Skip to main content

The Suicide Squad review: James Gunn makes a body count beautiful

It’s nothing new for Warner Bros. Pictures to give underwhelming comic-book movies a big-budget do-over. After all, this is the same studio that gave Zack Snyder’s Justice League the opportunity to rewrite history (and defy pundits) with a re-cut, superior version of 2017’s Justice League just a few months ago.

So it makes sense that James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad rises from the ashes of its similarly titled, critically panned 2016 predecessor Suicide Squad this week to deliver a much-improved film about DC Comics’ infamous supervillain special ops team.

What is surprising, however, is that The Suicide Squad improves on the original with one of the best DC Comics movies of the last few years, and the first film in the studio’s DC Extended Universe to measure up well with its Marvel counterparts.

The cast of The Suicide Squad standing in the jungle.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Return of the Squad

Written and directed by Gunn, The Suicide Squad is a pseudo-sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad (sans “The“), which followed a team of DC Comics supervillains forced to undertake dangerous missions by the ruthless head of a secret government agency. Like each new chapter of the comic book series that inspired it, The Suicide Squad tells a fresh story within that premise featuring a (mostly) different cast of colorful criminals.

This time around, the film’s team of prison inmates  — officially known as Task Force X — is assembled to infiltrate the fictional South American island nation of Corto Maltese and destroy a Nazi-era laboratory located there along with all of the research material housed within it. Notable members of the team include the viciously efficient mercenary Bloodsport, played by Idris Elba, and the lethal, self-professed defender of peace, Peacemaker, played by John Cena. Returning from the prior film is Margot Robbie’s wonderfully crazy Harley Quinn, as well as team leader Rick Flag, the group’s only non-conscripted member, played by returning actor Joel Kinnaman.

As one might expect from a mission involving a multitude of untrustworthy agents, the plan goes awry, and the surviving members of Task Force X soon find themselves facing off against a threat greater than anything they anticipated, with the fate of the entire world at stake.

Filter that familiar, Dirty Dozen-style adventure through the lens of Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither director James Gunn, and The Suicide Squad quickly establishes itself as one of the most audacious, irreverent, and unpredictable films in the DCEU franchise so far.

The cast of The Suicide Squad walking through the rain.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sorry, kids

With a title like The Suicide Squad, it’s safe to assume Gunn’s film isn’t an all-ages adventure, and it doesn’t take long for the film to earn its age-restricted “R” rating.

Parents expecting something akin to Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films for Marvel Studios should take heed: Not only does The Suicide Squad have an impressively high body count, the kills go the extra mile when it comes to shock value. Every bit of blood, guts, and shattered bone finds its way to the screen, resulting in a gloriously over-the-top symphony of ultra-violence befitting the film’s cast of costumed psychopaths.

The Suicide Squad also offers a great reminder that Gunn is a master of wringing dark humor from movie violence.

In 2006’s creature feature Slither, he expertly walked the line between humor and horror, while in 2010’s Super, he explored the brutal (and sometimes brutally funny) consequences of superhero worship and vigilantism. His adventure with Task Force X blends the best elements of both films, boosted by a top-tier superhero movie budget, an all-star cast of talented actors, the freedom that comes with its unbridled rating, and the sort of brand familiarity built into an established cinematic universe.

The full package is a cinematic house of cards that could’ve easily collapsed under the weight of its own potential, but Gunn makes the most of every opportunity he’s given in The Suicide Squad.

The cast of The Suicide Squad standing in rubble.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Who lives, who dies

The biggest questions in the lead-up to the release of The Suicide Squad tend to focus on which characters — if any — are likely to be alive when the credits finally roll.

Identifying which actors in The Suicide Squad deserved more screen time or weren’t fully realized in the time they were given crosses a bit too far into spoiler territory, so it’s fortunate that there isn’t a weak performance among the bunch. Gunn keeps you guessing with the film’s rogues gallery, and each character gets a moment in the spotlight, even when it’s quickly followed by a sudden, gruesome death.

Elba and Robbie — as well as David Dastmalchian, who plays the troubled villain Polka-Dot Man — do a nice job of never letting their characters feel like heroes, even when they’re doing the right thing. That’s important, because it prevents the film from disappearing into the crowded field of hero-centric comic book movies and corrects one of the flaws of the 2016 film, which pushed its redemptive arc so far that it dulled its most interesting elements.

