Six years ago, Warner Bros. held a panel at that year’s San Diego Comic-Con, showcasing the first look at David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. That teaser was promising, as it felt like it captured the spirit of the comics it was based on and was going to be a bit more grounded look at Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, El Diablo, Killer Croc, and Enchantress. Then, in January 2016, Warner Bros. Pictures released the first trailer that was the exact opposite of the teaser trailer. Gone was the serious tone, and the moody music was replaced with licensed songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen overscoring the trailer. As you can imagine, this should have been the first red flag. Still, seven months later, I was there opening night to watch Suicide Squad in the hopes that some of that tone was still buried inside the film. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and it was one of the worst films I’d seen in 2016.
A year later, Warner Bros. Pictures announced that instead of directing the sequel, David Ayer would be directing Gotham City Sirens (which is now shelved), with Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn. Various names like Mel Gibson, Ruben Fleischer, Daniel Espinosa, Jonathan Levin, and Jaume Collet-Serra were considered to replace Ayer. However, in July 2017, Collet-Serra left for Jungle Cruise, stating that he’d instead originate a new story than continue an existing franchise.
In October 2018, James Gunn was hired to write and direct the sequel after being dismissed by The Walt Disney Company as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (which he has now returned to) in July 2018 after old controversial Tweets resurfaced.
Three months later, the film was officially titled The Suicide Squad, was scheduled for release on August 6th, 2021, and would be considered a soft reboot.
While James Gunn was figuring out what to do with The Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey
(and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) released on February 7th, 2020, and followed up Harley Quinn’s story from Suicide Squad by breaking up with Joker and joining forces with Black Canary, Huntress, and Renee Montoya.
So, did James Gunn deliver? Yes, and he has once again made the best comic book film of the year, as well as one of the best comic book films in years.
If you’re expecting James Gunn’s Suicide Squad, you’re actually not too far off from the direction takes The Suicide Squad. He takes the humor (and needle drops) from his Guardians of the Galaxy films, borrows some political undertones from the John Ostrander comic book run of Suicide Squad, and utilizes his horror roots.
Furthermore, Gunn doesn’t spend the film’s first half on setting up characters or the plot. Instead, by the time the opening credits roll, we already know who everyone is because Gunn has shown us what they can do, their weakness, how they interact with others, and is thus free to tell the story he wants to tell for the remaining two hours.
The one thing that might confuse you about The Suicide Squad is how Gunn has to write around having characters like Harley Quinn, Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and Amanda Waller return (all with the actors that played them in Suicide Squad) that is trying to acknowledge where the characters have been up to since the 2016 film but is also its own standalone film. You don’t need to have seen the David Ayer film, but it might enhance your enjoyment, if only because you’ll realize about halfway into the film, “Ah, this is what the Suicide Squad movie could have been!”
One example of how Gunn intertwines the history of the returning characters is Harley Quinn, who is again played by Margot Robbie. Since the Ayer-directed Suicide Squad, she appeared in Birds of Prey
(and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and without spoiling the events of that film, there is a great moment with her in The Suicide Squad that is a direct callback to that film. Additionally, she recognizes Captain Boomerang from when they worked together in Suicide Squad.
This time, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has assembled a new Task Force X team to drop off on the shores of a South American island called Corto Maltese. This new Task Force X team is led once again by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, who is much more of a goofball and tactician than he was last time), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) as well as Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion) Javelin (Flula Borg), Mongal (Mayling Ng), and the totally-not-a-werewolf, Weasel (Sean Gunn). On his first mission is Savant (Michael Rooker), who serves as our initial point of view for the film.
That’s not it. There are more than a dozen actors in The Suicide Squad, so you might need some help keeping track of them.
Not spoiling the events of the film, the main characters are Bloodsport (Idris Elba), the DC version of Captain America, Peacemaker (John Cena), the interdimensional Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), the ever-sleepy Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and the best boy King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), who just wants to nom nom on his enemies and be left alone. Once Flag and Quinn join up with these characters, the plot races towards the end, where the team is tasked with destroying any and all evidence of something called Project Starfish.
Framestore, Weta Digital, Trixter, Scanline VFX, and Cantina Creative probably pull off their best work yet with King Shark, the way Bloodsport creates weapons out of his armor, or just crumbling buildings. All of it looks beautiful. Expect to see this film at the 94th Oscars.
Much of Gunn’s musical sensibilities carry over from the Guardians films here. There’s some Johnny Cash, Decemberists, Kansas, K. Flay, a new song by grandson & Jessie Reyez, and so many more tracks that I’ve been listening to just about every day. Does the film need these needle drops in the middle of a scene? No. But I sure do like the way Gunn uses music to bring us into the characters’ minds.
While I ultimately got exhausted by the third act, The Suicide Squad does a lot to take the John Ostrander team and adapt it for the big screen (or TV screen, depending on how you watch it). A lot of love is put into ensuring that the plot or action never feels too heavy to where your brain shuts off and that newcomers to the franchise can simply come in knowing little to nothing about these characters and still have a good time. It reminds me of when Fox released Deadpool or when Warner Bros. released Batman Begins. Sure, they were superhero movies, but you could still enjoy them on their own value. Give James Gunn more superhero movies, please.
Until next time!