James Gunn has kind of pulled off a miracle with The Suicide Squad (not to be confused with 2016’s Suicide Squad). And I’m not even talking about the contents of the movie itself – a movie I liked quite a bit; we’ll get to that in a bit – but just the fact I can’t think of another movie quite as dreadful, and was as big a bomb as Suicide Squad, then to have a sequel that is as well made and, frankly, competent as The Suicide Squad — it’s such a unique situation.
The reason I can’t think of any direct comparisons is that movies that cost a lot of money and are critical flops don’t usually get sequels. What usually happens is a movie like, say, Star Trek: The Motion Picture happens – and it’s met with a tepid reaction (yes, I’m aware that over the years people have warmed up to this movie, especially the director’s cut ) and the budget is cut, they bring in a new director, and a new tone is adapted and we get The Wrath of Khan. But Star Trek: The Motion Picture isn’t dreadful. Suicide Squad is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a theater in the last five years. And now there’s a sequel. And it’s good. (I honestly don’t know what to tell people who ask if they should watch the first movie before seeing this one. On one hand, it would help people know some of the characters in the sequel. On the other hand, people who watch the first movie are not going to want to watch another one.)
The fact The Suicide Squad even exists is only because of an unusual turn of events: Disney fires Gunn for some bad, but very old tweets. Warner Bros. immediately, and wisely, lets him pick almost whatever property he wants and then lets him do anything he wants. Disney regrets it and brings Gunn back. But Gunn decided he wanted a crack at his version of a The Suicide Squad movie and that’s literally the only reason this movie is coming out.
Plot-wise, this very R-rated movie is a difficult movie to describe because Gunn pulls the rug out from the audience numerous times. But I will say this is a movie that feels like it has actual stakes. Characters actually die. And it truly feels like no one is safe, other than maybe Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn because I can’t see Warner Bros. agreeing to kill off one of their most popular characters. (Though, when I interviewed Gunn he swore that if he wanted to kill her off, he could have.) Literally everyone else in this movie is fair game to not make it to the end. Which adds a sense of worry and dread for the characters we find ourselves latching onto, which is truly rare for a superhero movie outside of, “Well my contract is up and we have to do something with this character I’ve played for 10 years.”
There are a lot of characters in this movie, which I worried would be “too much,” but Gunn, with one of his rug pulls, finds a clever way to alleviate that problem pretty early in the movie. A team of super-powered prisoners – which now includes Idris Elba’s Bloodsport and a talking shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone – are offered a lesser sentence in exchange for going to an island off the coast of South America to infiltrate a destroy a laboratory that is studying a new weapon that winds up being Starro. Now, see, just that alone: getting to watch Starro of all villains ponce across the movie screen was … well it’s something I didn’t really ever expect to see. (If you’re not familiar with Starro, it is a giant alien starfish, who first appeared way back in 1960, who can produce baby starfish that attach to people’s faces and control their minds.)
Again, The Suicide Squad is the polar opposite of the movie that came before. Just the fact it’s, again, “competent,” and also “entertaining,” alone put it in direct opposition to its predecessor. But at 132 minutes, it does run out of some steam in the second act. For the first hour of The Suicide Squad I found myself on the edge of my seat, truly feeling like I was watching something fresh. A superhero movie that wasn’t quite like anything I’ve seen before. Then after that first hour it all becomes a little more conventional and those feelings faded a bit, but The Suicide Squad ends on a high note with a pretty stellar final battle against Starro. Watching a team of heroes (or villains, I guess) battle a giant starfish is … unique.
Again, I’m still mystified this movie even exists. It really shouldn’t, but here it is. And it comes at you with such swagger, almost to say, “Yeah, we know our last movie was terrible, what of it?” But I’m sure glad it does exist. The Suicide Squad finally gets its redemption.
‘The Suicide Squad’ will be released on August 5th in theaters and stream via HBO Max. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.