You’ll have to forgive me for geeking out just a bit here. But I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this insane movie twice now, and I still want more. I cannot begin to describe to you all how much I enjoyed this movie the first time, and even how much more I enjoyed it the second time around. The Suicide Squad is James Gunn off the leash! And I think comic book movies will be better for it!
Before I continue, a word of caution to everyone: If you are expecting this to be Guardians of the Galaxy, I strongly advise you to jettison those expectations. This is NOT Guardians of the Galaxy. I love Guardians. I always will. And I love the MCU more than anything. So believe me when I say, this is, for better or worse, something extremely different.
The Suicide Squad is out there. It’s brutal and bloody. The humor is much darker. Most of the time it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And the characters are a lot harder to like because of the nature of the fact that they are low-lives that represent the lowest of the low. While the Guardians are all good characters that have done bad, these are bad characters that have done worse. So redemption is much more difficult. But therein lies the magnificent brilliant beauty behind this movie. Gunn takes that idea and runs with it. And the challenge of liking them shakes you to your fundamental core when you realize by the end that you do! You love them (most of them anyway).
In the film, a Suicide Squad is once again assembled by cold-hearted bureaucrat Amanda Waller (played excellently as ever by Viola Davis) to infiltrate the nearby foreign, anti-American territory of Corto Maltese. Their mission: to destroy a silo on the island containing a doomsday-level experiment called “Project Starfish.” Task Force X, once again led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) must cheat death, get it done, and avoid killing one another in the process.
Regarding the “Squad” itself, I won’t get into the specifics of who lives and who dies. That would ruin all the fun. But suffice it to say, that when the trailers and posters declare that you shouldn’t get too attached, they mean it. The Suicide Squad has genuine stakes. Whether you are invested in a character or not, it’s possible for any character to go at any second. That makes things infinitely more exciting.
However, the best thing of all about the film for me may be the most controversial thing about it, which is that it’s wonderfully weird! And I say controversial because it may or may be too much weird for people expecting something more along the lines of Guardians. But for me, that’s a huge plus, because I literally cannot think of any comic book movie ever made that takes the risks this movie takes. The Suicide Squad marches to the beat of it’s own bloody drum, with surreal and abstract sequences that are both wild and trippy, but work so well in the context of these chaotic characters and their story.
We got chapter titles, giant moms, flowers, rats, and dots. So many things that shouldn’t fit together in a superhero film, a mainstream blockbuster, or, hell, any film for that matter. And a lot of it may turn people off or gross them out. But Gunn does not give an F. This is a punk rock masterpiece come to life, and I have nothing but mad respect for the amount of guts he and the rest of the crew have fully committed to here! It’s a James Gunn movie first, and a DC Comic Book movie second, and it’s a thousand times better because of it!
And though people could argue that it’s weird for the sake of being weird, I’d argue that’s incorrect. The weirdness fits into the central purpose of the movie. This is a movie about misfits, and freaks, and people at the lowest rung of society; ugly, mean, messed up. They’re weirdos. And the movie’s tone and chaotic nature is driven by the characters and their psyches. Gunn is making us, his audience, embrace the weirdness by being James Gunn, and putting his stamp on the movie. Some may not. But this critic absolutely does! In embracing the weirdness of this movie, we’re embracing the characters that drive the weirdness, which causes us to fall in love with them, and by proxy the movie itself. It’s all intentional. And it’s frankly, so goddamn beautiful.
Joining in on the fray are the film’s cast of crazies. Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, Joel Kinnaman, and John Cena all give brilliant, funny, performances. And Sylvester Stallone and Steve Agee’s combined efforts on King Shark is amazing too! But for my money, the movie belongs to two people: David Dastmalchian and Daniela Melchior.
Dastmalchian has been such a phenomenal character actor for years, whether playing a psychopath in The Dark Knight or a hilarious security expert who believes in Baba Yaga as Kurt in the Ant-Man films for the MCU. But now he gets a front-and-center role as Polka Dot Man, a bizarre, but insanely sympathetic, sad sack character that audiences are going to completely fall in love with, despite being completely insane. And then there’s newcomer Melchior, who absolutely stole my heart as Ratcatcher 2. Melchior represents the innocence and heart of the team. Her scenes, particularly one near the end, are so incredibly tender and heartwarming. She plays every moment with so much moxie, but also so much warmth, it’s impossible to not see her as becoming Hollywood’s next big sweetheart.
On the negative side, from an entertainment standpoint, there’s not much to nitpick at. Not all the jokes land unfortunately, but I still found myself laughing at most. I think there may be a few bits of pitch black humor that may definitely turn people off. But it’s also Gunn’s way, so people should prepare for that. I think additionally there may be one scene with King Shark I found somewhat superfluous and, while interesting, I’m still trying to figure out what the point of it was. I also do think many folks will be annoyed by some of the bigger names within the cast not getting as much to do as we’d like. But that’s ultimately the name of the game when you have a film where no characters are safe. I think that may be the extent of my complaints from an entertainment level.
However, there are a few massive complaints on a POC level. While it’s refreshing to see actors like Idris Elba, Viola Davis, and Daniela Melchior take such significant leading roles in a film like this, there are also several scenes where people of color are needlessly brutalized and killed in mass numbers, and the film fails to acknowledge it. One scene in particular treats the deaths of at least a dozen POC casualties as a massive joke with absolutely zero repercussions. It’s really not a good look nowadays. While that’s something to be expected in a film about invaders going into a foreign territory and turning it into a war zone, it’s never really treated as seriously as it should be.
To play devil’s advocate, its entirely possible the entire thing is an exercise in emphasizing the themes about the evils of colonization and the nonchalance and anti-humanization of casualties on foreign soil. But if that’s the case, having its cake and eating it too by laughing at the idea is not exactly the right way to execute the theme. Just something we, at The Nerds of Color, felt compelled to speak about.
That aside, as we’ve done on countless reviews in the past, it’s important to evaluate things both from the entertainment perspective and the POC perspective. And I believe, despite its flaws in the POC space, I can still acknowledge The Suicide Squad as a DC masterpiece from an entertainment standpoint. It is a brave exercise in risk taking within well tread genres, and the bucking of conventions within those genres, with fleshed out human primary characters, that is touching, funny, brutal, and bloody, and ultimately a blast. There’s a quote in the film where one character tells another that if the lowliest, most despised creatures on Earth can find meaning and purpose, so can we all. And just as the ugly, crazy, despicable characters in this story found a place in the heart of this critic, so too has this gonzo little weirdo of a film.
Task Force X-cellent!
Overall Score (on an entertainment level): A-
Overall Score (on a representation level): D
The Suicide Squad hits theaters on August 5, and HBO Max on August 6.