Want to know something tragic? I, Daniel Merrifield, The Movie Dweeb, own Suicide Squad (2016) on Blu-ray. In my defence, it was worth £2 from Poundland (which I’ll still never understand), but I did hand over my hard earned cash in order to purchase it.
And this comes after enduring it in the cinema with my then-friend, Joseph. I say then-friend; he did nothing wrong to me for our relationship to end… I just know passionately loathe him entirely for even suggesting we went to see Suicide Squad together.
And yet – much like David Beckham, following his red card in the 1998 World Cup, redeeming himself in October 2001 – the Suicide Squad franchise was redeemed by James Gunn, a director who I will worship until the end of time, and insist that he directs every damn movie made from now on.
(And, yes, I did have to Google that David Beckham redemption story. Until recently, I thought ‘football’ was the sport with the little green/yellow balls and the two stringed frying pan looking things.)
Naturally, it’s only fair that, during this review, I compare the exceptional, explosive and – most importantly – perfect The Suicide Squad to it’s complete opposite Suicide Squad. After all, The Suicide Squad (2021) is what Suicide Squad (2016) should have been in the first place.
I remember seeing the first trailer for Suicide Squad (2016) and getting goosebumps as explosions and gunshots were excellently timed to the beat of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. I was fully expecting something so fun and quirky, yet so stylish – in a similar vein to Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. What we got, however, was similar to what a baby would leave in it’s nappy, if it ate four chicken kormas. It was too dark… Literally; to the point where it’s difficult to make out what’s going on. Every character was miserable and brooding.
And then, we jump five years later, where The Suicide Squad (2021) is immediately fun, from the very millisecond the film opens, as an upbeat Johnny Cash song, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ introduces us to Belle Reve, the prison where The Suicide Squad are housed. We see Michael Rooker’s Savant bouncing a rubber ball, effortlessly ricocheting it around the room and catching it again, before brutally slamming it against a chirping bird. Straight away, you get it – this is the fun, whacky film we always wanted from Suicide Squad (2016).
In fact, The Suicide Squad (2021) knows so well what the audience wants, that it doesn’t bother with long, boring, dull introductions to the movie; we immediately get into the action. This is partly thanks to it being a follow-up to it’s 2016 predecessor, which introduced Amanda Waller’s idea of using villains as her soldiers, but even so, unlike Suicide Squad (2016), no time is wasted introducing characters or moments.
Initially, I quite liked the neon flickering graphics of Suicide Squad (2016), which told the audience who each character was; their likes; their hobbies – like a scary Tinder profile – but this became so overused that to this day, when I meet someone new, I refuse to take in what they’re saying unless it appears in a dodgy graphic, glowing behind them, telling me their least favourite Batman quote.
Instead, with The Suicide Squad (2021), Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) takes Michael Rooker’s Savant through the jail, and as she introduces him to various members of The Suicide Squad, we, too, are introduced to them. This feels much more natural and less jarring. But then again, a brick to the face would feel less jarring that Suicide Squad (2016).
As mentioned before, after watching the Suicide Squad (2016) trailer, I was waiting for something right from the comic books; I wanted wild, insane spectacles that you wouldn’t expect to see in an action movie. I wanted something, frankly, fun. Sadly, Suicide Squad (2016) failed to do that – it opted for ‘cool’ characters in it’s roster, including El Diablo, an inmate who can summon flames (but he’s also hella edgy because he has sick ink), and Killer Croc, a – let’s face it – human man trapped in a crocodile’s body. He did very little crocodile-things apart from occasionally going for a dip.
THEN THERE’S KING MOTHER FUCKING SHARK. I have a phobia of sharks – I once rode the Jaws ride at Universal Studios in Florida, and struggled to go into the bath for a fortnight after, at risk of a great white emerging from the plughole – yet Sylvester Stallone’s King Shark (which is The Suicide Squad’s (2021) version of Killer Croc) won me over. He’s dim, he’s funny and, most importantly, he eats people, like a shark on legs would.
