard, and the humor felt stilted. I am happy to report that the film is actually quite enjoyable for three main reasons: characterization, tone, and, of course, Margot Robbie.

The most successful element of the film is the creation of memorable characters. Screentime is well-balanced between the squad’s primary villains and each character’s backstory is incorporated throughout the film well, instead of layering on exposition at the beginning. Each of the leads are well-rounded enough to more than make-up for their less-than-exciting powers and z-list status. Who would have thought that a character whose power is summoning rat minions would be the heart and soul of a superhero film? This is the area of the film that is most recognizable as an improvement over the previous outing. I really had to use a lot of brain power to remember any characters from the first film that weren’t Waller, Harley, Will Smith, or 30 Seconds to Joker. Each of the leads here, though, is memorable, and any one could be your next fan favorite. I am comfortable going on record saying that the first film is not the dumpster fire it’s made out to be, but the characters are vastly superior in this one.

Tonally, the film strikes a successful balance between its humor, stakes, and zaniness. The film feels like an R-rated film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is a huge compliment here. The characters’ banter and visual gags mostly land, the threat of Waller (mostly due to Davis’s performance) looms, and there is enough sheer goofiness to keep the action light, even when it is quite brutal. King Shark is certainly the most instantly meme-able of the characters, but Polka Dot Man’s nihilistic, trauma humor is certainly a millennial icon.

Margot Robbie continues to prove she is by far the most valuable asset of the DCEU (side note, I still find that “E” unnecessary). As I mentioned in my review of her solo outing (click here), Robbie has perfectly captured the essence of Quinn. She enlivens every scene she appears in here, and even gets her own solo adventure within the larger narrative. Robbie’s Harley should be in every one of DC’s movies. In fact, let’s replace that superfluous “E” with “HQ” to make this the “DC Harley Quinn Universe.”

Post-Screening Snippets

  • King Shark is just a tad too smooth for my comfort—he looks a bit like the animators never quite finished his design
  • A lot of props are being given Gunn’s way for having Harley fully clothed in this movie; the male director bar is low

The Final Tea

Much of the marketing has focused on director James Gunn’s singular vision for the project. This sentiment has been translated directly from the advertising and echoed throughout many of the online reviews about the film. However, I would argue that it is quite challenging to tease out the specific Gunn-ness on display. Gunn has made several good films, but his most famous are, of course, Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel. It feels very much like the authorial oeuvre critics are referring to here are just those two films. In that case, The Suicide Squad does feel like a Gunn film—it absolutely feels like it could be the third film in that franchise. However, nothing in the film actually feels that unique, even if it is a fun ride. Many of the creative choices feel like a blend between Guardians, Deadpool 2, and—sorry, but it’s true—the original Suicide Squad.

GRADE: B+

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