James Gunn’s ‘The Suicide Squad’ Subverts Superhero Genre Fatigue

From Left to Right: David Dastmalchian, John Cena, Idris Elba, and Daniela Melchior in The Suicide Squad

One thing I appreciate about the D.C. Extended Universe (DCEU) is how each of the series’ films feel stylistically and tonally unique from one another. Subtract the examples of studio interference gone wrong, such as the original cut of Justice League (2017) or David Ayers’ Suicide Squad (2016), and you’ve got a diverse range of fun, entertaining films. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017) is distinctly its own. James Wan’s Aquaman (2018) is distinctly its own. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) is distinctly its own. And now, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (2021) is distinctly its own. The Suicide Squad is a blend of the hyperbolic violence and crude humor of Deadpool (2016) and makes good use of the film’s soundtrack reminiscent of James Gunn’s earlier masterpiece, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). 

Inside the prison of Belle Reve are some of the world’s deadliest villains…and some of the oddest too. A handful of these prisoners are approached by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a figurehead for the U.S. government, and offered a chance at reducing their sentence if they accept a suicide mission. However, there is one catch: if any of the creatins steer off course, the little chip in their brain will be detonated and their heads will go kablooey. The team’s roster consists of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), an expert tactician and mercenary, Peacemaker (John Cena), another expert tactician and mercenary, Rat Catcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), like Ant Man but rats, King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), a half-man, half-great white shark, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), he shoots polka dots, and finally, the one and only Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). The team’s leader is Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the only sane person in the party. Deployed on the island nation of Corto Maltese, which is under the control of an authoritarian regime, the “Suicide Squad” must find and destroy the evidence of a weapon with globally catastrophic capabilities. Good luck. 

The Suicide Squad is not a sequel to the film released in 2016. It is a retooling. The original Suicide Squad’s script and direction were a mess. Jared Leto’s Joker had no clear purpose other than to stuff the plot some more. The Joker’s inclusion distracted from the real antagonist of the film, the Enchantress, which made her forgettable and hardly compelling. Suicide Squad could not pick a tone, whether that be light and humorous or dark and more serious. Lastly, the film introduced its ragtag team of characters, one by one, in the most artificial and unimaginative way possible: flashbacks stacked on top of one another. This is “insert supervillain alter ego.” Flashback. Voice over narration. You get the idea. It has been some time since I saw Suicide Squad in theaters, so I may be harsher on the film than it deserves, but my only true memory was wishing the movie would end so I could use the restroom. Director David Ayers has been vocal that the theatrical cut of Suicide Squad is not his vision. Reminiscent of Zack Snyder and Justice League, Ayers claims there is an abundance of footage that was left on the cutting floor, enough to make a cohesive film. Will we ever see a David Ayers cut? Maybe. It seemed only a dream when a petition surfaced to have Warner Bros. give Zack Snyder a chance to complete his vision. Now, it is a reality. 

Regardless, this review is not about what could be, but rather what is. The Suicide Squad is a fundamentally better film in every aspect. After Disney foolishly let go of James Gunn over some old tweets, Warner Bros. landed a gem of a director. I could not think of a more fitting creative mind for the type of project. Gunn is allowed to let his imagination run, and the result is a blood and gore, chaotically fun, antihero film. The Suicide Squad is bold and not what you’d expect from a comic book movie after Marvel set the standard years ago. 

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in The Suicide Squad

We’ve seen popular superheroes such as Batman or Spiderman on the big screen countless times before, and while those characters will never fail to be interesting to watch, The Suicide Squad proves there’s a place for the lesser-known guys too. This isn’t a movie about your typical heroes, and James Gunn knows this. Between Gunn’s ambitious directing style and the excellent cast, the eccentric characters grow on you. Margot Robbie leads the way as Harley Quinn, a role she has time and time again demonstrated she is perfectly suited for. Idris Elba and John Cena also make for strong additions to the DCEU, their characters trying to one up another providing a slice of comic relief. More hilarious is King Shark, or Nanaue, voiced by Sylvester Stallone who fills in a Vin Diesel Groot-like presence. The shark in golf shorts speaks strictly in single syllable words and has great comedic timing. King Shark can find a way to make the most violent acts, even eating a man whole, oddly endearing. 

Where the original attempt at a Suicide Squad failed, James Gunn succeeded. The film never takes itself too seriously and is a blast of a time. The Suicide Squad is a bloody, refreshing comic book movie that subverts genre fatigue. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Suicide Squad is in theaters and on HBO Max

Author: Teddy Frederick

I'm a coffee addict, so I work at Starbucks. I'm receiving an education at Anne Arundel Community College. I sometimes dabble in campfire guitar songs. But above all else, movies are my life. Watching them, learning about them, reviewing them, there's nothing I'd rather be doing.

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