Thursday, September 23, 2021

‘The Suicide Squad’: What Makes This Film So Great?

When The Suicide Squad premiered last week, audiences approached the film with hopeful optimism mixed with an underlying air of caution after the less-than-stellar performance of the 2016 film Suicide Squad. Sure, some did indeed enjoy the first movie, but overall the advantageous villain-centric venture fell somewhat short of its original aspirations. As for the 2021 approach, a week’s worth of reviews for the “not officially a sequel, but also not a hard reboot” have deemed it as Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

While the new film is built upon the same foundation as the first, following a group of dangerous, incarcerated villains who are sent on a secret mission, The Suicide Squad ended up being far superior in terms of overall execution. So, what exactly makes The Suicide Squad so great?

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Idris Elba and his gratuitous f-bombs carry the film

Idris Elba in The Suicide Squad
Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics
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In Suicide Squad, one of the central characters was Will Smith’s Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, but he didn’t return for the second. Instead, The Suicide Squad‘s leading role was given to Idris Elbra, who portrayed a character named Robert DuBois, aka Bloodsport. (He was intentionally not cast as a direct replacement for Deadshot himself.) While the two mercenaries share some similarities with their dangerous skills and a storyline involving their respective daughters, Elba brought his own new, fresh edge as a leading member of the team.

Dubois’ gruff exterior, tendency for foul language, dedication to the mission, fear of rats, soft spot for Ratcatcher 2, and rivalry with Peacemaker all came together to make him a dynamic and compelling lead that truly carried the film.

Rick Flag is a far more interesting character, arguably one of the best

Still frame of Daniela Melchior, Joel Kinnaman, and Peter Capaldi
Jessica Miglio/Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics

Joel Kinnaman was one of the few actors from Suicide Squad to reprise their original role in the new film. He portrays Rick Flag, a military leader of Task Force X. But whereas the characterization of Flag in Suicide Squad made him somewhat bland and forgettable, The Suicide Squad transformed him into one of the film’s best characters.

Kinnaman carried over Flag’s standard heroics and bravery, but he was also able to bring a new necessary edge of humor and personality to the character this time around. (He also received an excellent hair and wardrobe upgrade.) His relationship dynamics with characters like the freedom fighters, Harley Quinn, Dubois, and co. further drove this point home. All of this makes Flag’s death one of the most displeasing parts of the film because he would have been a key player to include in a future DC Extended Universe project down the line.

Ratcatcher 2 and Sebastian the Rat, the MVPs

Daniela Melchior in The Suicide Squad
Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics
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Hands down, Daniela Melchior was absolutely the breakout star of The Suicide Squad. Melchior portrayed team newcomer Cleo Cazo aka Ratcatcher 2. Cleo is the daughter of Ratcatcher, and she has the ability to tame, train, and control rats. She’s a charming and likable character whose past isn’t quite as dark as the rest of Task Force X. Cleo carries an air of innocence with her that balances out the rest of the team. At one point, despite the team’s warnings, she persists in becoming friends with King Shark … even after he tried to eat her.

Without Cleo, the team wouldn’t have been able to defeat the seemingly impenetrable Starro. She harnessed the power of Corto Maltese’s rat population, who ruthlessly attacked the extraterrestrial starfish with the help of Harley and Javelin’s weapon.

Cleo’s pet rat Sebastian also stole the show with his cute, polite waves and fearlessness in the face of danger.

Task Force X is an endearingly dysfunctional found family

Still frame of Task Force X
Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics

Is Task Force X a team full of criminals, killers, and otherwise villainous evil-doers? Yes. But there’s an endearingly captivating aspect to their little dysfunctional found family. It’s seen in moments like when Cleo opens up to DuBois about her father and when Flag is insistent that they go back to rescue Harley. Underneath the absurdity and the violence, the cast of the film had a fun and engaging chemistry. They leveraged this to further the audiences’ investment in the success of the characters’ mission.

The movie went full George R.R. Martin with the deaths

Still frame from The Suicide Squad
Jessica Miglio/Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics

If there’s any mindset that one should approach The Suicide Squad with, it’s to not get too attached to any particular characters. Some would have thought that the return of Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang guaranteed his survival. But think again, because he was toast in the film’s opening act. Did you come into this excited to see Pete Davidson as Blackguard? Too bad, he’s dead. Michael Rooker’s Savant? Dead in the water … literally.

There were shocking deaths, like when Task Force X accidentally killed the entire camp of rebels. And sad ones, like when Polka-Dot Man died at the hands (arms? alien legs?) of Starro. And we can’t forget Milton, the team’s loyal bus driver. But the hardest hitting of them all was that of Rick Flag at the dastardly hands of Peacemaker.

Now, why are all of these deaths a good thing? Because honestly, they work with the not-so-serious tone of the film, and we can respect the guts it takes a filmmaker to decide to nix so many characters in the span of two hours. Although we wouldn’t be opposed to a miraculous Rick Flag resurrection … just saying.

No-holds-barred gore and violence

King Shark still frame
Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics

While Suicide Squad hit theaters with a PG-13 rating, The Suicide Squad launched with an unapologetic, substantial R rating. Right off the bat, Elba’s frequent use of f-bombs made for an entertaining introduction to his character. But beyond the language, the R rating really sets sail with the film’s gore and violence. While it may indeed be a bit extreme at times for some audiences, the concept of a group of supervillains set loose on a dangerous mission is anything but tame. Whereas the 2016 film was only able to take things so far, this one held nothing back and went full throttle with blood splatter and gruesome deaths galore. The severity of these scenes is then evened out with the film’s humorous undertones, making it far more digestible. (No pun intended.)

And most importantly … it doesn’t try to take itself too seriously

Still frame from The Suicide Squad
Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics

One large issue that The Suicide Squad resolved from its predecessor is that it doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. Although both films utilize humor throughout, it feels far more natural in the 2021 iteration, whereas it was questionable at best in the 2016 version. The premise of sending a group of dangerous, deadly supervillains out into the world on a government-sanctioned mission is certainly compelling, but a story like this needs to be fun. The script and directorial style sling back and forth from gritty action to campy, offbeat, self-aware humor.

While there are certainly some dramatic, serious moments, at no point does The Suicide Squad feel like it’s trying to be anything that it’s not. It’s ridiculous. It’s entertaining. And it works.

The Suicide Squad is now in theaters and streaming exclusively on HBO Max.

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Lindsey
Lindsey joined the Nerds and Beyond team in 2018. She has spent a large portion of her life dedicated to her first love, photography. When she's not behind the camera, she's likely reading books and comics or dabbling in creative writing. Otherwise, she's probably yelling about something Star Wars or Marvel related on Twitter @lindyysolo. Contact: lindsey@nerdsandbeyond.com

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