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The better Suicide Squad and the Fantabulous Uselessness of Harley Quinn

 “The Suicide Squad” is a follow up to 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” Director James Gunn’s take on this DC comics property greatly improves upon the many flaws of the original. The clearest improvement is that the movie is actually watchable, with a decently follow-able plot and plenty of crazy explosive action. While the movie is undeniably entertaining and a vast improvement upon it predecessor, 2021’s “The Suicide Squad” still suffers from one fatal flaw: flat female characters.

For those unitiated in the lore of DC comics, the titular Suicide Squad is a team made up of supervillains contracted by the government to undertake suicide missions in exchange for a shorter sentence. Usually in the comics, the team was made up of lesser known super villains who were more or less expendable. This gave the comic the rare quality of having actual stakes. While many superheroes have died and returned to life, the Suicide Squad was a way for DC comics to kill off lesser known villains and have them stay that way. This gave the stories a sense of danger because you didn’t necessarily know which characters would be killed next. 

“The Suicide Squad” does continue the tradtion of killing off team members. The beginning of the film is told from the perspective of new member Savant, played by Michael Rooker. Most of his squad, including Savant himself, is quickly and abruptly killed off in a gory and dark comedic fashion. The film then switches to the film’s real protagonists who make up a second Suicide Squad. This not only sends a message to the audience that any character can die at any moment, but also sets the tone for the film’s unique form of comedic carnage.

The action and fights in the film are over-the-top and explosive both literally and figuratively. While a lot of it is gruesome and gory, it isn’t a nonstop bloodfest, and the film strikes a delicate balance between violence and comedy and throws in a bit of character development to boot.

Idris Elba plays the supervillain Bloodsport, a mercenary akin to Will Smith’s Deadshot in the first movie. Both are hired mercenaries and weapons experts with estranged daughters, but Elba’s performance is enhanced by a much better script and an excellent supporting cast. In particular, Bloodsport’s dynamic with Peacemaker, played by John Cena, is a great comedic device. The ironically named Peacemaker, who will kill anyone to attain peace, has a similar skill set and backstory to Bloodsport, yet both characters seem to absolutely loathe each other. Their rivalry results in several entertaining and violent sequences where they try to one-up each other by seeing who can kill people in the most over-the-top and flamboyant manner. Elba and Cena are not the only funny cast members; Sylvester Stallone does a convincing vocal performance as the lovable maneater King Shark and David Dastmalchian plays the depressed D-list villain with mother issues, Polka Dot Man. I know what you’re thinking, yes, he does shoot polka dots at people.

The heart of this iteration of the Suicide Squad is Rat Catcher II, played by Daniela Melchior. Rat Catcher II and her adorable rat sidekick Sebastian bring some much needed emotion to the film. Rat Catcher II took over the title and rat controlling technology from her father, the first Rat Catcher, played by Taika Waititi, after he died due to his drug use. Her love for her flawed yet loving father makes Bloodsport reevaluate his own relationship with his daughter. Rat Catcher II inspires Bloodsport to be less of a cold-hearted mercenary and act more like a hero, or at least an anti-hero.

Despite the amazing cast and action, the film’s most glaring flaw lies in its supposed greatest strength: Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn in this film. While her performance is fine—and her costume is thankfully much more acceptable and comic book accurate than her previous outfits—Harley really doesn’t have a lot to do in this movie. That’s not to say her moments in the film are not entertaining, as Harley has some of the most creative and visually stunning scenes in the movie. The problem is she really doesn’t feel connected to the rest of the film; you could honestly cut her out of most of the film without any real effect on the plot. In fact, there is a scene where Rick Flag, played by Joel Kinnamen, actually states that they can’t complete the mission until they go rescue Harley. This is an in-movie admission that the plot needs to stop to go rescue Harley Quinn, who is happily off in what seems to be her own separate movie. 

Ultimately “The Suicide Squad” achieves what it sets out to do: it’s bloody, it’s gory and it’s funny. And while it is way better than its predecessor, it still falls short of what it could have been thanks ironically to one of its major selling points. No one can deny the popularity of Harley Quinn, and her scenes in the film are great, but she still feels like she is in a separate movie or is just tagged on to this one. What could have been an amazing Suicide Squad moive ended being just a good Suicide Squad movie with a Harley Quinn short film stuffed inside.

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