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Film Review: ‘The Suicide Squad’ is an Instant Classic from James Gunn and Cinematic Nirvana

Warner Bros.

Wow. For a few weeks now, the buzz had steadily been building that James Gunn had really pulled off something special with The Suicide Squad. Well, now I can add to the chorus of early raves. This is a magnificent achievement, literally as good as it gets for comic book films. Far more than just an R-rated lark in between Guardians of the Galaxy movies, The Suicide Squad represents what you can do with genre when you’re a mad scientist like Gunn is. I remain in shock, not just from how much better it is than you’re prepared for, but how it represents cinematic nirvana. This is, to date, the best that 2021 has to offer.

The Suicide Squad, for what it’s doing, is perfect. For as much as Suicide Squad was a misfire, this hits the bullseye. Not only is it absurdly violent and absolutely hilarious, it beats with the heart of a work that truly cares about its characters. I loved every second of it. Gunn’s choices all pay off, even the ones that seem like long-shots (and especially some of them, even). Ambition, confidence, and just a bit of insanity come together to form a masterpiece. When a giant silly thing is phenomenal, as well as a sentient rat (not to mention a man-eating shark) capturing your imagination, you know you’re in for a one of a kind experience.

Warner Bros.

Yes, this takes place after the events of Suicide Squad, but for the most part, the film pretends like it doesn’t exist. We’re dropped right into a mission that Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has recruited Task Force X for. Led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a group consisting of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Savant (Michael Rooker), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), T.D.K. (Nathan Fillian), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Weasel (Sean Gunn), Javelin (Flula Borg), and Mongal (Mayling Ng), are sent off to the remote island of Corto Maltese. They arrive with no sense of what the mission is, only that Waller considers it to be of the utmost importance. Joined by a second team made up of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), and King Shark (voice of Sylvester Stallone), chaos immediately ensues. A large body count takes shape, with others captured. Still, they have no idea why they’re there.

The surviving team members are ordered to move about Corto Maltese, capturing the mad scientist Thinker (Peter Capaldi) to aide in their mission. Eventually, they learn that they’re using a military coup as an excuse to destroy something very dangerous that’s being held on the island. Of course, almost nothing goes according to plan, but here, that just leads to more fun. I’ve left out a ton of plot, mainly to save some major surprises. Just know that it zigs almost every time you’re worried that it’s going to zag.

Warner Bros.

This is truly an ensemble effort from the cast. Idris Elba is a nominal lead, but John Cena and Margot Robbie are also central figures. Each puts forth instantly memorable work. For Robbie, it’s also the best interpretation of this character yet. Along with David Dastmalchian and Daniela Melchior, they get the most consistently entertaining material, not counting Sylvester Stallone’s riot of a voice performance. Cena is almost entirely comic relief (with the same going for Stallone, mostly), but everyone else has moments that are shockingly emotional. This takes nothing away from the other team members, which include Jai Courtney, Pete Davidson, Sean Gunn, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, and others. It’s just that Cena, Dastmalchian, Elba, Melchior, and Robbie are going above and beyond. Joel Kinnaman completely elevates his stock original character, clearly having a blast. Even Viola Davis, doing the closest to her initial interpretation, is aces. Supporting players here also include Steve Agee, Alice Braga, the aforementioned Peter Capaldi, Jennifer Holland, Storm Reid, Taika Waititi, and many more.

For years, filmmaker James Gunn has put his own stamp on whatever he’s made. This, however, feels like the most purely “him” movie to date. The Troma indebted early work of Slither and Super merges with the scale of the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks, forming something glorious. Gunn not only relishes the gore quotient that he’s allowed here, he also imbues it all with heart. For as gory as this is, it also loves the characters and makes them all memorable. Plus, the cinematography from Henry Braham and the score by John Murphy are better than you’d expect. Braham and Gunn in particular are able to craft some really unusual and even beautiful shots.

Warner Bros.

It’ll never happen, but in a perfect world, The Suicide Squad would contend for a Best Picture nomination. The work stands tall on its own, but when you consider that the Academy Awards are back to a mandatory ten in Picture, it really makes you wish they’d embrace something like this getting a slot. Not only only would it be a unique nominee, it would show that Oscar actually does appeal to more than just hardcore cinephiles.

The Suicide Squad will blow you away. It’s an instant classic and an absolute must see for anyone who loves comic book fare. Moreover, it’s the best film of the year so far, which actually boggles my mind. Not because 2021 is weak, either, but because this flick is just so great. I’ve even held back on raving about some of the aspects, since it’s so much fun to discover them on your own. Just know that this is something special. Don’t you dare miss it!

SCORE: ★★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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