REVIEW: The Suicide Squad – Being Bad Never Looked So Good

While the 2016 Suicide Squad drew heavily from the New 52 run on the title with characters like Harley Quinn and El Diablo playing heavily into the story, the new film draws heavily from the John Ostrander run from the 1980s and delivers on the basic idea that DC has this vast array of villains that sort of get forgot about, let’s give them a chance to shine. It is because of that run that characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang became major names to DC fans, and here Gunn takes that same creative ethos and applies it to often-ridiculed joke characters like Polka-Dot Man (who is one of the punchline characters in The Lego Batman Movie), and Ratcatcher (who most recently appeared in the animated series Harley Quinn). These are characters that comic book fans often look over or treat as silly, but Gunn gives them a real relatability and sadness that provides depth and affection for them.

Ratcatcher 2, played by Daniela Melchior who steals the show and is the next breakout star, is the heart of the film. Gunn correctly realizes her abilities are actually quite powerful and dangerous if applied correctly, given the sheer number of rats she could command and how they can prove handy in stealth missions. The original comic book Ratcatcher (Taika Waititi) appears as her father and is given a tragic backstory of a brilliant man who is sadly struggling with an addiction that ends up costing him his life. Yet him being an addict doesn’t make him a bad parent; he loved his daughter very much and she loved him. He gets to sum up the film’s basic theme in a simply beautiful line: “Rats are the lowliest and most despised of all creatures, my love. But if they have purpose, so do we all.”

Gunn seems to have a real care and love for all his characters, no matter how silly they are. Whereas these villains may be jokes in the comics and to fans, they all can serve a purpose. Even when characters die, there is a tragedy to it even when it is played for laughs. He makes the meta-joke about Polka-Dot Man being a joke character and makes it into a tragedy for the character in the universe of the film, someone who everyone makes fun of who really doesn’t want to be bad and has great potential if applied right. This is made prominent in the film that, on the team with two badass assassins like Bloodsport and Peacemaker and a tank-like Killer Shark, it is Polka-Dot Man who basically lands the biggest blow to the main villain Starro. Polka-Dot Man isn’t evil, he is a victim, and has been branded one because he is dangerous but in the end, he alongside the rest of the team does the right thing because it is never too late. Anyone can be good, anyone can be bad, but most importantly everyone has a role to play no matter what.

While getting into the political subtext of the film may spoil some big reveals, it is nice to see Gunn explore the concepts in a property that has always had an inherent political message to it. The Suicide Squad shows that Amanda Waller isn’t very good at her job, or even worse that she just doesn’t really care. She throws Task Force X as a random grenade to do whatever damage they can, rather than applying their unique abilities to get the job done as cleanly as possible. Putting a guy who is afraid of rats on a team with a woman whose power is controlling rats, or not checking to see if someone can swim before going on a mission that involves dropping into the water, shows the incompetence of the officials running Task Force X. It shatters the illusion of the ‘elite government task force’ as just a poorly thrown together idea.

The idea of the U.S. government enlisting super villains to be a black ops team for reduced sentencing because they see them as expendable always had a shade of darkness to it. For as evil as the villains that makes up the squad are, aren’t the people who run the idea of the Suicide Squad just as bad? Willing to offer up human lives to perform missions that by their nature are too morally compromising for most? Because they are ‘bad’ that means they deserve to die? The missions of the Suicide Squad aren’t to protect innocent civilians or even to protect their country like they are often told, but more to protect the image of the country and cover up their own dirty secrets. And what line is too far? The people we think are the villains don’t want to leave to see innocents die, while the larger government organization sees it as not their problem, but also something that could be beneficial to the U.S. since the country is no longer an ally.

As mentioned above King Shark is the standout. Between this and his vastly different depiction on Harley Quinn, we’re seeing how valuable the various DC characters can be, and how imagining them across various different mediums as opposed to one general depiction can create a wide variety of fans. John Cena’s Peacemaker is the perfect blend of silly but also dangerously lethal. By the end of the film, it raises a lot of interesting questions on what they can do with him in his series. Jai Courtney is a welcome return as Captain Boomerang. It’s nice to see a developed friendship/working relationship between him and Harley Quinn that feels very lived in. Even small players like Michael Rooker as Savant, Flula Borg as Javelin, and Pete Davidson as Blackguard leave quite an impression that immediately lets you know everything you need to know about them.

If the movie does have a weak point, it is Harley Quinn, though not due to Margot Robbie’s performance. Robbie continues to shine as the character and it is nice to see the film continue the growth she developed in Birds of Prey, and that the character has basically moved beyond her original animated series purpose to let her explore a life outside of the Joker. It is more with Harley’s place in the story, as she has a subplot that sees keeps her apart from the team for just a little too long, throwing off the pacing. But it isn’t a deal-breaker since Robbie is so much fun in the role, and gets one of the funniest reveals/lines deliveries that makes one jump in a way a similar effect did in The Departed. Part of it does feel like they wanted to try to find a place for Harley Quinn in the story since she is the biggest name character in the film.

Also while not a criticism, it is worth noting how it did seem like Bloodsport was obviously intended to be Will Smith’s character Deadshot from the previous film. Both are highly trained assassins who have daughters with no mother figure around and seem to have a working history with Rick Flag. A lot of the Bloodsport-specific details, like the fact that he shot Superman with a kryptonite bullet, his specific history with Flag, and even his character’s codename are all said in ADR. Most likely because they still wanted the chance to bring Will Smith for a future DCEU film they decided to change the character, it is interesting to see the similarities but also how making it a different character allows Elba to play to his strength which is very different from Will Smith.

The Suicide Squad is a blast. A good-time summer action film that is a throwback to the 70’s and 80’s action movies as well as a love letter to the various weirdness of DC Comics history from the Golden, Silver, and Modern Ages. It is nasty, hyper-violent, darkly funny with some jokes they may cross a line for some, but also fit what you expect from a premise that involves traditionally bad guys being forced into heroic roles. It is further proof that the DCEU has grown and come a long way since 2016, and much like the characters in the film, it has earned a second chance.

What did you think of The Suicide Squad? Where does it rank among other DCEU films? Let us know in the comments below.

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