Illustration by Ben Beechener
‘Suicide Squad’ is a franchise that aims to overturn many of the tropes of superhero movies. It may have defied one of the biggest cliches of all – that the sequel is always worse than the original. James Gunn takes the raw elements of Ayer’s first imagining of the source material, and realises its full potential. The Suicide Squad is, as expected, a rollercoaster ride of violence and ridiculousness. Where it thrives in contrast to its predecessor is in utilising likeable characters and meaningful twists to deviate from the more conventional route too many other films of the genre have stuck to.
The first ten minutes are spent jokingly laying out the concept of the franchise, with Pete Davidson and co living up to the title by almost all dying on a decoy mission. As well as being a clever way for Gunn to remind people of the concept of the film, it allowed him to dispense with some of the more boring characters such as Captain Boomerang and have something of a fresh start.
Giving himself a clean slate to work with, Gunn created a much more likeable (though large) cast. Margot Robbie, as the face of the franchise, returns freed from the shackles of Jared Leto’s insufferable Joker, and gives us a much funnier Harley Quinn as a result. Waller and Flag occupy hugely changed roles, with Waller now a fully-fledged antagonist and Flag a sympathetic and more laid-back ally. Idris Elba (as Bloodsport) is a perfect choice to lead the new Squad; a reluctant hero who provides a foil to John Cena’s Peacemaker, who exists as almost a parody of Captain America’s toxic patriotism.
The two biggest gambles are Ratcatcher 2 and Polka-Dot Man, the risks being evident in the names, but both pay off. The former, Daniela Melchior, a relative unknown compared to the huge names enlisted, may well provide the best performance of the film. Her backstory of her father struggling with addiction and her childhood reliance on friendship with the rats helps bring the emotional range to keep the viewer invested throughout. The Starfish, like Polka-Dot Man, should be too ridiculous to work on paper, but manages to be a fun yet genuinely threatening villain. There are no bad performances from any of the cast here, unlike the first instalment which was reduced to a meme by Leto’s Joker (got to stress that Leto is a great actor, just miscast in that role).
While comparisons to the first film are unavoidable, the main thing to be noted is the plot’s independence from it. The task is broadly similar: group of dangerous convicts are sent to defeat an existential threat, if they disobey a chip in their brain explodes. The gang head to the fictional island nation of Corto Maltese, where an anti-American coup has occurred. Their goal is to stop a malevolent scheme that’s happening at the menacing tower of Jotenheim. The plot adds nuance as it develops, with Waller and the squad’s official objective not focused on saving humanity. In the final act, John Cena’s Peacemaker reveals that his role on the mission is to recover and destroy the disk proving the US was behind the apocalyptic Project Starfish. The message of the film in this regard is not just anti-American, but rather speaks to the franchise’s general statement about moral ambiguity, where every side has human beings who will act for good or evil depending on their circumstance.
The film’s nihilism does not have the effect of making this miserable or too dark. Instead, its long runtime gives the characters breathing space to learn about themselves and each other, and form convincing bonds that leave the viewer emotionally invested in weird and messed up characters like the man-eating King Shark. There was a genuine sense of threat, and with the exception of Harley Quinn, any character death was on the cards. Some of the movie’s treatment of Harley was bordering on plot armour, but with Margot Robbie being the face of the franchise this was inevitable.
It also gave us the most entertaining scene of the film, with Harley’s escape from jail being beautifully choreographed. The sight of a horde rats overwhelming a giant starfish was another moment I would never have expected to hit me in the feels, but hit me it did. The movie throughout had tons of special moments that made you smile or laugh, and far fewer that made me cringe than I expected.
That’s the main takeaway I had from the movie: that it massively exceeded expectations. At first glance it looks like yet another blockbuster franchise sequel to generate a few hundred million by having big names in the cast, but it ended up being much more than that. A weird combination of polka dots, rats and starfish made me love a film which on paper shouldn’t have worked. A mainstream movie taking some risks and deviating from the script audiences expect even a little can pay big dividends. It’s incredibly clear that Gunn and the rest of the cast and crew had a lot of fun making the film, and that energy is infectious, making it well worth seeing and a great addition to the DC universe.