James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad could potentially redefine the superhero genre
The film is a soft reboot/sequel to Suicide Squad released in 2016. In this film, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has a new assignment for Task Force X or popularly known as the Suicide Squad, a band of convicted supervillains at Belle Reve penitentiary with explosives implanted in their heads who are sent on undercover black ops missions for the government. Waller sends in the Squad to the fictional South American country of Corto Maltese to destroy a Nazi-era experiment known as ‘Project Starfish’.
Just like the title of the film suggests, the team, for all intents and purposes, is a suicide squad. They are merely expendable convicts who are forced to do Waller’s bidding, and if they refuse or even deviate from the mission, Waller wouldn't hesitate to detonate the explosives in their heads. So it goes without saying that most of these missions tend to have a high body count, with most members returning in body bags or in several pieces.
Unlike the previous film, where the studio allegedly butchered the final cut with several reshoots and cuts from director David Ayer’s original version, this film has greatly benefited from James Gunn being given complete creative control over the project. Gunn’s brilliance is evident from start to finish with its stunning visuals, excellent characters, and perfectly paced narrative. The fight sequences are expertly choreographed and equally violent. There is also a great balance between comedy and action, tied into a story that has plenty of heart and soul.
Along with Waller, only Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) returned from the first film. New characters such as Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot man (David Dastmalchian), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) are primary characters. Gunn, who penned the script as well, opted for some of the most bizarre and forgotten characters from DC comics for his film. Despite how ridiculous some of these characters appear to be — such as Weasel (Sean Gunn) and The Detachable Kid (Nathan Fillion) — somehow James Gunn has managed to seamlessly position them in the narrative without making them stick out like a sore thumb.
There are some stellar performances including Idris Elba, Viola Davis, and Margot Robbie, but John Cena, David Dastmalchian, and Daniela Melchior excelled. An argument could be made that Cena is proving to be a far superior actor than fellow WWE-alumnus, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. While Melchior’s Hollywood debut in the film could just be the beginning of a promising career, and Dastmalchian, a superhero film/TV show character-actor specialist, is criminally underrated, and The Suicide Squad was the ideal platform for him to truly showcase his acting prowess.
The primary characters have excellent chemistry, and the rivalry between Idris Elba’s Bloodsport and John Cena’s Peacemaker plays perfectly on screen. Even King Shark, often depicted as the mass-murdering nemesis of the DC superhero The Flash, comes off as sympathetic, even though he still eats people whole. In fact, King Shark is Gunn’s version of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that was directed and co-written by himself.
The anime references in the movie are a nod by Gunn to Japan’s brilliance when it comes to animated TV shows and films. The obvious one would be the ‘kaiju’ reference made by John Economos (Steve Agee), a member of Waller’s internal team. Agee was also the stand for the CGI for King Shark. The more subtle references included a homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion where King Shark splits a Corto Maltesean soldier with his bare hands, which is strikingly similar to an EVA from Neon Genesis Evangelion doing the same to an Angel.
Gunn has created something truly unique and spectacular that has managed to set itself apart from R-rated superhero action-comedy such as Deadpool, and the generic slapstick superhero comedies made by Disney for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For superhero comic book fans, the film is a graphic novel comic that comes to life, which is something that has become less of a priority over the past decade.
The one minor flaw in the film that holds it back from being compared to The Dark Knight in terms of cinematic quality is the fact that the villain may have been under-utilised. Even though the extraterrestrial being Starro is portrayed as the primary antagonist, in retrospect, it is Peter Capaldi’s Thinker who is the true villain of the film. While Capaldi’s performance was faultless, a former ‘Doctor’ from Doctor Who, his screen time is limited and he could have been better utilised ever so slightly.
The film could essentially set the tone for years to come for the superhero genre, and it is the perfect embodiment of what is expected from a superhero comic book adaptation. It remains to be seen how it will fit in with the larger DC Extended Cinematic Universe (DCEU), however, as a self-contained film, it works perfectly.