The Suicide Squad has so many expectations weighing it down. It has to be an upgrade from the widely disliked 2016 film of a similar name, it has to work as a James Gunn vehicle after his now-redacted firing from Disney, and it has to bolster the seemingly always behind the eight ball DC Comics film franchise. Add to that the usual desire for the movie to be an entertaining experience and giving so many boxes to check would seem to set the movie up to fail in one arena or another.
Thankfully, The Suicide Squad not only meets all those criteria but blows through them with the explosive power of a million suns. Writer/director James Gunn has brought his particular gift for maniacal humor and gooey heart to the DC universe without the limitations that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has imposed upon his Guardians of the Galaxy movies. That means there is plenty of delightful cursing and violence to be had, but it never feels excessive or grating. I was not a fan of Gunn’s excess in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and was worried that the R-rating would see him lean into similar territory. Magically, this lack of restraint actually has his script incredibly focused and lean. This could very well be his best movie yet.
As expected, so much of The Suicide Squad is dependent on the ensemble cast and how the disparate characters interact with each other. Across the board, this film has a phenomenal group of actors bringing heart, pathos, and complexity to a band of truly oddball misfits. Everyone is perfectly attuned to the tone and mood of the script at every moment, and it is hard to pick one standout actor because everyone is doing such a beautiful job with the material. Returning members like Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, and Viola Davis are all leaps and bounds better than they were in the David Ayer movie, and every newcomer is equally endearing and fun.
The Suicide Squad also proves that these superhero movies can be extremely hard-R movies without having to sink into the kind of edgelord posturing that a certain sect of fans seem to believe is the only way to adapt comic books to film. This movie is one of the most consistent and extremely violent studio releases in recent memory. The opening sequence is a cavalcade of gore and sets the tempo for the rest of the movie. There are torrents of blood seeping into nearly every frame, but Gunn always has a firm grasp on the intention of the violence. It can be anarchic glee, genuine shock, totally badass, or outright horrifying depending on how he wants to use it in any given scene.
And this is all handled with the understanding that superhero characters and their worlds are more often than not absurd and silly. The Suicide Squad has no airs about presenting itself as cool. In doing so, it embraces the lunacy of superhero stories and sees the value in their ridiculousness. Gunn’s script is able to wring so much joy and legitimate warmth out of a movie where people explode and are ripped to shreds every 20 minutes. It is the kind of doctrine that would make so much of superhero cinema a more diverse and enjoyable endeavor. Stripped of any sense of po-faced self-seriousness, The Suicide Squad is able to disarm you and make you realize just how much you love these characters and how much fun you are having.
In the midst of all this are some fantastic needle drops, a simple but effective score from John Murphy, tight direction and editing that keeps the movie moving while still finding great moments to breathe and get to really know the characters, and an overall management of the pacing of each individual scene. With the biggest budget of his career at his disposal, James Gunn has crafted what is arguably the most fine-tuned of any movie he has made, and could arguably be the tightest superhero movie in the last few years.
In fact, The Suicide Squad is easily the best DC movie in decades. It is a unique, uncompromised vision that doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. This is a high watermark for comic book cinema and just blockbusters in general. Hilarious, horrifying, and heartfelt in equal measure, The Suicide Squad is the feel-good movie of the year without relying on schmaltz or the lowest common denominator tactics. By the time the year is up, it may even be the best mainstream release of 2021.