The Suicide Squad Proves Better Than the 2016 Version


On August 5, 2016, Warner Bros released Suicide Squad in theaters across America. The film, despite boasting a star-studded cast and 175 million dollar budget, was critically panned, and is often referred to as one of the worst big budget blockbusters in recent memory. However, it made nearly 750 million dollars at the box office and was one of the highest grossing blockbusters of the year. Now, it seems Warner Bros. wants to take another stab at bringing these comic book characters to the big screen, this time bringing in beloved writer and director James Gunn to helm the project. 

Gunn’s film, titled The Suicide Squad, was released to rave reviews from critics and audiences, with many championing it as a vast improvement over it’s predecessor. Yet it has also failed to break even at the box office and will most likely be remembered as a financial bomb for the studio. This is honestly a shame, because James Gunn’s wonderfully deranged cavalcade of violence and goofy humor is some of the most fun I’ve had at the theater in years. 

The Suicide Squad centers on Task Force X, a team of various criminals who can shave time off their prison sentences in exchange for performing extremely dangerous goverment missions. The mission this time resembles that of 70s B-movies, as the team is tasked to infiltrate the island of Cortos Maltese with the goal of destroying an enemy research facility. Gunn utilizes this generic framework as an excuse to show off his wonderfully unique sense of style, creating a film backed with gory twists and subversive twists at every turn. 

Gunn’s script here is leagues better than the hackneyed screenplay of the 2016 version, boasting a variety of plot twists that caught me completely off guard and adding considerably to the movie’s entertainment value. At no point does the story feel predictable, for the filmmakers have a gift of taking the tropes we expect and subverting them in a unique (and gruesomely violent) way. In some ways this can be a detriment to the film, for Gunn is so dedicated to building up the punchline to his violent jokes that it can come across as poor storytelling upon first viewing. There were a few times throughout this film where I believed the movie had taken a horrible left turn in terms of the story, only for Gunn to correct course minutes later in a brutally hilarious way and get the plot back on track.  

The real fun of The Suicide Squad comes from Gunn’s vision, for it’s clear that he is in complete creative control here – and much like a small child left alone with his toys – he’s having a blast. His vision shines through in every scene, celebrating his gift for combining gonzo visuals with genuine heart and pathos. All of the characters are a blast to watch, thanks in large part to the extremely charismatic ensemble on display here.

 Idris Elba is fantastic as the lead, finally getting an action film worthy of his magnetic charisma, while also giving him a chance to show off his skills as a comedic performer. Elba plays off his co-stars with the utmost dramatic conviction, which makes him both a perfect comedic straight man and a genuinely compelling character in his own right. Violas Davis, Joel Kinnamin, and Margot Robbie return from the first film and prove to be leagues better here, thanks in large part to a script that gives them much meatier roles to sink their teeth into. This is hands down Margot Robbie’s  best work as Harley Quinn, as she shows off more range here than in prior DCEU films. I wish I could go on to praise the rest of the performances but telling you about which characters shine brightest would only spoil the fun. 

In addition to the strong characterization and creative writing, The Suicide Squad boasts some incredible filmmaking as well. Gunn finds himself reunited with cinematographer Henry Braham, resulting in a thrilling visual experience. Not only do the colors pop off the screen, but the movie is also packed with pure kinetic energy. The camera often feels like a living thing through this movie, constantly moving in a uniquely stylized fashion. Yet thanks to Gunn’s confident direction, Braham’s frenetic cinematography is never disorienting, for you can always make out what’s going on throughout the scene. 

How did a film this creative, stylish, and entertaining bomb in theaters, especially when it’s inferior predecessor proved to be a box office success? There are multiple factors, one of which being COVID-19. The virus has still proven to be a significant deterrent for potential audience members. The original film also had a much larger marketing budget and a more accessible PG-13 rating. However, we’ve seen in the past that comic book movies like Logan and Deadpool can be box office juggernauts in spite of their R ratings, so what separates them from The Suicide Sqaud?

 I believe there are two factors, one of which being the fact that Gunn’s film was available on HBO Max while in theaters and saw more success through streaming than ticket sales. The other factor could be the slow decline of the superhero genre, for audience members are no longer willing to take risks on out-of-the-box comic book movies. While the recent MCU films have still proven to be successful, other R rated superhero films have also struggled financially, such as last year’s Birds of Prey

It’s been over 10 years since the genre was essentially revitalized with films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, and many viewers nowadays complain about superhero fatigue. Most have written off the genre as childish and films that wish to escape that label aren’t being given a chance. This is a shame because I would love to see more movies like The Suicide Squad, for the world could always use some more uniquly crafted pieces of entertainment.