The D.C. Extended Universe (DCEU) has been a bit of a roller coaster. It got started after Marvel was already established, kicking off with the Superman re-boot Man of Steel in 2013. In the eight years since, the universe has offered 10 original films, often to varying results. Some have been hits, some have struck audiences as an experiment in what might have been.
Squarely in that second category is David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, released in 2016. It was a polarizing experience, with many disappointed by the final product. While I didn’t think it was perfect, I thought there was some appeal and potential. I particularly liked Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, a performance for which I thought she deserved Academy Award consideration.
As Warner Brothers looked at expanding the franchise, Ayer moved out and director James Gunn moved in. Gunn had already shown he could tag a rag-tag group of heroes and make a kick-ass film, doing that with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. With this second Suicide Squad film he kept what worked—bringing back Robbie and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg—while adding a bunch of new fun elements and characters, like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena) and Rat Catcher II (Daniela Melchior).
The film finds familiar faces and a new rogue’s gallery teamed up to drop on to the South American island of Corto Maltese, where the government has been overthrown leaving America vulnerable to attack from the nebulous Project Starfish, led by a deranged scientists named The Thinker (Peter Capaldi). Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) cajoles a new group of prisoners with special skills to join her existing Project X team to drop in and dispatch with the project to safeguard America.
While there, things don’t play out exactly as planned. The project is bigger in scope that some expected, the adversaries are more plentiful and the challenges, as always, leave the members of Project X in a moral quagmire.
Gunn is a talented writer and director. Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite of the MCU films, and I was excited to see what he could do with this project. It’s a similar type set up in that the “heroes” don’t start out all that heroic, and probably aren’t all that heroic throughout. It’s also a highly stylized approach, with a great blend of action, effects and music. But this time, the reigns are off for Gunn, who gets to step into a hard-R-rated film that makes the most of its lack of constraints.
This one is a bloody good time. There are plenty of wise-cracking moments, a lot of good action and some stunning visuals at times. The story moves at a decent pace and offers plenty of surprise twists, as this is the kind of superhero film that lends to a freer reign with less iconic “heroes.” For me, I didn’t feel the emotional connection to the plot and the characters—especially the new additions—that I have with other Gunn films. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t captivated by it.
I still love Robbie in the role of Harley Quinn. This in now her third outing, and I hope she’s not done playing the character. I wish I’d gotten more of her in this, but I appreciated some of the sequences that get to showcase her ability. I enjoyed Elba, too. I felt his character could have been developed more, but he was strong as an anchor, and I enjoyed his relationship and back-and-forth with Melchior.
In the end, The Suicide Squad is the fun kind of spectacle you expect in a summer movie. Gunn brings his own flair and style, but ultimately it feels to me like most of the DCEU films, moments of brilliance but some flaws.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.