[The following review contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
The pre-credit sequence of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is more faithful to the spirit of John Ostrander’s cult classic comic book series than the entirety of David Ayer’s 2016 adaptation. The film’s first ten minutes quickly and efficiently establish its basic Dirty Dozen-inspired premise: our protagonists are super-powered prisoners forced to participate in black ops missions on behalf of the U.S. government in exchange for reduced sentences; their handler, Amanda Waller, is a coldhearted bitch whose brutal pragmatism borders on megalomania; and absolutely anyone can die a gruesome, unceremonious death—including fan-favorite returning characters like Captain Boomerang, who doesn’t survive beyond the opening action scene.
Compared to the half-hour of longwinded expository flashbacks that began its predecessor, this narrative brevity is a breath of fresh air.
More importantly, Gunn perfectly translates the source material’s contradictory tone to the big screen. Like Ostrander, he embraces the inherent absurdity of supervillainy—from the cartoonishly colorful costumes to the ridiculous codenames—but refuses to make an outright joke out of the outlandish concept, instead playing it remarkably straight. Bloodsport, The Polka-Dot Man, and even Starro the Conqueror have tragic backstories, grapple with moral dilemmas, and are just as dangerous as any other armed criminal when backed into a corner.
The only difference is that their weapons are exploding interdimensional polka dots, swarms of mind-controlled rats, and… detachable limbs.
If I had to name a single glaring flaw, it would be Harley Quinn; contrary to Gunn’s comments during the movie’s promotional tour, her inclusion on the roster feels totally obligatory and superfluous. She frequently sidetracks the plot, going off on barely-relevant tangents that contribute little to the overarching conflict. Indeed, you could remove her from the story altogether without losing anything of substance. Of course, this is probably my own bias talking; I’m not terribly fond of how Doctor Quinzel has been written by creators other than Paul Dini and Bruce Timm—as far as I’m concerned, this is merely the latest example of oversaturation diminishing the character’s appeal.
Overall, however, The Suicide Squad is a resounding cinematic triumph, combining the irreverent charm of Gunn’s early independent work (Slither, Super) and the slick, big-budget craftsmanship of his Marvel-produced blockbusters into one surprisingly crowd-pleasing concoction.