Who needs Batman and Superman around when you’ve got Harley Quinn and Polka-Dot Man?
The DC superhero film universe celebrates its quirky villains with writer/director James Gunn’s new R-rated adventure “The Suicide Squad” (in theaters and on HBO Max Thursday night) featuring Margot Robbie (returning for a third time as Harley), Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman and many more as a misfit bunch of bad guys running black-ops mission for the government. Their latest crazy mission: infiltrate a mysterious South American island facility and deal with a giant starfish from another planet.
We’re now eight years and 10 movies into this superworld with famous comic-book icons, and there are more to to come: “Black Adam” (out July 29, 2022) introduces Dwayne Johnson’s ancient title antihero, sequel “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” (Dec. 16, 2022) features another go-round with Jason Momoa’s king of the ocean, and the follow-up “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” (June 2, 2023) catches up with Zachary Levi’s transformed teen do-gooder.
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Here’s how the connected DC superhero films rank so far:
10. ‘Man of Steel’ (2013)
A Superman movie that doesn’t seem to understand Superman. Zack Snyder’s origin story had a cool opening on the hero’s home world of Krypton but spiraled downward from there. Instead of a beacon of hope – what Henry Cavill’s character says that “S” on his chest means – this Clark Kent is the Brooder of Steel, navigating life, love and loss not with a smile or a knowing confidence (see: Christopher Reeve, the ideal Superman) but with instead a sort of unappealing melancholy. Honestly, not the greatest start to a cinematic universe.
9. ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (2016)
An improvement on “Man of Steel,” mostly thanks to a couple of new superheroes: Ben Affleck nicely inhabits a Dark Knight who’s pretty much had it with everything, especially with that dude in blue tights and a red cape, and Gal Gadot debuts as a mysterious Wonder Woman, one audiences were dying to know about. The CGI-heavy climax with supervillain Doomsday is a travesty; there are intriguing seeds for a bigger story (what’s up, Darkseid?!) that will probably never happen now, but Jesse Eisenberg’s psycho Mark Zuckerberg take on Lex Luthor weirdly works.
8. ‘Aquaman’ (2018)
Momoa’s reluctant hero goes under the sea for an Arthurian quest to find a mythical trident that can bring together the underwater kingdoms before his Atlantean half bro (Patrick Wilson) wages an ecologically fueled war on the surface. Way too earnest at times, director/co-writer James Wan’s film successfully dips its toe in a pool of out-there goofiness at times but never dives deep, unfortunately. For Aqua-fans, archvillain Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) shows up for a bit and is awesome, plus Mera (Amber Heard) is now firmly entrenched as DC films’ No. 2 heroine.
7. ‘Justice League’ (2017/2021)
OK, it wasn’t quite an “Avengers”-level reception for the DC supergroup, be it Joss Whedon’s original theatrical release or Snyder’s much-ballyhooed (and just a bit better) director’s cut. The the major fight at the end with Steppenwolf, a badly computer-generated supervillain who gets a Snyder Cut upgrade, is mostly forgettable. Oh, yeah, and Mustache-gate. However, Batfleck gets some fun stuff to do, Ezra Miller’s speedy Flash owns being the comedy relief and for the first time – thanks to a well-timed resurrection – Cavill finally figures out how to best play Superman. (It was probably only for half a movie, but better than nothing.)
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6. ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (2020)
While it may not be as good as the first “Wonder Woman,” and director Patty Jenkins’ sequel tries to do too much over two-and-a-half hours, it’s certainly a lot more fun. Gadot spends more time as Diana than in Wonder Woman mode but she wears both sides well, and her chemistry with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor – one of the highlights of the original hit – remains strong as Diana shows Steve the Reagan era. Also give credit to Pedro Pascal for going all in with smarminess as villainous businessman Max Lord and Kristen Wiig nicely breaks out of her comedy mold as the ferocious Cheetah.
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5. ‘Suicide Squad’ (2016)
While it probably still sticks in the craw of haters, the completely bonkers “Squad” is one of very few superhero films to win an Academy Award. (For makeup, but still an Oscar.) The weird and wild narrative about a motley group of supervillains having to save the world had the good (Robbie’s winningly oddball Harley), the bad (another horrendous CGI-fest for an ending) and the ugly (props to Jared Leto for whatever he was doing as an out-of-left-field Joker).
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4. ‘Birds of Prey’ (2020)
While it doesn’t have the same out-there energy as the two “Squad” movies, Harley’s girl-gang movie is a female-fronted delight with clever references, “Deadpool”-esque cursing and ultraviolence, plus gags aplenty. The best part, though, is the women who help Harley when the entire Gotham City underworld comes looking for her blood: Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s sonic-screeching, karate-kicking Black Canary and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s crossbow-wielding, socially awkward vigilante Huntress benefit from playing it straight next to Robbie’s goofball queen.
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3. ‘Shazam!’ (2019)
The first breath of fun, fresh air that the DC films had been sorely lacking, “Shazam!” captures the same awe and childlike wonder of superheroes that Reeve’s original “Superman” did back in the day. The movie marries family drama and a sneakily deep magical mythology, and there’s much hilarity to be had when super-sized Billy (Levi) and foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) test his powers or stroll over to the local convenience store to buy beer. Levi should have been a franchise superhero way before this, though he couldn’t have picked a better fit than this old-school caped crusader.
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2. ‘Wonder Woman’ (2017)
Until “Black Panther,” no other superhero movie had quite the cultural impact of Jenkins’ Amazon-filled World War I period piece. Gadot’s Princess Diana learns about romance – with Pine’s Trevor as a fantastic complement – but also the flaws of humanity, showing anybody who’ll watch how to be a hero by walking across a battlefield where literally no man will set foot. Pulpy personalities, a surprising sense of humor and a top-notch main character smooth over the foibles: another egregious digital main bad guy and final battle, which have become unfortunate DC signatures.
1. ‘The Suicide Squad’ (2021)
Gunn’s DC debut – as important to this universe as “Guardians of the Galaxy” was to the Marvel galaxy – is No. 1 with a bullet, thanks to Harley, criminal marksman Bloodsport (Elba in grumpy leading-man mode) and his frenemy rival Peacemaker (Cena channeling the worst Captain America ever). This “Squad” is a gory, crazy, curse-laden delight with a high body count and a welcome air of unpredictability (because you never know when your fave baddie will meet a bloody end), but Gunn’s infused it with enough heart and personality that you’re invested in who makes it out alive.Internet Explorer Channel Network