Rated R because we're dealing with classic James Gunn now. If you have only seen Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, you don't realize the sheer gore and inappropriateness of the whole experience. He's not as over-the-top as he was with films like Slither or Super (or other S titled films), but he's not exactly holding back either. This is an unapologetically R-rated film, but with a message that's kind of endearing. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: James Gunn
Now this is what made HBO Max worth it. I mean, I never thought I wanted to experience a James Gunn film outside of Guardians of the Galaxy, but there's a good chance that giving Gunn a big budget and freedom to do what he wants might be a good thing. He's hitting this sweet spot between what his artistic sensibilities are and what a studio wants to see from him. Sure, a lot of this might be the change in the studio attitude. And while The Suicide Squad might not even be my favorite James Gunn movie, my goodness I had a good time.
Suicide Squad is a tough concepts. While we want to see villain movies, the notion behind Task Force X is packing as many villains into one area and try to make them likable to a certain extent. Now, I'm sure that most of the commentary that's coming about this movie is the comparison to the David Ayer film of similar name. Like Guardians, it's not like the Suicide Squad was one of those popular properties that a mass audience could get behind. So the movie has to do a lot of legwork to set up this conceit and then take a bunch of intentionally despicable characters and get us to care for them. That probably was David Ayer's approach and God love him for trying to make that work. But James Gunn took a much smarter approach. Instead of going the way of the first Suicide Squad, Gunn took his inspiration from films like The Dirty Dozen. With a title like Suicide Squad, there should be a body count and a metacommentary stressing how unimportant life actually is. (Not something I espouse in reality, but it makes for great popcorn cinema.) What actually happens is that we start caring about the survivors because we need to hold onto them. It seems paradoxical. Through the carnage of villains (some of whom are played by actors I wanted to see throughout the film), I grew to care about the ones who didn't die.
But I think that the reason that The Suicide Squad might be a major jump forward for Gunn because it does embrace his over-the-top slaughterfest that he absolutely adores, but this movie seems to have a bit of heart. Now, there are people who will argue that James Gunn's film always had a heart to them. I don't really see that. I never thought that a movie that had Bloodsport as the dynamic protagonist would exist. But apparently, when you cast Idris Elba in that role, it really works. I love the idea of the world-weary anti-hero who oddly has this minutia of humanity to him. But the film is about watching that little seed grow. We know that he's not an absolute monster because he cares in his own disturbing way about his daughter, but in the way that stresses that he was going to go through this whole arc throughout the film. Maybe I'm harkening back to my obsession with father figures. But I adore how, once again, the role of surrogate father is thrust upon an unlikely candidate. With this case, the father figure is, to paraphrase Wreck-It Ralph, not a bad guy, but an actual Bad Guy.
It is Bloodsport's relationship with Ratcatcher II that makes the story worth more than the collection of jokes and gore. Don't get me wrong. The reason that I'm obsessed with Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is because of how darned funny the movie is. But the reason that I can say that it is objectively a good movie is because of the depth that exceeds the genre storytelling. (Oh geez, that's another problematic father story! Maybe I need to have a joint therapy session with James Gunn.) I know that I should be rooting for Bloodsport to be a good father to his actual kid, but it seems like the fact that Bloodsport actual goes beyond dealing with his own internal conflicts to be paternal to his team, but he literally allows himself to experience his ultimate nightmare of being overwhelmed by a hoard of rats. If you ever wanted a physically verifiable sign that a character had indeed changed, it has to be Idris Elba cowering in fetal position while being engulfed by a sea of gross fur.
I think that DC doesn't quite know what to do with Harley Quinn. You have Academy Award nominated and / or winning Margot Robbie who straight up advocates for the character. She does a pretty good job with potentially the most cartoonish DCeU character available. She is iconic and part of the cultural zeitgeist. But I still have a hard time really caring about her character. Listen, Gunn and Robbie do some amazing stuff with the character. But I quickly realized that Harley Quinn ultimately doesn't need to be in this movie. It's almost like Warner Brothers have contractually obligated her to be in villain films because she sells a ton of merchandise, but her stories almost seem to be parallel to the main plot. And she enhances the film. But isn't The Suicide Squad supposed to be like Birds of Prey and simply be another Harley Quinn movie? I'm way more interested in Bloodsport, Peacemaker, Ratcatcher, Polka Dot Man, and King Shark than I am in Harley Quinn. And I WANT to love Harley Quinn. Her animated series is one of the best thing on HBO Max and I want Margot Robbie to keep playing the character. I just want the movie to actually nail something for her to do that is great for the character, not just another team up movie where she says naughty things.
I want to have a paragraph on Peacemaker. I have nothing of wisdom to say about this character, but I don't. I just want to applaud the casting of John Cena in an absolutely perfect casting job. James Gunn casting wrestlers as the funny guys is just on-the-nose perfect. I know that Dave Bautista was supposed to play Peacemaker and I'm sure that he would have been perfect. But John Cena is a welcome addition as an antihero like Peacemaker. He makes the film.
So The Suicide Squad is pretty great. Maybe I don't have the most insight into this movie and I know that there's stuff to analyze. But I do applaud James Gunn for finding a way 1) to bounce back from all that Disney drama 2) to make a movie that is both commercially fun while being absolutely to his taste and 3) to salvage a franchise while giving hope to a meh DCeU. Nicely done.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.