James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad”: Film Review

As science fiction began to gain in popularity in the 50s and 60s, writers and directors used the genre’s conventions to speak about the uncertain state of a world embroiled in a Cold War. Films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day the Earth Stood Still used the concept of extraterrestrials as allegories for Mccarthyism and nuclear Armageddon, respectively.

Over half a century later, James Gunn has adopted the same technique with The Suicide Squad. Gunn uses the fervent popularity of superheroes in the contemporary era as a trojan horse to explore the United States’ more sinister authoritarian side.

Task Force X (aka The Suicide Squad) is a black ops unit full of criminals run by the mysterious and tyrannical Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). The squad, led by Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), is tasked with erasing any and all traces of a Project Starfish from the island of Corto Maltese.

The group’s objective and its very existence are not unlike the numerous top secret operations the United States has conducted over the past decades, minus the superpower antics. Even some of the characters of The Suicide Squad display the warped sense of liberty and freedom so often seen in American politicians.

Waller’s scrupulous Dick Cheney-like methods in the name of protecting Americans are nothing but power moves that constantly put the team in jeopardy. Peacemaker (John Cena) continually expresses his commitment to protecting his country at any cost, even if it means slaughtering countless freedom fighters, women, and children. His mission and very namesake are antithetical to the deadly means Peacemaker uses to justify his ends. Even the film’s villain tries to free itself from Western oppression through the enslavement of others.

The U.S.’s seedy, C.I.A. underbelly is on full display in Gunn’s film, yet it never outshines its heroes who persevere through the worst situations imaginable. 2016’s Suicide Squad attempted to give a serious take on wacky characters, delivering a Task Force X with no heart and little humor. Gunn goes in the opposite direction, taking some of the lamest characters in comic book history, like Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior) and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), and giving them center stage to let their freak flag fly. While the audience obviously laughs at their absurdity, they also develop a connection to these characters through backstories and developments that make it impossible not to love them.

The United States has always prided itself on being the guardian of democracy. Yet in The Suicide Squad, the heroes are not government forces but outcasts and immigrants forced to fight in a battle that isn’t theirs. If Task Force X isn’t the perfect encapsulation of the American melting pot, I don’t know what is.

The Silver Lining

Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior). Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Rats are the most despised of all creatures, but even they have a purpose.

Ratcatcher

While many will be leaving the theater discussing the awesome power of King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) or existential weirdness of Polka-Dot Man, Ratcatcher II is the true heart of The Suicide Squad. The heroified version of The Pied Piper is the only member of Task Force X that tries to connect with her entire team, from being friends with King Shark, to sharing tragic memories with Bloodsport. It’s incredible that this film is Daniela Melchior’s Hollywood debut as she sells the audience on this perpetually tired oddball in an almost effortless manner. Melchior’s role is the very definition of a breakout performance. Hopefully, she’ll be gracing the silver screen with her presence in the coming years.

The Suicide Squad is in theaters and on HBO Max (ad-free) today!

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