What I’m trying to get to here, is that The Suicide Squad (2021) does not take itself seriously. And rightfully so. It’s a comic book movie, set in the same universe as a supervillain who wields mustard and ketchup, called Condiment King. (Seriously. Google it.)
James Gunn brilliantly introduced some of the silliest supervillains into the franchise – such as Weasel (Sean Gunn), TDK (Nathan Fillion) and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). All of whom have comic-accurate costumes, consisting of spotted onesies, bright yellow lycra and garish headpieces. At the end of the day, your cinematic universe’s protagonist is a man who spends billions of pounds to dress as a bat. In what world of fantasy did David Ayer think he had the right to take his iteration of the Suicide Squad seriously?
And yet, unlike James Gunn’s previous work, with Marvel, on the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, it’s not a family friendly affair, filled with laughs. While The Suicide Squad (2021) is very, very funny, it knows it’s audience so well. A more mature audience would watch this, which is why – during the film’s opening chapter, as main characters are immediately dying in gruesome, gory ways, I was excited for what’s to come. It was a shock, but a welcome one. In Suicide Squad (2016), Amanda Waller threatens to detonate bombs in the skulls of her Task Force, but we see one character, Slipknot, briefly pop in the distance; here, one character’s head fully bursts into a display of red goo, as their blood spreads into the water, writing ‘Warner Bros Presents’ on the surface.
The film also references heroin overdoses, and heavily features a lot of swearwords – a personal highlight for me is when Idris Elba’s Robert DuBois repeatedly screams “fuck you”, to his teenage daughter, as she repeatedly screams it back. James gets that the same people who claim The Incredibles as their favourite film, don’t necessarily need to claim The Suicide Squad as their favourite, too. There can be different superhero movies for different audiences.
Anyone who’s interested in The Suicide Squad (2021) – and I assume you are, if you’re taking the time to read an extensive comparison between that and it’s predecessor – will have seen the character roster, and noted all of the huge A-list names in it, from returning favourites, such as Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, to newcomers to the franchise, Idris Elba and John Cena, who play Bloodsport and Peacemaker, respectively. This is a ensemble film, meaning everyone gets their time to shine.
Unlike Suicide Squad (2016), which was clearly Margot Robbie and Will Smith’s movie. End of. They had the most scenes; the most dramatic moments; and were, frankly, starring opposite filler characters, who were there to make up the numbers. Yet, in The Suicide Squad (2021), I was assuming the big name actors would have all been given roles that would survive the mass-execution that James Gunn teased. That’s not the case. Characters which have been heavily promoted die; characters portrayed by huge Hollywood icons die. That’s what makes this film so fun; nothing is expected.
In fact, James has done something so brilliantly with the characters; developing them from flat one-track gimmicks, to fully-fledged humans. Take the incredible Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller. (Before I begin, I just want to reiterate that this is not a reflection on Viola’s performance. She could play a tree in these films, and still deserve an Oscar for it.)
In Suicide Squad (2016), Amanda was angry and – nope. That’s it. She was angry and told Harley Quinn what to do and who to shoot. While she is very short-tempered in The Suicide Squad, this feels more natural – she uses her anger to con people into her evil-bidding. At times, Amanda appears very evil, as she threatens Idris Elba’s daughter, Tyla, by sending her to prison, and assuring him that the mortality rate at said complex was very low. And the best part? She doesn’t work alone. In Suicide Squad (2016), she was a woman who did everything, somehow. The Suicide Squad (2021) introduces a team for Amanda to rely on; who talk through comms for her, and update her on locations, etc. It makes more sense. As if Jeff Bezos was ever in Amazon’s warehouse, pushing packing peanuts into boxes, when he has a whole staff to do it for him.
I still stand by Suicide Squad (2016) being one of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever seen; definitely the worst superhero movie I can recall. But in Gunn we trust, as he – and the entire The Suicide Squad (2021) team – have delivered something so perfect, that I believe it’s going to be ridiculously hard to beat. And, yes, if you’re reading this right now and want someone to go watch The Suicide Squad with you, I will take you up on that offer.
And if you watch to watch Suicide Squad (2016) with me, send me your address, as I want to post human feces to you.