Suicide Squad is an R-rated movie.
And don’t worry, because the movie sure as fuck wants you to know it.
Unlike the Zack Snyder’s Reheated Justice League Movie from earlier in this year which was seemingly given an R-rating by the skin of its teeth in an attempt to feel edgier than it should have been (THE JOKER MAKES A HANDJOB JOKE TO BATMAN, GUYS!), James Gunn’s Suicide Squad sequel embraces its R with all of its heart and soul.
The violence and language in this flick could almost make the Deadpool movies blush. There are sequences of the movie that are just the characters saying the F-word over and over. King Shark beheads a guy and rolls his victim’s confused face around in his mouth. Remember the Harley Quinn beanbag assault on the police in Birds of Prey? She has a similar scene here which is significantly more bloody–even as animated princess flowers and cartoon animals float around her.
None of this is to say that being crude and vicious are good; just grabbing the R rating brass ring doesn’t inherently make a movie watchable. And going nuts with what the rating lets you do doesn’t excuses a bad movie’s warts. So now that we know that the 2021 iteration of The Suicide Squad is hardcore… is it quality?
I am pleased to say that it very much is. Given the, at best, uneven nature of the DCEU to this point, this was a relief!
Everyone really brings their A-game into this one. From James Gunn, who really adds a sense of style and flair and lets the film just breathe on its own, to the cast, all of whom shine to various degrees, there really doesn’t seem to be any slouching here. Gunn’s occasional on-screen chapter titling, which seems to possibly be a subtle shot at both the MCU’s ridiculous on-screen location blasts and the Zack Snyder’s Justice League’s pretentious chapter breaks, are often a lot of fun and creatively displayed amidst whatever else is on screen at the moment. There are a few non-sequential scenes that back everything up, but it’s done far better than was attempted in Birds of Prey. Gunn is telling the story in a very in-your-face style because he has the panache to do so and still let it work within the confines of what he is creating.
The cast is huge, and as we all suspected going in, some actors have far more to do than others. There is a core group you likely guessed from the trailers, though, with Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, Sylvester Stallone, Joel Kinnamen, and David Dastmalchian being the heaviest lifters. All of them work; every single one. Their characters are all a joy in one way or another, and no one feels buried. The weakest among them MAY be Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man, but even his character has a recurring shtick that really hits every time it comes up.
The movie open by just telling the very idea of introductions to piss off–we get the first huge action set just a few minutes in… and as suspected, that’s where many of the cast members are killed off. Don’t get too used to the likes of Nathan Fillion, Pete Davidson, Michael Rooker, and Jai Courtney, gang; they are just there to get the ball rolling for everyone else.
As much as I like Rooker and Fillion as actors, I was most distressed to see Courtney’s Captain Boomerang go down so quickly. He had been a high point of the original Squad flick, and it felt like he had a lot more to offer. I feel like not letting him continue on with Digger was a miss, but it did set the tone early by showing even the ol’ reliable characters weren’t safe.
From there we get the first of the movie’s non-linear moments as we go back to the characters’ recruitments, and we see that the failed assault we just witnessed was just one part of a multi-pronged approach by Amanda Waller. From there, we follow our REAL protagonists (as well as Harley Quinn and Rick Flagg, who both survived the first team’s massacre).
Idris Elba is the main hero of the movie, and it’s very fitting because his list of movie roles is not unlike DC’s cinematic output. He is an amazingly talented performer, but a lot of his choices are real head-scratchers, and it seems like he does things just to do them. He is fantastic here as Bloodsport, though. He’s fun when the movie calls for it, but he is also the most nuanced person around. The film works hard to telegraph that he is a better person than he lets on, but that’s Character Arc 101, so I can forgive it. When he finally lets go of his “There is no good left in me” attitude, it feels more like a well earned exhale than the “well, OBVIOUSLY” moment it frankly is.
John Cena is as much the 1B to Elba’s 1A as anyone except Robbie is. Cena just makes these self-deprecating characters in movies work at this point. So while this role isn’t really his stretching his legs at all, it’s perfectly good as comfort food. It’s a disappointment when he heel turns on the group in the third act because he’d been such a beacon of fun until that part, but… movie gotta drama.
Daniela Melchior is the soul of the team as Ratcatcher 2. Nothing about her feels evil, and it seems weird that she is even in the predicament to have to accept Squad duty (the movie similarly hand waves away how Quinn is back), but she is here to give you someone to care about. And i absolutely did.
Viola Davis as Amanda Waller is still unimpeachable casting, but she’s given much less to do this time, with the flick writing her out for a large stretch due to “communication disrupters” or some such. Even when she gets back online, she ends up taken out by her own geek team when they see how nefarious she truly is. Like Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, this feels like a waste, but the movie did have a bunch of new toys to play with, so I get it.
In the end, the heroes encounter a trapped Starro The Conquerer; their mission all along had been to cover up the United States’ involvement in studying him as a weapon. The team then has to take the alien down when he goes on a rampage. With the leverage of a data file showing the info Waller doesn’t want to get out, Bloodsport negotiates the team’s freedom (even though, uh, they still all have bombs in their skulls).
Is there a negative or two? Definitely. The DCEU still manages to have MASSIVE issues with their special effects, as everything they do seems to look like movies from five years earlier than they were made. Everything here works until Starro, and while the conqueror doesn’t look horrible, he certainly is much more cartoonish and unbelievable than everything around him. Opposite that, though, King Shark is consistently brilliant, so they are getting there.
Additionally, in spite of its Rotten Tomatoes score, this is a movie I could 100% see not having universal appeal. If you told me you found it too goofy/bloody/long/unimportant/formulaic for your tastes… I couldn’t really argue against that. For me, this movie touched what I wanted it to be, but at the end of the day, it’s essentially just another overlong comic book flick with all the jokes and punch-ups we’ve come to expect. Even with Gunn swinging for the fences with his vision, there is no new ground here. If you are looking for something fresh, this ain’t it.
All told, though, this really works and is a complete joy to watch. The ensemble cast all perfectly share the screen and let each other shine.
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Also, don’t forget to check out the Stew World Order podcast on Apple Podcasts, Podchaser, Spotify, SWOProductions.com, or whoever else. Did you enjoy King Shark in The Suicide Squad? Our newest episode (8/1/21) looks back to another Sylvester Stallone comic book effort: JUDGE DREDD! That… definitely got a lower score than this. But by how much? Listen in!