Skip to main content

'The Suicide Squad' Review: A strangely reserved spectacle

One that punches down way more often than necessary.

The Suicide Squad
(Image: © Warner Bros.)

Our Verdict

Somehow a film featuring a starfish kaiju and stellar all around performances feels like a chore.

For

  • ✖️ Harley Quinn is written perfectly (and performed).
  • ✖️ Daniela Melchior and Sylvester Stallone's chemistry as Ratcatcher 2 and King Shark is just lovely.
  • ✖️ Idris Elba admirably tackles the complicated task of making you give a damn about Bloodsport.
  • ✖️ Weasel.
  • ✖️ Starro's final line.
  • ✖️ The gore is great, and there's a good amount of spectacle.

Against

  • ✖️ Showcasing that misfits can be something greater means very little when you spend much of your film punching down.
  • ✖️ The Suicide Squad successfully erases any possible interest I had in a Peacemaker series.
  • ✖️ Subverting expectations is great! But it's the wrong move when you sacrifice something that would have made your film stronger.

This post contains spoilers for The Suicide Squad

When you look at David Ayer's Suicide Squad, it's heavily apparent that Warner Brothers wanted James Gunn from the start. From the stylization to the needle-drop heavy soundtrack, the earlier iteration of this team had We Want To Be Guardians of the Galaxy written all over it. Nothing surprising about that — the two comics giants have been ripping each other off since inception. What is surprising is that now that Gunn was given The Suicide Squad to play with, the film seems strangely reserved? The film features an alien starfish kaiju, so you can imagine how odd it is to write that sentence. And yet, there are parts of contemporary Gunn that feel missing here. Meanwhile, his Troma roots are on full display.

That is not a compliment. 

There's a lot to love in The Suicide Squad. It gives Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) a wonderfully fun arc, and Idris Elba does an admirable job making you care about Bloodsport and his story. The whole cast truly understood the assignment here, and leaned into the weirdness with glee. Even better, their chemistry really jives. Daniela Melchior and Sylvester Stallone are particular standouts as Ratcatcher 2 and King Shark, with their friendship being one of the warmest aspects of the film. 

Circling back to Robbie's Harley Quinn for a moment — The Suicide Squad really does feel like she's hit her final form. Many of the film's shining moments belong to her, whether it be when she's shooting her new beaux in the face for sending red flags or blasting her way out of her would-be prison with flowers blooming through the mayhem. Robbie's performance of the character has always been spot-on, but we get a loud and clear "there's no future where this iteration backtracks to be with the Joker again," tone to her in this chapter.

The thing about writing misfits, though, is that you diminish your message of a brighter future when you spend much of your story punching down. Gunn has always excelled at showing us that villains can be something more. That the lowest of the low can serve a purpose and be greater than what people expect of them. But it's hard to be revved up about a fiend like Bloodsport gaining more of a conscience after you see the team raze through a village of freedom fighters. 

"But they're the bad guys." Yes, we know. This is something perfectly illustrated in the first seconds of the film when we see Savant (Michael Rooker) murder the bird — what exactly is Gunn's deal with birds, anyway? — It's highlighted again and again as Bloodsport and Peacemaker attempt to one-up one another, or as we learn the sordid pasts of our protagonists. Task Force X was simply following Amanda Waller's (Viola Davis) instructions, but those instructions didn't need to be written into the script. Great for your super villains that they can grow. Why were the freedom fighters of Corto Maltese a necessary sacrifice?

Gunn's Troma roots are on full display here as The Suicide Squad with the retconning of Polka-Dot Man's (David Dastmalchian) bland origins. Rather than the boring, run-of-the-mill criminal who simply made a costume with functional spots that could be used to fight Batman, the Abner Krill of Gunn's universe turned to villainy after his heavyset mother ran experiments on him and mutated him into the man he is today. (We see you, Silas Stone.)  The mother (played by the lovely Lynne Ashe) is then used as the butt of several jokes throughout the film, including as the replacement for Starro that leads to Polka-Dot Man's infamous death. It's a lazy, lowbrow bit that it felt that Gunn had grown past after recent films. Given the knowledge that he was given more freedom from Warner Bros. than ever before, perhaps some directors do benefit from a little bit of interference.

Script issues aside, The Suicide Squad somehow manages to miss the emotional beats that Gunn's recent filmography succeeds in. Needle drops are still present in this new chapter, but it feels as if the film is so focused on subverting expectations that it forgot that sometimes it's better to be good than go across the grain. Juxtaposing slower songs against breakneck action might be unexpected, but it's exhausting in trailers and it's a drag here.

That lack of emotional connection feels like the biggest disappointment here. The Suicide Squad had a lot of excitement leading up to its release — mine included — but somehow a film featuring a starfish kaiju and King Shark never really hit for me. What it did do is remove any kind of excitement I had going into Peacemaker (despite Cena playing the role perfectly). Giving a character who would do all kinds of deplorable things for peace in today's climate was questionable from the jump, but I had high hopes given Gunn's track record. After what we saw in The Suicide Squad, I'm just asking when the next property with Robbie's Harley Quinn hits.