By: Elliott Garske
All the way back in 2016, a movie called Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer, was released. Needless to say, it did not exactly receive the best critical reception in the world. Sitting at a mouth gapingly low 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie is regarded as one of the worst comic book movies ever released, and it really deserves it. Now, 5 years later in the great ol’ year of 2021, we finally have a movie that deserves the title of The Suicide Squad.
The Suicide Squad, James Gunn’s most recent film, in almost every way possible, is a vastly better movie compared to its earlier counterpart.
The movie starts off with a brief introduction to how Task Force X (the Suicide Squad’s official name) works before getting an even briefer introduction to dozens of different characters. These include Blackguard, played by SNL star Pete Davidson, Savant, played by Michael Rooker, and returning characters Captain Boomerang, Colonel Rick Flag, and Harley Quinn played by Jai Courtney, Joel Kinnaman, and Margot Robbie respectively. About 10 minutes later, after a great comedic scene, everyone except Harley Quinn and Rick Flag die horribly gruesome deaths, as it turns out that Blackguard had actually betrayed them before the mission started.
After that nice, jarring start, it then cuts to show another team showing up on the beach; I’ll call them the B team. The B team consists of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), King Shark (Sylvestor Stallone), and Polka Dot Man (Daniel Dastmalchian). They arrive on a completely empty beach, where we learn that the A team was simply a distraction while they complete the actual mission. As they all walk up to the beach, the title appears behind them, and “People Who Died” by The Jim Carroll Band plays.
Now, for an introduction scene to a Suicide Squad story, this is actually perfect. For those who don’t know the nature of most Suicide Squad stories in the comics, almost everyone will die during the course of a team’s story. Having over half the cast die in the first 10 minutes just reinforces the main motto of the movie, “Don’t get too attached”. The squad is built to be expendable, as every member is a probably unknown or ridiculous super-villain that has been imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison, and has been offered or blackmailed into the team for 10 years off their current prison sentence. If they disobey orders in any way, the bomb in the base of their skull goes BOOM.
With the ending of such a great scene comes an unexpected time-jump, to 3 days earlier, using a creative “3 days earlier” written in soap bubbles on a metal toilet seat. This scene is where the aforementioned B team is actually introduced and the audience is given the actual plot of the movie. Task Force X has to infiltrate the country of Corto Maltese, which has just gone through a regime change to a dictator who is very anti-American. With that, they must also destroy all the information on something called Project Starfish. To do so, they have to infiltrate the heavily fortified laboratory known as Jotunnheim by kidnapping a top scientist, known as The Thinker.
Once we are informed of the true plot of the movie, another amazing establishing shot with palm fronds blown into text saying “NOW”, shows the team walking over the beach and into the jungle where the main plot finally gets going. Now, you may have noticed that I’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on title cards and the like, I do so because of just how amazing this movie is at truly being the definition of a comic book movie.
The way that the movie is shot is so well done, that you could take any screenshot of the movie, and turn it into a comic book panel. From some of the most colorful scenes shown in comic book movies in general, to some amazing establishing shots where text is shown in inventive ways, such as written in the clouds or written in fire, only to be blown out and the lingering smoke revealing different text.
Another little tangent on how this movie is shot, there is almost never a static shot in the entire movie. The camera is always moving in refreshing ways. For example, during a fight scene later in the movie, there’s a long shot that shows the fight from a reflection in Peacemaker’s helmet. I don’t think there’s been a movie since Thor, back in 2011, that has gone out of it’s way to emulate a comic book, but this time it actually worked.
After the squad walks through the jungle for a scene or two, we cut to what is probably the one problem I have with this movie: the Harley Quinn b plot. Harley isn’t actually a part of the main story until the third act, and for the times before she joins the rest of the crew for the climax, she gets taken to the leader of Corto Maltese and actually falls in love with him. She then kills him after an exposition dump where he reveals he would do anything it takes to stop America, including killing children, which is a huge red flag. She then gets taken again and tortured by said dead leader’s successor, until the rest of the gang decides to break her out. It’s then revealed she had already broken out, right as they were about to start their plan.
My issue with Harley’s scenes is how they barely service the story in any way. While the other scenes that seem to be there for pure comedic effect actually give character development and minor story bits, all Harley’s scenes amount to is just something for her to do. Even the character development they try to give her is just rehashes of things from the other two movies she’s been in. It’s like halfway through filming they realized she didn’t have any scenes until the third act, so they just made up some, which inadvertently slows down the movie.
Once Harley rejoins back up with the rest of the squad though, the movie goes back to being great. After they successfully break into Jotunheim, the team learns that they were sent there to make sure nobody finds out that America was behind Project Starfish from the start, and also the big bad guy of the film: Starro the Conqueror. Starro is an old villain from the Justice League comics who can use mind control to make people follow his will, and usually has the League fight amongst themselves. While he doesn’t actually do that (kind of wish he did though), what he does instead is use mini starfishes to control almost an entire city and create a sort of zombie army that our main characters have to fight through in order to actually defeat Starro.
After defeating Starro, the surviving members use the information that America was behind Starro the whole time, to blackmail their way into freedom as they ride off on the same chopper they arrived in.
As a whole, The Suicide Squad is probably the best movie that has been put out in the DCEU. The amount of creativity and freedom that James Gunn was allowed by Warner Bros. no doubt had a huge impact on just how fantastic it was, especially after how horribly they interfered with 2016’s Suicide Squad. The movie manages to be one of the most colorful comic movies out there, even when going against some of Marvel’s latest outputs. If this is anything to go off of how DC is moving forward, with not only the DCEU, but their films as a whole, I would start getting excited for their upcoming projects.