The Suicide Squad Proves the Power of Misfit Superhero Teams

When people think of superhero teams, they usually think of heroes such as the Avengers or the Justice League; well-established powerhouse groups comprised of household names who not only have it together but are generally considered role models as well. But then there are the teams of misfits. The characters with awkward personalities, weird powers, unconventional backstories, and sometimes less-than-heroic intentions — the ones that don't really fit in. James Gunn's The Suicide Squad is not only giving one group of oddballs a chance to save the world, it's also proving the power of the misfit superheroes in the process.

For Gunn, working with a team of lesser-known superheroes isn't exactly new territory. His Guardians Of The Galaxy films certainly feature characters who one might describe as misfits — Peter Quill was raised by thieves, Gamora was abducted by an intergalactic warlord, and Rocket is a cybernetically modified raccoon-like creature, just to name a few. But there are differences between how the Guardians have been portrayed onscreen and the Suicide Squad. For one thing, the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends to have a cleaner approach to its heroes with audiences frequently told that the unconventional and "broken" characters have their baggage and their issues, but we generally do not get to see what that looks like in practice.

Even just from trailers for The Suicide Squad, that film doesn't have to tell you its heroes (if you can really call them that) are a mess. King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) is probably not exactly safe to be around humans. Peacemaker (John Cena) is driven to achieve peace at any cost but doesn't see the contradiction in his violent actions. Harley Quinn's issues have never been particularly subtle. And on top of all this, the fact that they are prison inmates conscripted into service. From the moment we meet each character, we know they have issues. You see those issues presented in an honest way, and it's that honesty that seems to level the playing field a bit. Everyone on Task Force X owns the backstories and tales of trauma that made them who they are today, something that can help the team bond and really form trust with each other across a couple hours of screen time.

The Suicide Squad also seems to lean into the more unusual quirks of its already-quirky characters as well. While all of the heroes on the team are outcasts in some capacity, they aren't all weird. Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Savant (Michael Rooker), for example, can pass for "normal," as both have relatively tactical powers and could easily blend in while walking down the street. Specifically in Bloodsport's case, he's driven to cut down his prison sentence by a desire to reunite with his daughter. But that doesn't discount the unusual ones, as King Shark, Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Weasel (Sean Gunn), and even Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior) all fall into that "strange" category, either by being odd animal-human hybrids, the product of botched experiments, or having the power to control animals that many see as filthy. That being said, they aren't just there for humor — Gunn has even called Ratcatcher 2 the "heart of the film". It would be easy for another director or writer to center a similar project on the more conventional members of Task Force X, but here, there's more equality with whose story is getting to be told.

That sense of equality and honesty within the team opens up The Suicide Squad to be about the story, and not about "fixing" anyone's trauma. One of the things that made other misfit superhero stories enjoyable is that they are often rooted in the idea of found family or finding some sort of acceptance. The broken heroes are on individual journeys to deal with their trauma in addition to the mission they are coerced into completing. HBO Max's Doom Patrol is an excellent example of this; that series fully centers itself around the trauma and pain of its heroes, with each episode watching the characters work through their own individual issues while still coming together when needed.

That doesn't appear to be the case with The Suicide Squad, as trailers have shown that the film is very action-heavy, as Task Force X is sent to Corto Maltese to deal with something called Project Starfish. With lots of fights, explosions, and the threat of the giant starfish creature Starro, that action is the focus. That doesn't mean healing won't happen along the way, it just doesn't mean that's only what The Suicide Squad's story is about. It opens the door for things to take a whole new tone, one that's a lot more comic book-y. Gunn himself said much of the tone for The Suicide Squad comes from John Ostrander's legendary comic book run from the late '80s, and noted that sticking to the general premise of things with "a bunch of Z-grade superheroes who are thought of as disposable by the US government and put out on suicidal missions, Black Ops operations around the world" was very important to the film.

With The Suicide Squad, Gunn is offering up a different take on the unconventional, eccentric superhero team. While the concept isn't new, the "messy on Main" approach that mixes deeply-flawed and very weird characters with more normal-seeming oddballs provides the opportunity for storytelling that focuses on the team, doesn't dwell too much on fixing anyone, and lets the story be the story with new tones and takes more reminiscent of comic book tales. The misfits that form Task Force X may not be role models, but in Gunn's hands, it seems like every character in The Suicide Squad is able to be broken, but embraced for who they are — and that's beautiful.

The Suicide Squad debuts in theaters and on HBO Max beginning Thursday, August 5th.

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