Suicide Squad: The Year’s Biggest Glow-Up
Despite it being four years to the day since it had premiered, it was easy for me to conjure to mind how I felt after the first time viewing 2016’s Suicide Squad. From the Joker becoming a romantic gangster instead of a symbolic symptom of society’s institutional failings, to main team members so wafer-thin they’re given about three lines to flesh out their character, one of them spoken by someone else. All of that hype, and yet I have a very hard time remembering ever leaving a movie theatre more disappointed. So naturally, I was apprehensive this summer with my fingers hovering over the play button on my remote, considering streaming the home premier of Suicide Squad 2021. However, I went ahead and watched it because in the end I couldn’t deny the temptation of seeing John Cena and Idris Elba on screen together. With that preamble out of the way, and it being abundantly clear that my expectations were somewhere between fretfully hopeful and rock-bottom pessimistic, I was completely blown away.
The movie is an utterly brilliant, colorful, and dynamic ride, and I truly felt invested from start to finish, thanks to several inspired changes, chief among them the fact that the film lives up to its name. Without spoiling anything, viewers should go in with the knowledge that any characters (with the exception of one,) you’re viewing could die basically any time weapons are drawn. And very rarely are they cinematic, epic, movie deaths, but instead Gunn generally favors, gritty, unceremonious and at times humorous ends for hateful and beloved characters alike. But that’s the beauty of the concept behind the original comic book run and this rendition of it. With the last Suicide Squad it felt as though D.C. was trying to build another team of marketable heroes like the Justice League. They wanted characters they could make several movies with, when in reality they always should have been a rag tag group of C list characters who drop like flies on their missions and are constantly replaced, maybe learning a little bit about morality and themselves along the way. The knowledge that each and every one of the people on screen could die at any moment made their presence even more precious, every moment that they connect with each other over the course of the mission feel more genuine as they realize just how mortal they all are, and provides a further solidifying of that bond for those who do survive. We’re not witnessing overpowered top tier villains with consistently effective powers and abilities and plot armor to boot, but rather the absolute bottom of the barrel disposable tools that Amanda Waller (who is performed just as phenomenally this time around as before by Viola Davis, ) throws at her problems.
That brings me to the second change that in my mind elevates this far above its predecessor. This movie is funny. I know, that sounds way too simple, and yes, the 2016 version did squeeze some laughs out of me, but this movie let them occur naturally. John Cena is absolutely hilarious as a goofily dressed GI Joe, Idris Elba shines in his perfectly typecast role of the sarcastic leader constantly exasperated with those he’s stuck with, not to mention his powers being the ability to make lego guns out of his suit (I promise it’s way cooler than it sounds), and Harley Quinn for the most part is a far cry from the damsel in distress, stuck in a toxic relationship, and this was aided by her wonderful arc in Birds of Prey. Similarly, the supporting cast is just as hilarious and, at times, lackluster, where in place of the usual overpowered superheroes, we’re asked to put our faith in everyone from a javelin-wielding German, a homicidal child-eating weasel and a monstrous man-eating shark that wants to make friends (both of whom I love with all my heart,) and a suicidal lab experiment with an interdimensional virus and mommy issues, just to name a few.
And, on that final note to gush about, the interwoven character relationships and backstory couldn’t be a bigger improvement from those we saw in 2016’s Suicide Squad. As far as the backstory characters in that movie are given goes, the quantity ranges from a two minute aside that sheds some light on who they are, to a thirty second explanation that they’re the one guy who actually dies in the movie and shows what the nanite explosives do and generate a cheap sense of impending danger that never actualizes. From the death of Slipknot on, the squad is routinely allowed to ignore the nanite explosives by the story until it’s important again, and then they’re just sabotaged later. The movie only shows the heroes saving each other a couple times, and then has them declare they see each other as family, with Diablo going as far to sacrifice himself for the others who are virtual strangers. In contrast, not only does Suicide Squad 2021 actualize tragic, pain-filled backstories for its characters that are revealed in pieces as it becomes more and more evident that there’s a good chance none of them might make it. The heightened danger and Amanda’s ruthlessness reinforces that the only people they can rely on are each other. The bonds formed are tested, broken, and strengthened in individual and wonderful ways. It’s telling that Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang and Rick Flagg, the only returning characters apart from Amanda, exhibit more of a growing relationship and sense of camaraderie in any of one of the scenes they share than in the entirety of the previous movie where they were together for virtually its entire runtime.
As far as major negatives, I can only really think of one certain character being a bit out of place among all the other bottom tier members. When they’re on screen and separated from everyone else some of that wonderful sense of danger and increased stakes is a bit lost, but the scenes are still visually stunning and generally very entertaining, so it’s not too much of an issue.
This movie is an absolute breath of fresh air for D.C. movies and the superhero genre as a whole. I could not recommend it more, and hope to encourage you to see it either at home with HBO Max, or in theatres while observing proper mask usage and other covid safety guidelines.
Stay safe and have a blast!