Not only an inevitably vast improvement upon the wretched 2016 "Suicide Squad," this definite article, "The Suicide Squad," is also one of the more aesthetically like a comic book of the many comic-book movies I've seen and that our culture has clearly become enamored with, although not as reflexively so as, say, the also ultraviolent "Kick-Ass" (2010), or going to the visual lengths of Ang Lee's underappreciated "Hulk" (2003). That makes sense in a way, as writer-director James Gunn is a veteran of the genre--having already made two "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies (2014 and 2017) for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is working on a third, in addition to other superhero flicks such as "Super" (2010) and "Brightburn" (2019).
Although I think his oeuvre has been one of mixed results, few have arguably had more influence on the direction of the genre than him. The MCU was significantly redirected by the self-aware humor, as well as the pop tunes, of the first "Guardians of the Galaxy." I think "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017) is an especially evident example of this, playing as it does much like a third "Guardians" installment. DC's Extended Universe was affected, too, in their clumsy way of imitation ("Shazam!" (2019) in particular, and, by way of the ever-more self-referential Marvel property "Deadpool" (2016), "Birds of Prey" (2020)). Here, thanks to Disney's knee-jerk firing and before their rehiring of Gunn, DC got the real deal. Perhaps, it may also become a variation of a template for future such movies.
It's still consistently light and set to rock 'n roll or otherwise pleasant melodies, but we also get some different, more dynamic movement from those RED digital cameras, which is quite congruent with the comic-book look. Nothing too exceptional, but better than others. In addition to bright colors and anthropomorphic sharks, weasels and rats and lethal polka-dots, that look includes the style of the titles, which often are blended in with the scenery, as in the introductory "Warner Bros. Presents" being made of the blood splatter from a character's head exploding. In one of the subjective sequences, not only are Harley Quinn's cable-supported fight moves more cartoonish, but, like those filters for people's narcissistic phone videos of themselves farting hearts, smiley faces and the like, Quinn imagines flowers replacing discarded bullet cartridges and the blood and guts erupting from her victims' mutilated bodies. It's also appropriately rated R, which, of course, such a movie should be if we're supposed to accept anti-hero villains as superheroes as in any way subversive--so we see blood, there's foul language, and, perhaps a first for such a high-profile one of these, brief nudity.
All of this is welcome. The awareness of the camera is established from the start, with the shot revolving from a puddle reflection--setting the visual tone for the rest of the picture. There are also some especially good moving-camera shots later, such as revolving around Quinn shooting guns in that red dress, a fight seen through a helmet reflection, or during the climactic tower collapse and kaiju battle. As with a comic-book drawing, the CGI-enhanced digital mobility may even allow the "camera" to go inside for a view of a heart being stabbed. The entire opening sequence utterly tops, including by some hilarious false leads, the awful introduction of characters in the first "Suicide Squad." It's pretty funny to see a rather more realistic outcome of what would happen to such a rag-tag team when confronted with an actual army. Not quite "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), let alone "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), this bunch. Indeed, some of the biggest laughs here come from the squad's incompetence.
Perhaps, the only thing that doesn't especially work here is the dissonance of the banana republic, American imperialism political plot beside the picture's otherwise light tone. Crazy, secret experiments and an alien starfish kaiju plot straight out of "Rick and Morty" by way of 20th-century sci-fi pulp such as Robert Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters" fits, but I'm not sure about geopolitical satire. It's not because I'm against the message, or that it matters whether or not I or you are for or against it. Perhaps, it would work if the rest of the picture were also a satire on comic books, but it's not that. The closest it comes is John Cena's Peacemaker character, so devoted to peace that he's willing to kill as many as he needs to for it. There's still the blockbuster-franchise reverence for itself with the rest of it, comical though it may be, that one wouldn't find with, say, the puppets in "Team America: World Police" (2004), which therefore could convincingly make political commentary.
Somewhat more effective methinks is the bit of reflexivity by having Viola Davis's character and her covert-government team both directing and spectating the suicide squad via video and audio surveillance. Superheroes as the movie-within-the-movie. This, too, though, is reminiscent of "The Cabin in the Woods" (2011), which itself was rather derivative of "The Truman Show" (1998). In this one, however, that comic-book supes movie inside another movie also ends up fighting over another film, which as with most movies these days, is contained on a hard drive. A film within a film within another film and all digital.
Besides Gunn, "The Suicide Squad" also benefits from recruiting another MCU veteran in Idris Elba, who far outdoes Will Smith in the Will Smith part of squad leader who shoots good. His quarrelling with Cena's costumed crusader with a similar set of skills is an amusing running gag. Wisely, this sequel excises almost everything from the first movie except for its sole silver lining, the always-fantastic Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Although she's arguably absent from too much of it, it's nice that a good, albeit still flawed, movie was finally built around or to accompany her character.