James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad has opened to $4.1 Million in Thursday Night Previews. Proceeded by positive critic reviews, a 100% success rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And an appreciation for the cast Gunn selected for the movie. The movie hinged on many expectations that it would be better than its predecessor, the 2016 Suicide Squad movie by David Ayer. Not only did it meet those expectations, but I’d also say it exceeded them.
David Ayer’s Suicide Squad and James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad both begin in the same fashion. With Amanda Waller recruiting a team of dangerous criminals to go on a covert mission with explosives in their heads. Controlled by Waller. In Gunn’s adaptation, the criminals are sent to the South American island of Corto Maltese after the government is overthrown by an anti-American regime. Under orders from Amanda Waller, the squad is sent to destroy Jötunheim. This Nazi-era laboratory holds a secretive experiment known as “Project Starfish.”
Besides the premise, Gunn’s adaptation takes a different route. One of the most notable differences between the two films is the amount of time Ayer spends on exposition. At the same time, Gunn’s version takes as little time as possible to set up the film’s events. Gunn does not give a snapshot of each of the characters’ backgrounds and abilities; instead, he allows the anti-heroes to establish their character organically through conversations and the action in the movie.
Within twenty minutes of the film, half of the characters die. They die gruesomely and hilariously, which pushes the envelope on the R-Rating the film received. This part of the film is one of the most important because it shows how expendable the characters are. While Waller sends a team on the beachfront that includes Harley Quinn and Rick Flag to their slaughter. The covert team on the other side is the actual players in Waller’s plan. Harley and Quinn’s team get to play the sacrificial lambs. While the other team successfully infiltrates Corto Maltese.
In the first twenty minutes of the film, Gunn’s storytelling solidifies his understanding of what The Suicide Squad is. Half of the characters are killed before the plot is even set in motion, and Waller’s team back at headquarters revel in the deaths and even gamble based on who they believe will die. In Ayer’s suicide squad, only two of the Suicide Squad members die. Slipknot dies trying to escape at the beginning of the film, and El Diablo, dies at the end. Gunn’s film brings us back to the mythos of what the suicide squad is, a group of criminals whose only job is to finish the mission regardless of who dies. The criminals in Gunn’s adaptation aren’t just expendable; their role in the mission was to die explicitly.
While Ayer attempted to humanize the anti-heroes and allow the audience to develop a relationship with the characters, Gunn took a different route. While it is true that there are moments where Gunn allows us a peek into the characters’ sympathetic backgrounds, they are levied with comedy. For example, Polka-Dot man tells his life story of an abusive mother who experimented on him and his siblings (killing some); the scene is undercut with the comedy of him only being able to see his mother’s face when looking at people. Harley, who is already sympathetic in most viewers’ eyes, attempts to discuss her woes of love and abuse while a man she shot blasts out hilariously in front of her.
This is not to say that Gunn does not successfully humanize. The bonding that Ratcatcher 2 and BloodSport develop after a conversation about her loving and abusive dads is successful. Still, we do not see much of this as we did in Ayer’s film. Ayer’s film, in multiple points, attempts to humanize the characters; from showcasing Harley’s relationship with Joker to El Diablo’s death scene. Ayer allows us to develop a love for the characters while keeping their expendability in the film’s backdrop. Gunn does the complete opposite; he dangles the expendability right in our faces and does so with humour so that the horrifying nature of the group’s mission is downplayed entirely. Gunn is successful in this, and this is precisely what drives the film.
Gunn’s focus on the mythos of the comic book adaptation pays off much more than Ayer’s film. The one thing that Ayer’s film does better than Gunn’s is the storytelling aspect. In Gunn’s film, it seems that sometimes the plot takes a backseat to the sheer comedic grotesque in the film; but somehow it does not detract from its value. At the end of the movie, you feel a sense of enjoyment in seeing the fight scenes, blood splatter; and hilariously good acting from John Cena, Idris Elba, and Margot Robbie, but you also leave with questions. Questions like where do we go from here? Why does this movie matter? Would I go see these characters in another movie?
Gunn’s film understands why the group is the Suicide Squad. The characters’ deaths are made humorously, and the characters who outlive the mission mourn only so little for their comrades. So if you are looking for a movie with a solid plot, loads of characterization, and Bloody Good Action; this may be the wrong movie for you. However, if you want to see a movie about the Suicide Squad; this movie is precisely what you are looking for.