When Warner Bros. announced the very first movie based on DC Comics’ Suicide Squad, I honestly had no idea what they were thinking. The ‘80s comic book series written by John Ostrander was a favorite of mine, but a major studio making a movie with “suicide” in the title? That just didn’t seem to jibe with my experiences with big corporations trying to make the most commercially-viable product to appeal to the masses.
Whatever you thought of David Ayers’ Suicide Squad, it made bank, and someone at Warner Bros. must have thought there was something worth salvaging, because when Guardians of the Galaxy Director James Gunn became available — and that’s a long story in itself — someone there said, “We should hire James Gunn to revive this IP.” Hopefully, that person is still there and around to get some of the credit for The Suicide Squad, because in fact, Gunn was the PERFECT person to salvage it.
The premise for Ostrander’s comic was simple, and Gunn doesn’t try to reinvent that wheel. The “Suicide Squad” (the official government name of the program is Task Force X) is comprised of super-villains and a few common criminals with special skills who are given the opportunity to go on missions for their country in exchange for freedom. They also have miniature bombs inserted into the base of their skulls so that their handler, Amanda Waller (once again, played by Viola Davis), can keep them under control and from simply escaping. The idea of the comic and of Gunn’s movie is that all these super-villains are expendable, and as it says right there in the marketing, “Don’t Get Too Attached.”
The simplicity of why Suicide Squad works extends to the plot, which is a mission to the third world island nation of Corto Maltese where the tyrannical leadership has been making the citizens disappear into experiments being done at a giant tower called Jottunheim. The incarnation of Task Force X for this mission is comprised of the likes of Col. Rick Flag (Rick Kinnaman), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian).
Although knowing some of the powers or skills of the above may help to explain why their dysfunctional interactions are so entertaining, it’s also something you can easily learn for yourself, because everything is fully explained in the movie. With the majority of the previous team gone, Gunn makes the most out of what on paper might seem like a B-team, although the jabs and one-upmanship traded back and forth between Bloodsport and Peacemaker could probably carry a movie on its own.
The fact is that Gunn is a talented comedy writer, but he’s also not afraid to break a few eggs, or in this case, make a few heads explode in fully viscous glory for the sake of entertainment. Allowing Gunn to go R-rated on this Suicide Squad sequel was another reason why the movie works as well as it does.
But it’s not just blood and guts, cool guns and R-rated yucks, as Gunn finds ways to humanize these misfits that few may take seriously , even helping you understand why some of them behave the way they do. Gunn allows Robbie’s Harley Quinn to shine in ways we really haven’t seen in her previous two appearances, and similarly, Viola Davis, who always was a great choice to play Waller, really gets to show that off when she’s allowed to unleash a loud series of expletives out of frustration. Dastmalchian gives a performance worthy of Crispin Glover in playing a psychotic character that might seem like a joke on paper but actually is more dangerous than the rest of the team put together.
As with any movie this size, Gunn has an absolutely enormous crew making everything work in the exact ways he wrote in his script, and not one person who worked on this movie should not be fully credited. Again, I only can really shine the spotlight on a scant few.
Although much of The Suicide Squad takes place on a single island, that doesn’t meant there aren’t a multitude of locations there for our “heroes” to visit, and Production Designer Beth Mickle — her first time working with Gunn but not her last, as she’s already on board for his third Guardians outing — creates environments that have just the right amount of grunge but also fully befitting of a comic book movie.
Director of Photography Henry Braham (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) has to film so many different disparate things, the fact the movie looks good maybe means that Gunn has found his perfect cinematographic counterpart.
Maybe it’s odd to some that superhero movies frequently have the best costume designs — other than possibly period dramas — but that’s because Costume Designer Judianne Makovsky (Avengers: Endgame) has to take costumes that were drawn 2-dimensionally in the comic book, mostly by artists with no fashion training, and make them fit on real human beings.
Of course, there’s the VFX, and holy sh*t, there’s a lot of people and work involved on everything from the fully CG character of King Shark (who will be hopefully embraced similarly to Groot), all of Ratcatcher 2’s rats… oh, yeah, and a giant starfish named Starro the Conqueror that if you hadn’t read any of the comics (this is an actual Justice League villain!), you might not believe that Starro is handled so faithfully to the comic character it will draw a tear or two. (Kelvin McIlwain is the main credited VFX Supervisor, but he also did Aquaman and Shazam!, so he clearly knows his stuff.)
Gunn has earned his reputation for putting together some of the best movie soundtracks with needle drops that may include the likes of Pixies, Kansas, Johnny Cash, The Fratellis, The Jim Carroll Band, and more, all mish-moshed together, but he still leaves room for Composer John Murphy (Kick-Ass) many opportunities to ably drive the action with his score as well.
In other words, The Suicide Squad pays off in so many spectacular ways, because it’s hilarious and gory fun, where we finally get to see the R-rated DC Comics movie so many have been clamoring for. Like the Deadpool movies — and maybe even moreso? — we see what happens when that principle is applied to a concept that, on paper, should never have worked in the first place. (Although the original comic books also prove otherwise.)
The Suicide Squad will open in theaters nationwide (including IMAX) as well as on HBO Max on Friday, August 6.
All photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. and DC Comics.