Harley Quinn has new bad guy allies in The Suicide Squad red band trailer

Idris Elba and Margot Robbie headline an ensemble cast of colorful supervillains recruited for a special military tactical response team in the red band trailer for The Suicide Squad (embedded below). It’s Director James Gunn’s (Guardians of the Galaxy) standalone follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad. It’s actually pretty tame as red band trailers go, playing up the jokey camaraderie amid all the explosions, gunfire, and blood spatter. Tonally, Gunn’s film feels like a cross between Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool—in other words, it looks like a lot of fun, and it’s definitely something we’re keen to see when it debuts this summer.

(Some spoilers for prior DCEU films below,)

The original Suicide Squad took place a year after the death of Superman in Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Intelligence Officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) receives permission to create Task Force X, a tactical response team to combat “metahuman” threats. The group is composed entirely of criminals and supervillains and is led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). The government plants nanite bombs in their necks to keep them reasonably under control, promising to shorten their sentences if their missions are successfully fulfilled. The all-star cast included Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang, and Jared Leto as The Joker. 

Despite boasting such a talented cast, Suicide Squad opened in August 2016 to largely abysmal critical reviews; it has a 26 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating. (Director David Ayer later claimed the studio had interfered to turn his “soulful drama” into a jokier entity after the box office success of Deadpool.) Critics dinged the film for its thin characters, nonsensical plot, and the fact that it was just plain boring, although it did win an Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling—the first DCEU film to be so honored. Suicide Squad also performed well at the box office, grossing 746.8 million globally, against a $175 million production budget ($325 million with advertising and promotion costs factored in). So the studio greenlit a sequel and several spinoff projects, including 2020’s Birds of Prey, featuring Robbie’s Harley Quinn.

What followed was an elaborate game of developmental musical chairs, as Warner Bros. did their best to coordinate multiple versions of a script and the busy schedules of Ayer and his various actors. When Ayer left the project, the studio considered several replacement directors, finally settling on Gavin O’Connor. But then O’Connor departed, purportedly frustrated because the script for Birds of Prey told a very similar story to the one he’d imagined for Suicide Squad 2.

Warner Bros. next hired Gunn in October 2018 to write a fresh script and direct Suicide Squad 2, shortly after Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in light of public backlash to some resurfaced old tweets. Disney reconsidered and reinstated Gunn soon after, but the company agreed to let him finish The Suicide Squad first before resuming work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

In its current incarnation, The Suicide Squad is more of a relaunch than a direct sequel to the 2016 film; Gunn has said he wanted to take the franchise in a new direction and introduce new characters. He drew inspiration from John Ostrander’s original 1980s Suicide Squad comics. (Ostrander has a small role in the final film.) Gunn has described his R-rated film as a superhero version of the classic 1967 film The Dirty Dozen, selecting characters he described as “loser, B-grade supervillains.” And apparently, the studio is allowing him to kill off certain characters as he sees fit, which should make for suspenseful viewing. (We’re still betting Harley Quinn will survive.) Per the official synopsis:

Welcome to hell—a.k.a. Bell Reve, the prison with the highest mortality rate in the US of A. Where the worst supervillains are kept and where they will do anything to get out—even join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X. Today’s do-or-die assignment? Assemble a collection of cons, including Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior]), Savant (Michael Rooker), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Javelin (Flula Borg), and everyone’s favorite psycho, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Then arm them heavily and drop them (literally) on the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.

Smith was unable to reprise his role as Deadshot, so Gunn wrote the Bloodsport character with Elba specifically in mind. Kinnaman and Davis are back as Flag and Waller, respectively, with Steve Agee playing John Economos, prison warden and an aide to Waller. Other new cast members include Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), whose trademark polka-dotted suit is actually a collection of gadgets; Weasel (Sean Gunn), an anthropomorphic weasel; Sol Soria (Alice Braga); T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion); Flo Crawley (Tinashe Kajese); Bloodsport’s daughter Tyla (Storm Reid); and Thinker (Peter Capaldi).

The trailer opens with a plan for Flagg and his team to rescue Harley Quinn, who thwarts it by rescuing herself. The squad members get the same deal as before: ten years off their sentence if they successfully complete their mission, with a nanite injection that will explode should they disobey orders in any way. There are running gags of Davidson’s Blackguard getting things stuck to his shoe and King Shark’s gruesome eating habits (“num-num”), and Capaldi brings his trademark deadpan charm to a scene with Thinker being threatened by Flagg and Harley Quinn. Did I mention the “freakin’ kaiju” that crashes the party?

The Suicide Squad debuts in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously on August 6, 2021. Expect to see more from this refreshed franchise. HBO Max has already ordered a Peacemaker spinoff straight-to-series, with Cena and Agee reprising their roles. That’s slated for a January 2022 release. What you probably won’t see is the “Ayer cut” of 2016’s Suicide Squad. HBO Max has said it has no plans to release it.

Margot Robbie and Idris Elba head an all-star ensemble cast in Director James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.

Listing image by YouTube/Warner Bros.

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