*Big thanks to DC and Warner Bros for hosting early fan screenings, which allowed me to see The Suicide Squad before it arrives in theaters and starts streaming on HBO Max on August 6th. Since this movie isn’t yet available to the public, my review omits spoilers.
In contrast with the franchise’s previous film, the main characters in this August’s new-release of The Suicide Squad are nobodies—and that’s precisely what makes their stories so interesting.
The Suicide Squad consists of a team of imprisoned supervillains who most viewers have rarely (if ever) encountered. In exchange for shortening their prison sentences, high-level government agent Amanda Waller assigns these villains to a black ops suicide mission in the fictional country of Corto Maltese.
Waller is cunning and ruthless, and she sees anyone in her way as collateral to her goal of protecting the United States. To ensure that the villains follow her orders, Waller puts bombs in the backs of their heads, which she does not hesitate to detonate. And she sends the Squad to stop a dangerous government project that will likely kill them in the process.
By choosing to depict unfamiliar characters, Director James Gunn elevates an action-packed plot and exercises the fantastic ability to kill any character he wants without repercussions (since the characters have little significance in the grand scheme of the DC universe). This gives the film a great tension, as any character can die at any time. Bloodsport, Peacemaker, King Shark, the Thinker, Polka-Dot Man, Ratcatcher 2, the daughter of the original Ratcatcher, Savant, Blackguard, TDK, Weasel, Javelin, and Mongal are all relatively unknown characters. There are some notable exceptions: Harley Quinn is (sadly) one of the biggest names in superhero media, and Rick Flag, Amanda Waller, and Captain Boomerang are constants of the comics Squad. But the rest, in contrast, are historically unimportant to the DC universe, meaning that viewers have no attachments to, or expectations of, them. This is part of what makes them so great.
Gunn works off of a relatively blank slate, in order to develop his characters into complex villains. Characters like Polka-Dot Man sound, and are, ridiculous. As his name suggests, Polka-Dot Man’s power is literally throwing polka dots. But with David Dastmalchian’s performance and Gunn’s writing, Polka-Dot Man becomes a truly great, multifaceted character. He has a tragic backstory. His powers cause him physical pain. And he’s often made fun of for being ridiculous, which makes him depressed. Polka-Dot Man is often a laughing stock, but Gunn humanizes him and gives him a complex arc in the film. And this goes for almost all of Gunn’s characters—including the main villain, who is equally ridiculous and yet acts as a formidable threat.
The success of the movie is largely thanks to Gunn’s writing. The bizarre characters, along with Gunn’s signature humorous style, exhibit excellent humor throughout the film. While watching, I often laughed out loud. And the writing isn’t just great from a comedic perspective. The film has such snappy and straightforward exposition that it rarely wastes a moment.
Combine Gunn’s fast-paced script with extensive, graphic violence, and the movie obtains a manic feel, which works wonderfully. Watching the film, you never feel like you have a moment to breathe or process what’s just happened. In-line with the film’s R-rating, every character has his own unique, and simultaneously vicious, fighting style. Heads explode, faces are destroyed, and the death count is massive.
The film’s violence doesn’t hold back, but it never feels grotesque for the sake of it. Such violence grounds the film, while Gunn’s sense of humor ensures that the plot never becomes too serious. In fact, the violence is often used for comedic effect to great success. The action is excellently choreographed, and all of the character’s unique powers are utilized wonderfully.
While I loved the film, I do have a handful of criticisms. First of all, as a natural consequence of having such an expansive roster, not every character is developed well-enough. Secondly, I’m not a Harley Quinn fan, and the movie focuses on her too much. Harley is often given the spotlight because of her immense popularity, but it’s disappointing to watch her steal the show. The movie should stay focused on highlighting DC’s forgotten supervillains. Finally, the post credit scene sets up a future DC project that ruins one of the movie’s strongest character arcs, which is quite disappointing.
Despite these criticisms, The Suicide Squad remains a masterpiece. The movie is bombastic, creative, and visually stunning. This is a film that you need to see in theaters. Gunn’s characters are excellently developed and they participate in some of the most creative action scenes I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, the movie’s manic tone completely immerses viewers in its world. This is a comic book brought to life: ridiculous and fun, but with great characters who will be beloved for generations.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Chad Berkich is a Senior Editor for the Chicago Thinker. As a junior at the University of Chicago, he is majoring in mathematics. He is a Christian and conservative, and his other interests include superheroes and science fiction, video games, and rock music. He is also the president of the University of Chicago's chapter of College Republicans.