by Paul Deeter
Not everyone gets the opportunity for a second chance. This is the truth and liability for actors and other major talents with the spotlight shining on them. Everyone is accountable for their actions, past or present, and James Gunn was dragged back to his past when some very insensitive tweets were revealed from his past. Far before his work with Disney and the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn made some edgy (and pretty awful) tweets that meant to be jokes of shock value. These tweets were perhaps or perhaps not known by Disney before he was hired for his work with Marvel Studios, but in 2018 when they resurfaced it was enough to get him fired from Guardians of the Galaxy: Part Three. But there was a swift response to his cut from the team, specifically from Dave Bautista, or Drax in the Guardians franchise. His quick rebuttal to Gunn's cut was controversial and bold, and he called the tweet reveal to be a move from a conservative nutter to sink a big name Hollywood presence. It was quite a risky move, but one that set off the domino effect of each cast member, right down to Chris Pratt (known conservative himself) asking for his return. And it worked. He came back.
The return of James Gunn in the same year he was canned was a testament to the proof that a team effort could save a celebrity from cancellation. And for the record, I don't approve of the tweets or behavior of Gunn in the 2010s when those jokes were made. I do support of his return, I think it was a smart move and a proof that forgiveness could be made after a year old poor decision. Not everyone deserves a second chance, but Gunn earned his, and now that he's back, he's here to commit. But this is an article about The Suicide Squad!! Okay don't think I forgot. This film is also a case of a second chance, but one made as an effort by a team including the original director. The 2016 Suicide Squad by David Ayer was at the very least a truly ambitious project, a step away from the serious DCEU Superman and Batman features. It was an absolute blockbuster, with support from a cast including Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Viola Davis. It made over $750 million worldwide, smashing records. And it was absolute horse-sh**. Sitting at a dismal 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this feature fails on almost every level, from the incohesive writing and the offensive humor. The complete sexualization of Harley Quinn almost unfairly ruined her image until Birds of Prey in 2020 gave her the representation she deserved. Suicide Squad is a bad movie, in fact it's maybe one of the worst ever. But everyone deserves a second chance right?
James Gunn was brought into the DCEU by the support of producers and director David Ayer himself, who originally planned to make a sequel to the original film. His hiring in the DCEU came right at the time of his drop from the MCU, and WB expressed the interest in making Gunn the director for the job of reviving the DCEU in his wild vision. And his vision was pretty immediately approved...Gunn quickly produced several drafts of the script that Warner Bros. was "extremely high" on. He took inspiration from John Ostrander's original 1980s run on the Suicide Squad comics, but described his script as more of a sequel in the same spirit as those comics rather than an adaptation. Gunn took into focus some of the strengths of the original film, specifically in the strong casting, and most of the move away from the original features was due to scheduling conflicts over creative differences. I'd argue the move away from the cast of the original film (with the exception of Viola Davis, always a pleasure) gives this film the sheen needed for a reboot. But does it work? Let's discuss.
The Suicide Squad takes no time at all establishing itself as an R-Rated feature. The film almost laughs at the limitations and somewhat wholesome nature of the Guardians films and their PG-13 ratings. There's bloodshed galore, f-bombs and some surprisingly crude behavior. But the movie is not a true step away from the style of that franchise. Gunn's sense of humor is undeniably unique, and his work with the new cast of actors focuses on the skill of each performer and allows them the freedom to go nuts in every sense of the word. This is a spoiler free review, but the concept is similar to the original film: hire a team of bad guys who have the chance to limit their prison time if they save the day. There's some resistance, specifically from Bloodsport (played by Idris Elba) to work as government pawns for a mission too risky for the good superheros. The goal is a suicide mission, and the characters are even monitored by their willingness to serve (if one tries to defect boom goes their head).
