Comparing 2016’s Suicide Squad to 2021’s series reboot is like comparing day-old gas station sushi to three-star Michelin sushi chef Jiro Ono’s finest dish. The two just don't match up. One is a cowardly retreat wrongfully influenced by its own ad campaign, and the other is a ribald jump forward for a series that looked all but dead in the pond water.
Writer-director James Gunn has reinvented himself from indie provocateur to one of the surest hands in studio filmmaking, and his The Suicide Squad shows that it’s not just a titular article that’s been added to this complete franchise overhaul. Rather than continue to frustratingly skate along the edges of something riskier, Warner Bros. has done what worked for Marvel and Deadpool — giving a madcap filmmaker like Gunn complete freedom to let his freak flag fly. The result: some of the most breathtakingly violent imagery and nasty comic sensibilities to come from a comic book movie ever. As bloody as movies like Deadpool and 2017’s Logan were, those flicks didn’t have a gigantic shark-man ripping a man clean in half, or casually gnawing on a half-eaten skull. That’s the Gunn guarantee — this is going to get weird.
In all honesty, a movie like The Suicide Squad serves as an important reminder to the ever-churning debate about the state of studio filmmaking. While Scorsese stans and comic book die-hards might tussle about the vitality of superhero cinema, Gunn’s latest might as well be tucked within Quentin Tarantino’s filmography and deserves the same respect as one of QT’s blood-soaked epics. It’s just rare you get to see a rebellious filmmaker like Gunn execute such a precise, uncut vision at such a grand scale with all the house money. This might be the most original, unfettered superhero vision we’ve gotten since 2018’s landmark Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and it's light-years ahead of the Deadpool movies. Wade Wilson wishes he could hang with King Shark.
It’d be easy to compare this to Gunn’s breakthrough Guardians of the Galaxy, and certainly, The Suicide Squad has plenty of the director’s heart and penchant for character bonding. But Gunn also charges his work with a stark unpredictability — not just with the body count, but with how far he’s willing to critique certain powers that be that usually get away scot-free in the average comic book movie.
How thrilling it is to sit down for a thoroughly adult tentpole film in which you can’t guess what’s coming next or where the story and characters are going, and can simply revel in how freely a filmmaker can push past creative boundaries when the studio finally decides to get out of the way.