To some degree, superhero stories are inherently silly. Whether from the basic concepts behind beloved heroes and villains or the general absurdity of scenarios presented in their weekly adventures, each requires the audience to buy into the absurdity of people flying around in capes in order to tell stories of cathartic power fantasies, emotion-filled soap operas, or veiled criticism of modern issues. Great stories in the genre can combine all of these elements together to create a tale where we can smile, cheer, and fret over people with names like “Polka-Dot Man” (David Dastmalchian).
Thankfully, The Suicide Squad is able to effectively channel the best elements of superhero stories and, especially compared to most superhero movies, truly feels like a live-action comic. Hell, it has title sequences aimed at separating the varying parts of the movie in a manner reminiscent of comic book issues. The story follows numerous superpowered prisoners given the chance to reduce their sentence length by going on a covert black-ops mission. The lives of the prisoners are given little value by their handlers and any deviation from the mission risks the immediate termination of the agent through an implanted explosive device. If this description of the plot sounds a bit depressing, then you will be pleased to know that the movie is full of comedy, action, and heartwarming moments
Despite the outlandish characters featured in the story and the bombastic action sprinkled throughout, at the heart of the movie are the characters’ attempts to move beyond their disturbing pasts and become better people. The comedy and visual spectacle bring you in and keep it entertaining, but it is the characters’ personalities and struggles that make it memorable and loveable.
For example, one of the main characters (Idris Elba) is in prison for attempted murder-for-hire against Superman (yes, the Superman). His introduction involves yelling at his daughter for being caught by police, yet he selflessly tries to protect an island full of people by the end of the movie. Quite impressively, each character feels relatable or elicits sympathy in some way despite the large size of the cast and numerous big names – Viola Davis, Taika Waititi, John Cena, etc. – in it. Everyone gets some moment to shine, even down to a giant shark-man (Steve Agee, Sylvester Stallone) who is easy to love in spite of his tendency to eat humans.
Under the supervision of director James Gunn, the extensive cast of lovable characters is not too surprising given his work on the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. The movie never feels as funny as the director’s past films, but its comedic moments help keep the characters grounded and can elicit at least an internal chuckle. Furthermore, the comedy never distracts from character development or the movie’s pacing by grounding its jokes within character interactions and amusing scenarios. The comedic moments feel earned, a natural extension of the story being told. Some funny moments even come from the simple weirdness of the characters. The whimsical nature of a man who throws polka dots is funny on its own, yet the comedy is elevated by its juxtaposition with the character’s nihilistic demeanor. Dastmalchian performs in a depressive and unsure demeanor through downward-looking eyes, awkward fidgeting under the spotlight, and hopeful voice tones at pessimistic lines of dialogue. His nonchalant demeanor towards the strength of his powers and moments of joy towards more ordinary activities further underscores the comedy and tragedy of his predicament.
The action and visual spectacle of the film also do not disappoint. The fight sequences always carry elements of tragedy and comedy while feeding into the forward progression of the plot. No fight is there simply for the sake of spectacle; there is a narrative reason behind the punches and explosions, reinforcing the stakes behind the characters’ potential victories or defeats. Specific scenes have striking visual design or camera—Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) breakout scene is a prime example of this—and remain visually clear. The action is portrayed clearly for the audience first and foremost and adds in stylish elements so long as the scene’s readability isn’t diminished.
In between the action-packed set pieces and charming dialogue, there lies uncomfortable themes and real-world analogies responding to the lack of empathy extended towards victims of the prison system and America’s spotty record of intervention in other countries. The premise of the movie is based on the fact that US officials are more willing to expand prisoners’ lives rather than fund programs aimed at improving their situations and, hopefully, reform their behavior. In the third act, the prisoners are shown to be more compassionate and caring than the guards, the supposed ‘good guys’ from the public perspective. If you wanted to truly examine the movie, the actions of the government seem to actually push the prisoners into repeating their behaviors and ending back up in jail, exemplified by the fact that Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) have participated in these squad missions multiple times. It uncomfortably parallels reality without bringing explicit attention to its potential themes.
The Suicide Squad is full of fantastical and interesting characters that carry a story spliced with moments of comedy and fun action sequences. There are elements of societal critique and uncomfortable issues, but these are never forced on the audience. It can simply be a movie about a shark-man becoming friends with a girl controlling rats if that is what you prefer. The movie has enough to satisfy most audiences, especially those that are bored by the lack of imagination in current superhero movies. Give it a try and you may also adore the band of misfits that is the Suicide Squad.