As the heads explode, pretty much every body part goes through the same punishment. The violence is fast and brutal and let's be honest, pretty fun. If the heavy weight of most other DCEU films are aimed at making the violence as grim and unforgiving as possible, this movie flips that expectation for a much lighter tone. I mean, The Suicide Squad is certainly dark, and the violence has its consequences and thematically. But there's too much fun to be had to dwell on anything tonally morose. I'd say that's been a flaw for some of the more contemplative and poignant scenes in Gunn's work. The death of Starlord's father in Guardians 2 comes too abruptly despite a consistently humorous script. It works, but just barely, and Gunn's more serious scenes don't always land here in The Suicide Squad as well. Backing into the origins of characters as the Ratcatcher 2 is sort of interesting but not as sad as the movie intends. But who cares when there's her sidekick rat that goes for high fives and gets bummed when the high five isn't reciprocated?
The humor is consistently bizarre. That's a compliment. Outside of the silent reaction shots of the sidekick rat, we've got the back and forth tension between John Cena's Peacemaker and Bloodsport who argue who's a better shot every chance they get. For example, Peacemaker argues he's a better shot because when he hits his target, its with tinier bullets than Deadshot's so he's somehow even better of a perfect shot. John Cena also has some legit dance moves in a slow-motion club scene which is worth rewinding because of the quickfire visual jokes. I think I was most impressed by the deadpan work of David Dastmalchian as the Polka Dot Man, who apparently was included in Gunn's attempt to find the silliest and most unpopular villain in the DCEU. Polka Dot Man has some of the most powerful tricks up his sleeves. But the best continued gag of his is the fact that he can't not see his mother in everyone he sees, including the squad. My biggest laugh was seeing him dancing in the club and everyone around him was his mother in various wigs (and even beards.) This is a 'blink and you'll miss it' gag, but so many moments of absurd hilarity in this film are. The whole movie begs a rewatch, and at the time of this review, I've only seen it once which makes me still feel unprepared to commentate. And I've yet to bring up probably the biggest crowd pleaser character that will come of this film, King Shark. In a performance nod to Vin Diesel's work with Groot in Guardians, Sylvester Stallone takes the reigns of a vocally distorted, limited vocabulary tough-guy. King Shark is a walking tank, and sadly too obvious to disguise himself in any covert missions (even with a fake mustache.) Stallone is incredible, King Shark yelling "F**K!" is just so satisfying.
If you've read this far, you'll note I've spent quite a bit of time hyping this film up for its wonderful sense of humor, but really that's my biggest takeaway. I loved the action, watching bodies ripped apart and headshots and throats slit was so frequent it was satisfyingly numbing. I'd even say that for a film focused on shock value ultraviolence and quirky comedy, we actually have a pretty solid story here too. Without going to deep into any plot points (and avoiding all spoilers), the movie is far more than a 'defeat the bad guy' film that the original seemed to rely on. James Gunn is particularly bored with the genre, in fact. And I have to say, it's hard to disagree with him given the abundance of comic-book content we see each year. Gunn's The Suicide Squad is not entirely afraid to fall into comic book tropes, with the occasional exposition and glorious costume designs. It's a loving entry but also something refreshingly different and with an overwhelming 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating, it's pretty clear he succeeded.
Now, I don't give ratings, neither on a number scale or letter grade. Never have, never will. I believe, perhaps a bit pretentiously, that RT cumulated percentages and ratings are admittedly limiting to actual individual criticism. So I've explored the strengths, and few weaknesses that make The Suicide Squad what it is. I'm not afraid to say it though: this is James Gunn's best film. From the twists and turns it provides, the narrative starts with a bang and body-count within the opening sequence, and the pacing never lets up over two hours later. This is a film that's only excess is in violence, and there are no wasted scenes. It's a perfect balance of humor and darkness, well paced and fabulously focused on every character. Unlike other team based hero films (especially the original Suicide Squad) every character here has their fleshed out arc, either a happy or sad but usually satisfying ending. Each decision made is consequential but makes sense based on each heroes' motive. The Suicide Squad is the best film of the year, and perhaps the best film the DCEU has ever offered, and maybe the best one we'll ever get. Look no further fans, and do not be dissapointed. Like Peacemaker aiming for an even tinier target than Deadshot, this film perfectly lands in its center. Bullseye.