For something called The Suicide Squad, this movie sure does a fantastic job breathing fresh air into the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). In James Gunn’s newest action-packed blockbuster, the Suicide Squad is sent to the island country of Corto Maltese in a search-and-destroy assignment. As expected, mischief and mayhem ensue, as DC’s most dangerous supervillains face-off with even bigger bads.
While its predecessor, Suicide Squad, is infamous for being a hit or miss with critics, fans are ready to see what their favorite villains are now up to. The Suicide Squad, as a “standalone sequel”, is an exercise in absurdity that steps out of the shadow of its predecessor and delivers salvation to the DCEU.
From the golden age
The film is a stark contrast to the films released under the “DC Dark Age.” Instead of near-monochrome color palettes, serious themes, and often unhumorous delivery, the movie beautifully follows in the footsteps of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (2019) with a colorful and campy premise.
The unrepentant psychedelic colors of the costumes and special effects defy the dreary environment, symbolizing the new vibrant energy. But, then, just when you think you’ll be getting your standard action movie fare, text written in clouds and other wacky fonts would flit across the screen—as if you’re seeing an actual comic page brought to life: text, explosions, and all.
Misfits and mayhem
What’s surprisingly interesting is the chemistry between the oddly mismatched ensemble cast. Instead of going for more well-known and iconic villains, Amanda Waller (fantastically portrayed by Viola Davis) enlists the help of off-putting, lesser-known DC villains for her morally dubious schemes.
For one, John Cena’s extremist character Peacemaker plays off well with Idris Elba’s Bloodsport. Elba isn’t what I’d call the strongest leading man by any means, but he makes an effective perpetually exasperated character—fitting for one who has to lead Task Force X.
The young Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) is essentially the heart of the film, charmingly selling her character’s tragic backstory with an endearing touch. King Shark, referred to as “Nanaue”, voiced by Sylvester Stallone, is another scene-stealer as Stallone runs with the childlike characterization and plays it up.
Meanwhile, Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) is considered one of the “dumbest” DC villains of all time, yet turns into a sympathetic figure as the movie goes on. Dastmalchian solidly defines Polka Dot Man as a bumbling, lanky ball of anxiety from his very first scene and only some of the oddness of the film comes from his main power being polka dots that regularly need to be expelled from his body.
Of course, Margot Robbie returns to give Harley Quinn all of the zestful, crazed-induced energy fans all know and love. As the only recurring villain, Harley further realizes her character arc—breaking free literally and figuratively from the chains of abusive, powerful men while maintaining her dopey grin and penchant for chaos.
Despite the interesting choice of characters, each exudes a personality that audiences can admire and even empathize with. In addition, the cast meshes well together, and their explosive chemistry onscreen is nothing short of entertaining.
Despite some of the movie’s stellar utilization of these mostly unknowns, the pacing—irreverent, fast-paced, shameless, and yet beautifully emotional in the best of times—ends up stumbling in some parts for the same reason. Having to tell all of these stories within two hours is expectedly challenging, and at times, it shows.
There were many times the movie had to resort to telling-not-showing to get things going and give the characters depth but half the jokes do not land very well at all. In addition, The Suicide Squad has a simple plot that might be easily predictable in its barebones if you look through all the colors and spectacle.
The clever script, rapid pacing, and mesmerizing cinematography work together to keep the viewer distracted from noticing the lapses in storytelling—it works for the most part, except for some intended emotional scenes that feel abruptly inserted in the middle of two violence-heavy parts.
Regardless of The Suicide Squad’s fun-but-flawed execution, it never loses sight of the dreaded conflict its cast faces. Surprisingly for a gory action film such as this, the themes of revolution against a tyrant—whether against imperialism, deception, or even just your incredibly uptight boss—were pulled off beautifully. Most, if not all of those scenes, felt natural and deserved.
The story is truly at its best when it leans into how the characters’ personal journeys intersect. The familiar charm of seemingly irredeemable misfits coming together, the ragtag civilians standing up against a ruthless government, and just people having fun are undeniably one of the film’s strengths.
Stars in shadows
All of these elements truly bring Gunn’s creative genius to life—making a completely ridiculous yet terrifyingly serious film. It doesn’t try to be deep, which has been the pitfall of many superhero movies. But, quite frankly, with the masterful technique of the entire production team, it doesn’t need to.
Further, it delivers on the promise of a unique experience by setting up well-choreographed action scenes that are exhilaratingly different from the prevalent punch-kick-evade sequence typically found in action films. This movie, again, knows how mismatched its cast and all its elements are, and it thrives on that idea.
It was more than refreshing to see another movie adaptation truly just have fun and go back to its roots in the Golden and Silver Age of comics. These technical aspects alone make it shine on its own merit.
This is not a movie for those who seek the dark and edgy tone of the DC Dark Age. But, it certainly is artistically all the better for it. Rapidly paced, colorful, and silly at the best of times, The Suicide Squad came out gun(n)s blazing to prove that perhaps, embracing the campiness and outrageousness of DC’s darker comics would set the stage for a bolder phase.
The DCEU is slowly exploring what its franchises are capable of, and it’s only a matter of time until more artistically daring pieces like this are released. With such an unpredictable asset falling on their laps, we can only wait eagerly and wonder what comes next for this gaggle of characters and the entirety of DC studios.