More of a soft reboot than sequel, The Suicide Squad is James Gunn’s R-rated, DCEU redemption story in more ways than one. It probably won’t save the world, but it just might save the summer blockbuster season.
What a difference a filmmaker makes. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was certainly a box office success in 2016, but it confounded critics and fans for its awkward storytelling and gawdy visual style. Aside from establishing Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn as a pop culture icon, many found little reason to get all that excited for another entry.
Then came James Gunn, fresh off his success with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but also some manufactured controversy involving old tweets, far-right agitators, and a bunch of other details no one should give a damn about. After a sudden expulsion from working with Disney (which would eventually be reversed, thankfully), Gunn was tapped by Warner Bros. to take on the Suicide Squad sequel.
A Gunn-ho take.
It made total sense for everyone involved, considering how the first Suicide Squad tried so hard to fashion itself as the DCEU’s answer to Marvel’s ragtag team of anti-heroes who get to be a little more edgy and crass than the typical superhero team. And if anything, this new movie probably borrows more of its style and humor from Deadpool.
The Guardians movies always suffered a huge disadvantage from having mostly unknown characters at the forefront, so what’s the first obvious sign that something is massively different with Gunn’s interpretation? Well, almost everyone in The Suicide Squad is a new character, but also someone virtually unknown to the vast majority of casual moviegoers.
This is the first sign that Gunn is in a real comfort zone from the moment The Suicide Squad gets rolling. A team of the usual supervillains gets rounded up by Amanda Waller (once again played by Viola Davis, because seriously, who else?) to embark on a highly dangerous mission. They’re expendables, if you will, because if they survive, they lose some time on their prison sentence. If they die? Well, that’s sort of the point of the name.
So, what, we some new kind of Suicide Squad?
Like the previous movie, The Suicide Squad focuses on just one mission and lets the baddies go from there. We have a much bigger cast of comic book oddities to meet and interact with, though you can expect some to be far more important and well-realized than others, which is sort of the point.
To avoid making this action comedy too crowded, Gunn structures most of the main plot around a core group led by the mercenary known as Bloodsport (Idris Elba), joined by the jingoistic Peacemaker (John Cena), who amusingly shares a lot of the same skills and even backstory as Bloodsport, so the two naturally butt heads.
There’s Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), the token Millennial who can control rats. Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), whose quirky powers wonderfully match his mommy issues. And finally King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), the Groot archetype of the squad, though far more brutal in his own instantly gif-worthy way.
Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, still up to her clownish tricks and thriving in her post-Birds of Prey canon. And Joel Kinnaman gets a surprising refresh as the team’s field leader and only non-criminal. He’s still the same self-serious voice of reason as he was in the last film, but you can tell Gunn found room to make him at least a notch more interesting and engaging than before.
You either die a villain…or join Task Force X.
The Suicide Squad is bizarrely smart for being such a chaotic, blood-drenched thrill ride. There’s a clear formula at play here for how each of the characters gets a fundamental arc, some beats and downtime to establish stakes outside of the mission, and more than enough set pieces to highlight their goofy powers and how they organically grow as a team over time. Their journey from strangers to endearing coworkers is a smashing one, but also an overlong experience that may exhaust some viewers.
Still, it’s easy to champion this film as the prime example of a studio trusting the director instead of a focus group reacting positively to needle drops in a movie trailer. When given the freedom, a director as talented as Gunn is going to find ways to infuse his own dark, comedic tone into a whole new universe without it feeling like the B-side to what he’s done before. the result is one of the best comic-book movies of the last few years, and easily the best DC one since Christopher Nolan had his hands on some of these characters.
The Suicide Squad opens in theaters August 6. It will also be available to stream on HBO Max for 30 days starting August 6. You can watch the full trailer here.