Being different, even when it means being exceptional, is lonely. When you’re like this, it’s usually easier to just let yourself be alone. That’s why when you do find other people who can stomach you, it often serves to make you a better person. Or at the very least, you hate yourself a little less. Yes, this is my introduction to talking about James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
One big thing about comic books that a lot of people misinterpret is the idea that it’s great to have powers. To be different in some sort of romantic way (romantic in the literary sense). This isn’t why people fall in love with characters like Spider-Man or the X-Men. People fall in love with these characters because, for whatever reason, they feel like freaks or that there’s a part of themselves that they need to hide. Then you pick up a comic book, and you see that on the page.
It’s this sense of newfound connection that sits at the heart of The Suicide Squad. The movie doesn’t make the mistake of having all of its “heroes” be super cool badasses who are too cool and too badass to care if they fit in or not. Many of its characters are embarrassed of their powers. Their special abilities are grotesque, and they get ridiculed for having them. And just like a box of broken toys, they are disposable.
The first sign that James Gunn’s take on the Suicide Squad was going to live up to the name was when the massive cast list was announced. It was clear that a lot of these characters — many B-, C-, and D-tier players — were going to serve as cannon fodder.
I don’t want to spend too much time ragging on this movie’s predecessor, 2016’s mucky Suicide Squad, but it’s difficult not to draw some points from comparing the two movies. One is a movie that has a clear creative vision. The other is an example of how a potentially good movie can be dismantled, retrofitted, and retooled in an effort to mimic something popular that it was never supposed to be in the first place. This fits in with the theme I’m going with of accepting yourself, you big bunch of weirdos, nerds, and losers.
The 2016 movie cared about its characters enough to keep everyone alive for the most part, but not enough to give everybody a story arc or motivation beyond just the bombs in their necks. The best example of this is the attempt to shock the audience early on by having the Slipknot character unceremoniously killed off when his neck bomb is detonated during an attempted escape.
This unfortunately appeared really predictable since Slipknot was the sole member of the squad not to receive an introductory title card. He simply steps out of a van after all the other characters are introduced. Because why waste time on a character you’re just going to kill off anyway?
James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad gives the audience a cast of fully fleshed out characters and then proceeds to murder them in the most gloriously graphic ways you can imagine. Everyone gets a moment before their final moments. And it’s this reason that you care — because every death puts the heroes left on screen in even more danger.
Another aspect of the newest Suicide Squad that sets it apart from its counterpart is the plot. In the original Suicide Squad, Superman’s dead, so we need a team, and there’s ancient gods maybe, and the Suicide Squad is sent into a city to save their boss from the ancient gods she set loose in the first place. It’s a mess.
In 2021’s The Suicide Squad, the overall plot is your straightforward action movie storyline: A military coup in a foreign nation leaves a mysterious superweapon in the hands of a dictator. We need a team to go in and stop him. Simple enough.
And the reason you want a simple plot is because it allows the movie to focus on its characters. You want to believe they are real people that you care about. Even if they are bad fathers, covered in rats, or oozing with neon boils.
Speaking of rats, Daniela Melchior’s performance as Ratcatcher 2 is the heart and soul of this film. Despite her tragic backstory, she serves as a beacon of optimism and morality for the film’s more disheartened and cynical characters.
Another thing that people misunderstand about comic book heroes is that they’re supposed to be inspiring. A lot of that stems from folks taking the wrong lessons away from the shift to more realistic, more mature comics of the late ’80s and early ’90s. After a while, it seemed corny to care about anything.
Heroes became anti-heroes. Villains became the only ones who seemed to actually enjoy life. Yes, this is pretty much how things are in the real world, but who doesn’t already have enough of the real world?
I don’t want anymore of the real world — at least not in my superhero movies. I want a young woman who controls an army of rats to inspire Idris Elba to save a city from a giant starfish and be a better father. I want to see someone try to be a hero. Because the country is a bit of a death cult at the moment. And if I’m going to be different, it should be because I’m one of the people trying to do the right thing.