Ultimately, The Suicide Squad shares more in common with a show like Amazon’s The Boys than Wonder Woman or Justice League, and that’s a unique space that plays well to Gunn’s strengths as a filmmaker.

The cast of characters in the Suicide Squad cast stands in the jungle.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Big screen, big decisions

At a time when the pandemic has forced audiences to think twice about heading back to movie theaters — particularly with positive coronavirus test cases on the rise again in many regions — Warner Bros. is wisely making The Suicide Squad available both theatrically and via streaming service HBO Max.

For this review, The Suicide Squad was streamed on a 65-inch 4K television with a basic surround-sound audio system. It looked — and sounded — impressive on a home theater, and the film clearly takes full advantage of both the screen size and audio with some spectacular, effects-driven sequences. Although The Suicide Squad would be satisfying to watch on any screen, a more immersive environment would only add to the film’s entertainment value, whether that environment is found in a cineplex or a high-end home theater system.

From its big surprises to its even bigger spectacle, along with its expertly blended mix of over-the-top action and comedy, The Suicide Squad delivers on every bit of its potential thanks to a talented cast, a smart, daring script, and the expertise of one of Hollywood’s most entertaining filmmakers.

Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Suicide Squad premieres August 5 in U.S. theaters and August 6 on HBO Max.

Editors' Recommendations

Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
Nightmare Alley review: Guillermo del Toro delivers a bleak, beautiful noir
Bradley Cooper navigates a carnival funhouse in Nightmare Alley.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has a knack for making audiences uncomfortable in beautiful ways. Whether he's exploring human-merman romance in The Shape of Water or filtering the horrors of war through a dark, fairy-tale lens in Pan's Labyrinth, he always finds a way to drape darkness and depravity in a gorgeous, cinematic atmosphere that captures your attention and holds it there, no matter what unfolds on the screen.

Such is the case with Nightmare Alley, a neo-noir thriller co-written and directed by del Toro and based on William Lindsay Gresham's novel of the same name. The film follows an ambitious carnival worker who uses his training in reading and manipulating people to pull off one lucrative con after another and rise through society. When he partners with a cold, calculating psychologist in order to go after a wealthy, ruthless businessman, the former carny soon finds himself wrapped up in a dangerous game he can't afford to lose.

Read more
The Harder They Fall review: Making the Old West feel new again
Regina King and Lakeith Stanfield in The Harder They Fall.

Like any genre, the American Western has been reinvented countless times over the years, its boundaries pushed, prodded, and tested, and its palette both literally and figuratively repainted through various filmmakers' vision. Netflix continues that tradition with The Harder They Fall, a neo-Western adventure that assembles an all-star cast of African-American actors portraying real-world figures from the Old West, but overflows with modern style, symbolism, and cinematic spectacle.

The directorial debut of filmmaker Jeymes Samuel, The Harder They Fall casts Lovecraft Country star Jonathan Majors as Nat Love, the leader of an outlaw gang with an affinity for robbing other criminals. Nat has made it his life's mission to avenge the murder of his parents by the notorious criminal Rufus Buck, played by Idris Elba, and when he learns of Buck's impending escape from prison, he gets the gang back together for one final, dangerous job. The only problem? They'll need to get through Buck's own deadly gang of outlaws before Nat can have his vengeance.

Read more
The Suicide Squad’s John Cena returns in the first Peacemaker teaser
John Cena in Peacemaker.

If you have no idea who Peacemaker is supposed to be, don't worry. Even among dedicated DC Comics fans, Peacemaker wasn't exactly an A-list comic book character before writer and director James Gunn placed him in The Suicide Squad earlier this year. Gunn cast former WWE wrestler John Cena as Peacemaker, and he must have liked what he saw in Cena's performance because out of every surviving member of Task Force X, Peacemaker is the only one who is getting a spinoff series on HBO Max.

As part of this morning's HBO Max Europe preview, fans got their first look at the new Peacemaker series. It's worth mentioning that Peacemaker's real name is Christopher Smith, but there's never a moment when he isn't Peacemaker. The concept of a secret identity is foreign to Christopher, and he can't resist wearing his new Peacemaker costume out to a casual dinner with his co-workers. Fair warning: There's a lot of NSFW language in the following clip.

Read more