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James Gunn explains how The Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn stacks up against past versions

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Jul 15, 2021, 4:30 PM EDT

Critics’ first reactions to James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad are coming out, and many agree that the film is a violently wonderful spectacle that’s surprisingly full of heart.

After the screening, SYFY WIRE took part in a roundtable discussion with Gunn, where the director shared how he approached crafting the film, how he particularly identified with certain characters (yes, Polka Dot Man is one of them), and whether King Shark is good or not.

In The Suicide Squad, premiering in theaters and on HBO Max on Aug. 6, Gunn packs in plenty of unexpected moments that will undoubtedly surprise many in the audience: “I think that good plots have twists in them,” he said. “And sometimes in movies, like a really serious drama, those twists are there, and they should be surprising. But at the same time, they're not as noticeable because it's a more mellow situation.”

“Mellow” is one word that definitively does not describe The Suicide Squad, which Gunn readily acknowledges. “It really was about just making the biggest, most entertaining film I possibly could, and really taking people on a journey that changes from moment to moment and does surprise people with who lives and who dies.” 

Neither Gunn nor SYFY WIRE will spoil who lives and who dies. In some ways, however, who lives or who dies in the film is irrelevant — what really resonates from the movie is how Gunn developed each character.

“At the end of the day, everything I've ever done is about characters trying to connect who have a difficult time doing it because I have a difficult time doing it,” he said. “And these characters have a harder time than anybody else I’ve ever written because they not only have these horrible backstories for the most part, but they've also made horrible choices in their lives. And to be able to find something good in all of that is the journey that excites me the most.”

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © DC Comics

Take the much-maligned Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), for example. “In a world where superheroes are real and supervillains are real, that a guy would call himself Polka Dot Man and go around with polka dots on his costume seems ludicrous,” Gunn acknowledged. “But to be able to take that character who's a lot more like I am than Batman or Captain America, and to give him a story that's incredibly dark in terms of how he became Polka Dot Man — it’s a horrible story — was giving meaning to something that's incredibly stupid, and we’re all incredibly stupid in our own ways. And to be able to embrace the humanity of our own darkness and our own silliness.”

One of the breakout performances of the film is from Daniela Melchior, who plays the young Ratcatcher II. Ratcatcher II is different from the other members of Task Force X in that she’s slightly less messed up than everyone else. “She’s the only character who has any access to her heart whatsoever,” Gunn explained. “As much as I relate to the outsider qualities or goofiness of Polka Dot Man, I also relate to the more human elements of Ratcatcher II.”

Ratcatcher II’s humanity also helps the audience connect with her, though Gunn acknowledges the audience may connect less with her ease in tearing people apart. At her core, however, Ratcatcher’s ability to see the good in others, even King Shark, is admirable. “Is he good?” Gunn joked, talking about the dad-bod shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone. “He’s kind of a fish.”

Credit: Warner Bros.

The audience and King Shark aren’t the only ones who have an easier time connecting with Ratcatcher II. “Her relationship with Bloodsport [Idris Elba] is incredibly important in the movie. It’s probably the primary relationship in the movie, and it’s very important to me that it wasn’t a romantic relationship,” Gunn said. “It is him seeing this messed up but pure human being, and it helps him to connect to her but also connect to his daughter, who he treats like total sh**.”

Even iconic characters such as Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) get their own personal journey in The Suicide Squad, though Gunn is quick to point out that Harley remains at her core who she’s always been. “I think the way she was originally written by Paul Dini in the old animated series was truly who she still is today,” he said. “I don't think I deviate much from that. We get to see other sides of her, but it's still fully that same character that Paul created. And being able to bring out the full chaotic trickster of that character, who still is growing though. She’s growing, she’s making choices that for her are healthy — probably wouldn’t be considered healthy to us — but to her are healthy.”

And while Gunn connects to all of The Suicide Squad’s characters to some degree, there’s one he admits is most like him. “To me, The Suicide Squad is about Amanda Waller,” he said. “She’s the actual antagonist in this film, at the end of the day. She’s the bad guy, which is sad for me because I'm probably most like her because I'm the one who’s killing everyone.”

The Suicide Squad will premiere in theaters and on HBO Max on Aug. 6, 2021.