I’ve been a fan of James Gunn for over 20 years, thanks to a little movie called The Specials. If you haven’t heard of it, there’s no surprise there. Its release was reportedly delayed because of fears it would be seen as a rip-off of the higher-budget Mystery Men and then it was given a limited release because of how poor the reception to Mystery Men was. This is unfortunate, as The Specials is frankly hilarious if you’re a superhero fan, as the movie is all about the interactions of a barely functional team of screw-ups and plays out like an issue of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League.
When Gunn found success with Guardians of the Galaxy, I was one of the few who was not surprised. As anyone who follows him on Twitter can attest, Gunn is a comic book fan and his knowledge of these characters and the genre conventions surrounding them is surpassed only by his clear love of superheroes. So when it was announced that someone at Warner Bros. had the wisdom to snatch Gunn up and recruit him to make a Suicide Squad movie, I knew that it was likely to be the best adaptation of a DC Comics property ever made and the best DC Comics’ movie in recent memory, based on the spiritually similar The Specials.
I am happy to report I was right on both counts.
The core idea of The Suicide Squad is summed up before the opening credits are over, for the benefit of those who haven’t read the comics or missed out on the 2016 Suicide Squad movie. The United States government runs a secret program, overseen by the indominable Amanda “The Wall” Waller, which recruits convicted supervillains for missions that can’t been undertaken through official channels. Officially known as Task Force X, the group is more commonly known as the Suicide Squad due to the high mortality rate of its members.
The movie centers around one of these missions, which sees two teams being sent to the banana republic of Corto Maltese to destroy something called Project Starfish. Things go south almost immediately thanks to bad intelligence and treachery. Hilarity ensues from there.
It spoils little to reveal that most of the movie’s sizeable ensemble do not survive, but that’s all in keeping with the spirit of the series. The 1987 Suicide Squad, written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, was famous for its high body count and the way that it balanced dark comedy and slapstick with surprisingly heart-felt storylines. This was a series that had a mystery involving an unknown pie-thrower, even as various characters died horrific and often ironic deaths. Gunn’s script and direction perfectly captures the spirit of this era of the comics and even manages to add some serious political commentary regarding the United States interfering in other nations’ affairs.
The cast are uniformly excellent, though not everyone gets the same amount of screen-time or development. Viola Davis slays as The Wall. Margot Robbie delivers her best turn as Harley Quinn to date and Idris Elba impresses as Bloodsport, a weapons master who only joined the squad in a bid to keep his estranged daughter out of jail. John Cena proves himself to be quite the comedic performer as The Peacemaker, who loves peace so much he will kill as many people as he must to protect it. Daniela Melchior, who plays Ratcatcher II, has the movie’s best emotional arc, and I expect the Portuguese actress will be this film’s big breakaway star.
The Suicide Squad perfectly captures the spirit of the comics that inspired it, but is also a solid film that stands independent of its source material. It is shocking, outrageous, offensive and I loved every moment of it. This is not only the best movie made for the DCEU – it is one of the best comic book movies ever made.