The Suicide Squad: More Guts, More Gory, More Glibness : Pop Culture Happy Hour The Suicide Squad is about a team of super-villains do black-ops missions for the government in exchange for lighter sentences. It brings back several characters, including Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and Viola Davis' Amanda Waller, and adds a slew more, played by people like John Cena and Idris Elba. The tone is a lot jokier, the violence more visceral — literally — and the stakes are higher, thanks to a giant alien starfish bent on world domination.

In 'The Suicide Squad,' Super-Powered Cons Are Super-Violent Pros

In 'The Suicide Squad,' Super-Powered Cons Are Super-Violent Pros

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Squad LOLz (L to R): Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Peacemaker (John Cena), Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) in The Suicide Squad. Jessica Miglio/DC Comics hide caption

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Jessica Miglio/DC Comics

Squad LOLz (L to R): Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Peacemaker (John Cena), Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) in The Suicide Squad.

Jessica Miglio/DC Comics

Dear 11-Year-Old Me:

Greetings from 2021, and a much older, grizzled, weary, achy, bald and beardy version of you. (Don't worry about the bald thing; you make it work, as much as that's possible. Save yourself the anxiety when it starts happening to you in eight years; let it go.)

You know Starro the Conqueror? The giant alien mind-controlling starfish that the Justice League fought in their first appearance, back in The Brave and the Bold #28 (March-April 1960)?

Get this: He's the Big Bad in a for-real, live-action, not made-for-TV movie (though many will watch it on their TVs, on HBO Max, due to ... um. You know what? Long, depressing story. I'll let you figure that one out yourself).

It's true! I'm writing to you, as I say, from the year 2021, and I'm just as surprised as you are that, in fact, all of the goofiest stuff from the superhero comics you love are finding their way onto screens big and small. (Including very small phone screens ... again, long story; just invest in Apple, and thank me later.)

The movie I'm writing you about today, though, is called The Suicide Squad. It's the sequel to 2016's Suicide Squad, a very bad movie that made very much money. Some characters return — Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, Viola Davis' Amanda Waller, Joel Kinnaman's Colonel Rick Flag — and they're joined by a slew of D-list supervillains straight from your beloved comics pages whom you never thought you'd see on the big screen, like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Javelin (Flula Borg), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), Savant (Michael Rooker), Mongal (Mayling Ng) and many, many more.

Some of them — okay, most of them — don't make it all the way through the film, or even past the first reel. Which is only to be expected, given the film's premise, which is that incarcerated DC supervillains go on hazardous black-ops missions for the US government in exchange for lighter sentences. (It's based on a late-80s, early-90s run of DC comics by writer John Ostrander and various artists that you're about to read, and which you will love a lot.)

One of the things people didn't like about the 2016 Suicide Squad movie, aside from dialogue like "That's Slipknot — he can climb anything" and a central villain dedicated to destroying the world by vogueing, was its PG-13 rating. You can see their point: The movie was about a rag-tag team of anti-heroes going up against heavily armed bad guys, yet the violence was largely of the standard bloodless, beat-em-up, superhero variety.

That? Is no longer a looming issue.

All Guts, All Gory

Directed by Guardians of the Galaxy's James Gunn, the R-rated The Suicide Squad is something new. To say it's violent doesn't begin to cover it — it's a movie with a substantial body count, yes, but it comes with a surprisingly high amount of body horror that's greater and gorier than what you'd expect from a summer blockbuster. Gobbets of flesh and bone fly across the screen, faces get eaten off, skulls get sliced open, eyes get punctured by flying knives, etc. etc. etc. The film delights in leaving the era of "POW!" and "ZAP!" firmly behind, in a pool of coagulating blood and viscera.

I'll give it this much, 11-Year-Old- Me: This film does exactly what it sets out to do. Every blood-soaked frame of it is self-possessed, self-aware, self-assured and full of a very specific intent. And that intent is to entertain everyone and anyone who is eager to see this film — that specific subset of humanity who have circled the film's premiere date on their calendars.

I do not count myself among them, yet I sincerely envy those people, because they are going to get their every expectation precisely met, and then exceeded.

This is a bigger, more accomplished film than the first one — but of course it couldn't help but be. And those audience members who thought the 2016 film was held back because of its PG-13 rating? They're gonna walk out of this feeling vindicated.

Also: Anyone who's even idly wondered what Guardians of the Galaxy would have looked like with an R rating will get their answer here. Some of that franchise's specific brand of silliness is on display – swap out a talking plant, swap in a talking shark – along with the same species of banter (though it comes across a bit more stilted, here).

Again: It ably delivers on its promise. It does what it wants to do.

The thing is, though, 11-Year-Old Me: It does what it wants to do without anything even remotely resembling restraint. That probably sounds great to you, but then, you are a child. You will come to know this: restraint is a good thing to have, generally speaking. Setting narrative boundaries — lines your characters cannot cross — forces you, as a storyteller, to get creative. To innovate.

And innovation, like bloodless violence, is not a looming issue in The Suicide Squad.

The Dark Age Of The Superhero

You got your wish, younger me: Superheroes are everywhere now, they've gone mainstream. But they don't look like you imagine them to. Overwhelmingly they've gone all grim and gritty, because at some point the culture willingly adopted the cynical, nihilistic idea that making superheroes dark and hyper-violent makes them somehow more relevant, more (stop giggling!) true. You're about to enter the 1990s, when superhero comics bought into this reflexively jaded, defensive, adolescent mindset. It's taken a while, but that approach to superheroes is everywhere, now.

So in one sense, the gleeful gore of The Suicide Squad is doing what a lot of other gritty takes on the superhero have been doing for decades. Which is why it's not the mere fact of the onscreen violence that rankles, or even the cynicism it reflects — by the time you turn into me, you'll have made your peace with that.

No, the thing that makes The Suicide Squad so singularly distasteful is closely related to its factory-installed cynicism: the unconscionable glibness that grows out of it.

Again and again, Gunn's camera lingers over the mutilated bodies of main characters — not to mention the hundreds of innocent people that get sent through this film's meat grinder – only to immediately play it all off for a big laugh. The cumulative effect doesn't serve to undercut the tension, or heighten the stakes — it serves only to numb you into a kind of calcified, dull-eyed passivity divorced from human emotions like empathy.

I know that likely sounds fun to you, 11-Year-Old-Me. And there were certainly flashes during the film when I caught myself watching it through your eyes (see above in re: the giant mind-controlling starfish from space).

But there's something ugly crawling just beneath all the jokes and banter and flying viscera, something that delights in reducing characters to fist-sized chunks of bloody meat in wildly comic ways but then immediately turns around and expects you to actually care about them — to care about them, in point of fact, far more than the film itself ever manages to get around to.

You may be willing to cross that bridge, 11-Year-Old Me. And there are certainly many others who will only too eagerly cross it alongside you; this thing will make millions and millions of dollars.

But by the time you turn into me you'll learn that when you surgically remove virtues like altruism and restraint from the superhero genre, all you're left with is a rotting corpse in tights and a cape.

All best, good luck through high school (you'll need it) and remember what I said about Apple,


The Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast panel is Glen Weldon, Daisy Rosario, Chris Klimek, and Ronald Young Jr. The audio was produced by Candice Lim and edited by Jessica Reedy.