Back in July 2018, James Gunn’s movie career appeared to be over. After right-wing activists like Mike Cernovich surfaced some awful tweets that Gunn had posted years beforehand, Walt Disney announced that he would no longer be directing Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3. But after a groundswell of support from numerous individuals, including many of the Guardians of the Galaxy cast members — and more importantly, Gunn’s own contrition and repentance — he was re-hired for the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
However, in a rather cunning move, DC hired Gunn to write a script for a brand new Suicide Squad movie before Marvel re-hired him. He was then promoted to the director’s chair after original director Gavin O’Connor had to leave the film. So here we are, in the year 2021, and James Gunn is back in action with arguably the year’s biggest superhero movie.
If you’ve paid any attention to The Suicide Squad’s marketing, then you know Gunn has gleefully embraced the “R” rating with this one. And if anyone knows his way around mixing violence, gore, and humor, it’s James Gunn. But is The Suicide Squad too much of a good thing? Does it sink beneath all of the blood and viscera? Or has Gunn delivered another delightfully bonkers take on the superhero genre?
Sonny Bunch, “Might not be a good movie, but it makes up for it by being a lot of movie”
I’m grumbling a lot, so I just want to say that I don’t hate The Suicide Squad — indeed, it was frequently quite amusing and only boring on the rare occasions we were subjected to backstory — but I do feel somewhat bludgeoned by it, as if I’m being a stick-in-the-mud for failing to fall in line and revel in the absurdity of a bunch of born-to-lose convicts being forced to do battle with a giant sentient space-starfish. You get the sense Gunn wants the film to be taken seriously and to leave room for it to be dismissed as a joke, nothing to get worked up about. I simply prefer it when films pick a lane and stick to it.
Justin Chang, “The Troma influence looms large over The Suicide Squad”
Psychotic, battle-weary and devoid of compassion as they may be, these merry professional killers aren’t entirely dead inside. By the same token, Gunn’s insouciant swagger isn’t entirely devoid of warmth or sentimentality, and the bonds of kinship that emerge between comrades — warm little cracks in the movie’s nihilistic facade — can’t help but sneak their way into your own affections.
Manohla Dargis, “Shiny, busy and self-satisfied to a fault”
The violence is the most consistently inventive part of the whole package, though it grows tiresome in its thudding repetition. Like the story’s superficial finger-wagging at American wrongs, the brutality is both decorative and ritualistic. It keeps eyeballs fixed and worlds unrocked, giving the audience what it expects, no less and certainly no more.
Bilge Ebiri, “A little of The Suicide Squad goes a long way”
With its incessant profanity, ridiculous body count, and trollish sense of humor, Gunn’s film often seems content to exist in a constant state of rug-pulling. Lots of fun but little forward momentum. It kills off supposedly major characters with abandon and it upends noble superhero virtues with such indulgent glee that it can feel repetitive at times. But sometimes the low-hanging fruit is also the sweetest fruit. It’s hard to hate a movie in which Sylvester Stallone voices a giant talking shark who pretends to read a book so people will think he’s smart.
Nell Minow, “Even more insouciantly nasty than the first one, relishing the carnage and ebulliently transgressive”
This movie is more interested in how many ways a human body can be exploded, beheaded, sliced down the middle, and otherwise dismembered than it is in anything else with the possible exception of a lot of macho posturing. It also fails to make the stakes meaningful with a worthy villain. Understandable, I suppose; it’s hard to out-villain the temporarily good bad guys. So, it’s is colorful and entertaining but lightweight and unmemorable.
Rodrigo Perez, “Warner Bros’ best DC film of this newer post-Nolan epoch”
At nearly 2.5 hours, there’s a lot of movie here, some of it little too glib, meanspirited and flippant early on in its gore and abrasiveness and some of it genuinely hilarious in its violence and cruelty. But Gunn understands this is a story about disposable, seemingly worthless people — merciless, contemptible killers who aren’t supposed to care about anyone but themselves. Yet, they find great reason to care, and purpose, far beyond saving the earth, ascending into herodom, or doing the right thing. Gunn’s filmmaking heart fully opens by the end, a lovely thing to witness, really, crafting a poignant finale that says all people are worthy of love, respect, and care, even the lowest of the low. Ultimately, The Suicide Squad is a tale of beautiful losers discovering their humanity in a brief, inspired moment of convergence, finding hard-fought salvation in each other and the notion that all of us are always worthy of dignity.
Charles Pulliam-Moore, “How you pull off a spectacular Plan B”
The Suicide Squad — written and directed by Gunn — is undoubtedly its own film with a distinct sense of itself. But it’s also an impressive example of Warner Bros. successfully coming back to a property that’s always been interesting, and putting the right team together to actually turn that property into a compelling feature. While The Suicide Squad’s story is self-contained, it’s not so much so that it feels like it’s meant to exist in a vacuum that erases the existence of Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s other live-action films.
Katie Rife, “Vulgar, immature, and gratuitous — and that’s what’s great about it”
Now that superhero movies have gone from disreputable entertainment for children to global events ushered in with awed reverence, it was time for someone to come along and pop the balloon. Pulpy and outrageous, irreverent and ultraviolent, The Suicide Squad does so with a smile.
Joshua Rivera, “The DC comics sequel is a satisfying rework but isn’t a particularly bold one”
Gunn’s Suicide Squad features comedic R-rated violence, but it also comes with occasional visual flair: One fight scene is depicted via the reflection in a character’s helmet, the camera circling around it to follow the combatants around the room. There’s some particularly arresting imagery, like the eventual reveal of what’s behind the curtain at Project Starfish. But at 132 minutes, The Suicide Squad has a little too much space between impressive setpieces, character beats, and comic moments, considering the ostensible focus of a plot that’s effectively summed up as “Get in, get out, get fucked.” The film drags, even if what’s there is frequently fun as hell.
Brian Tallerico, “The most insanely violent superhero blockbuster yet”
Gunn doesn’t just edge into adult territory with his violence, he embraces the R rating that Marvel would never give him, allowing limbs to be ripped from bodies and fates of his characters to usually come with a gross, sticky sound. It’s a film that’s playful in its action in ways that most modern blockbusters aren’t allowed to be. You can tell that Gunn and his team are having a blast, and that kind of thing can be infectious. Audiences know when a filmmaker is going through the motions for a corporation. The films that last are when that doesn’t happen, and Gunn is doing this from his Troma-raised passionate heart.
The Suicide Squad is currently playing in theaters and on HBO Max. Watch the red-band trailer below.