Directed by: James Gunn
Premise: A sequel to the 2016 film. A team of supervillains are coerced into a mission to destroy a research facility that houses extraterrestrial technology.
What Works: The 2021 Suicide Squad film is officially a sequel to the 2016 film but stylistically and tonally it’s a significant departure. The first Suicide Squad film underwent a tortured production that resulted in an uneven patchwork of a movie. The follow up returns several of the key characters, namely Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, but filmmaker James Gunn brings a different approach to the material. In this respect, 2021’s The Suicide Squad is comparable to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Batman Returns; it exists in continuity with the earlier movie but reimagines and improves upon its predecessor. The Suicide Squad sequel was written and directed by James Gunn, who is best known to mainstream audiences for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies but The Suicide Squad also recalls some of Gunn’s earlier works, namely Slither and Super. Like those movies, The Suicide Squad mixes goofiness with seriousness and the film demonstrates skillful handling of the tone; Gunn knows when to be humorous and when to play it straight. The film is quite violent but also funny and the gore and the humor work together and enhance one another instead of canceling each other out. The Suicide Squad has an ambitious narrative structure. It frequently flashes backward and forward in time, sometimes to fill in simultaneous action but also to provide backstories for its characters. Rather than frontload the movie with a lot of expository information, the filmmakers insert this backstory at key moments where it makes a dramatic impact and changes our understanding of the action and the characters.
What Doesn’t: One of the flaws of 2016’s Suicide Squad was the way it missed the novelty of its premise. The Suicide Squad concept is unique in that it showcases villains who have been coerced into doing good or at least doing the bidding of the establishment. But for the most part, the villains of The Suicide Squad are never very villainous. They’re barely even antiheros. The characters are cranky and violent but they are ultimately morally righteous and in the end they act heroically. That makes them easily empathetic but both Suicide Squad movies downplay the very quality that’s most interesting about the concept.
Bottom Line: The Suicide Squad is superior to its predecessor and it’s an entertaining R-rated superhero film in its own right. The film’s treatment of heroism steers toward the conventional but The Suicide Squad is distinguished by its colorful characters and wacky tone.
Episode: #864 (August 15, 2021)