Even by the standards of maligned comic book movies, the amount of minute examination regarding exactly what happened with David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad is as impressive as it is scary.
Something about that movie’s many problems invited the internet to roll up its sleeves and grab its loudhailers. So how would a sequel by James Gunn (director of the hugely popular Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel movies) fare under such Eye of Sauron focus?
The core concept of The Suicide Squad (2021) remains unchanged. Pulled from every corner of the DC Comics universe are a bunch of baddies and nasties given one golden opportunity: go do some highly dangerous grunt work for the government in exchange for a reduction in prison sentence.
Step out of line though, and a remote detonation will trigger a surgically implanted bomb in the head. Do as you are told, and maybe try not to die.
Gunn brings his ensemble expertise crafted at Marvel and supplants that energy into a gleefully gory and irreverent stab at various DC characters.
The 2016 effort suffered from being written, and filmed, as a serious character piece but then hacked about and reshot to be a colourful romp (when picking either camp would surely have been better).
This time around the vision and execution is singular, made abundantly clear once the bullets start flying in the first 10 minutes.
Joining returning alumni Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena, currently enjoying a spinoff series on HBO Max), Polka-Dot Man (a delightfully morose David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) and Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), as well as Task Force X Director, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).
Elba ostensibly leads the ill-suited troupe, whilst butting heads with Cena’s brash jingoism along the way. Something about the cast just clicks this time around.
Flag is more relaxed and less self-important. Elba (Molly's Game) is less lumbered than Will Smith’s ‘I’m bad but not too bad because I’m Will Smith’ cognitive dissonance. King Shark is a big CGI shark.
The gags flow more easily due to an organic mixture of personalities that benefit from bouncy dialogue. It’s a shame that Robbie’s Harley Quinn is mostly separated out for her own tangentially related adventure, but then when she puts past lessons from her preceding two movies to use I couldn’t help but whoop with vicarious pride at the screen.
Is The Suicide Squad 2021 Worth Watching?
Everything about The Suicide Squad (2021) feels both wholly unrelated to the tonally hobbled DC Extended Universe Movies, whilst also existing as a technicolour aside to it.
The movie deliberately draws from more obscure characters, and yet Polka-Dot Man gets not only a subtle and affecting performance from Dastmalchian but also the best recurring joke in the movie.
The Suicide Squad 2021 definitely fronts out its failings with style. After the initial shock at unexpected corpses littering the screen you end up on your guard as to who traditional narrative says should be important, which can err on tiresome once you see it coming.
Villain wise, The Suicide Squad 2021 plays fast and loose with its antagonist. Hell, when you’ve got a lead group full of bad guys, do you need another? The always sublime Peter Capaldi is thoroughly wasted as brainiac pinhead The Thinker, and other forces carousel in and out of the plot until the Big Finale Machine can properly engage.
Yet front it out the movie does. The Suicide Squad sprays both its blood and its sideways knockabout nature with the glee of a class clown dropping devastating put-downs to teacher.
Much as there is still plenty of talk about Director Cuts and what could have been back in 2016, The Suicide Squad renders the argument moot by showing how it should have been done in the first place: strapped to a grenade with a smile on its face, and the pin in its teeth.
Words by Mike Record