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The 7 biggest differences between ‘The Suicide Squad’ and ‘Suicide Squad’ (besides the ‘the’)

“The Suicide Squad” is back with some members that survived the first film and lots of newcomers. (Warner Bros./DC Entertainment)
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With “The Suicide Squad” now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max, some may be wondering: They made another one of these?

Suicide Squad” — not to be confused with this month’s “The Suicide Squad” — premiered in August 2016, almost five years to the day of this new release. Both installments follow the same general plot: A group of dangerous, convicted villains are given the choice to complete a secret mission in exchange for less prison time, or they will die.

But is the 2021 version a sequel? A remake? A rebranding? Yes. Yes, it is.

There are returning players, new characters and a different director in this adventure, but “The Suicide Squad” doesn’t feel like the original. If anything, the film’s glaring differences and shift in tone are part of why it was made in the first place.

Here are the seven most noticeable differences between “Suicide Squad” and “The Suicide Squad.”

The director

Despite making nearly $750 million at the global box office, director David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” didn’t seem like a top contender for a sequel. The film went through extensive reshoots, in part because of the negative critical reception of the Warner Bros./DC movie that preceded it: Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Ayer’s original cut, which he has said was much darker with 100 percent less pop music, was made lighter in tone in hopes that the humor would be welcome after the Man of Steel/Dark Knight punch fest. Critics were mixed on whether the changes were an improvement.

2021’s “The Suicide Squad” is just as much a rebranding as it is a sequel, and that’s largely due to the presence of James Gunn in the writer and director’s chair. Gunn’s brand of humor feels like a natural fit, powered by his uncanny ability to turn off-brand comic book characters into household names. The director was behind both successful “Guardians of the Galaxy” films — which featured a talking raccoon and giant tree in starring roles — from Marvel Studios, and his style is just as palpable on this DC venture.

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A lot less Joker

A lot of Jared Leto’s Joker was left on the cutting room floor after the reshoots for “Suicide Squad,” as efforts to lighten up the film meant much less of DC’s classic Clown Prince of Crime. As such a revered antagonist, the character’s role as second-fiddle villain in the film felt off, too, especially when so many other actors have played him better. Even though “Suicide Squad” ended with a reunion between the Joker and Harley Quinn, the 2020 film “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” made it clear they were no longer a couple, so there is no Mr. J anywhere to be found in Gunn’s version.

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An R rating

The most noticeable difference between the PG-13 2016 original and this year’s film is the hard R-rating, which is utilized from the very start. It is by far the goriest DC film ever made. (Captain America would have to cover his ears listening to the words spewed out of the mouths of character’s he’s likely never heard of.) It has the makings of a franchise with “Deadpool”-like potential — one that doesn’t have to box itself into the standard, adolescent-friendly superhero template and has the freedom to distinguish itself as a not-for-kids, adult-humor experience. HBO Max’s “Harley Quinn” animated series has been the gold standard for DC’s ability to make magic with raunchy, foul-mouthed anti-heroes. “The Suicide Squad” plays in the same league of inappropriateness.

More obscure DC Comics characters

When your choices are to go on a death wish of a mission or die, someone will always die, one way or another. So it’s no surprise that the roster for another movie in the franchise is not the same the second time around. And that means we have new characters to play with. This is not a Justice League gathering: With the exception of Harley Quinn, big names are few and far between. But Gunn has already proved that the more obscure the character, the more fun he can have with them. Yes, there are a few holdovers from the original film, such as Viola Davis’s Amanda Waller, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, but this film is rich in DC Comics characters that will make you say, “Oh yeah, I think I remember them!,” including Savant (Michael Rooker), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), Weasel (played by Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn) and Peacemaker (John Cena). But as with any Suicide Squad tale in the comics or on-screen, don’t get too attached to any of them.

Bloodsport instead of Deadshot

Though he played a large role in the first film, Will Smith’s super-sniper Deadshot does not return in “The Suicide Squad.” Instead, we follow Idris Elba’s Bloodsport, a new key protagonist and a character most famous for being the guy who shot Superman with a Kryptonite bullet. At first it may seem like Deadshot and Bloodsport have similar character arcs — both join Suicide Squad duty in hopes of making things better for their daughters — the comparisons end there.

A next-level Harley Quinn performance

Harley Quinn is generally the one sure thing that can be considered a Suicide Squad mainstay; she remains an intensely popular character in its comics, animation and live-action features. Margot Robbie, reprising the role of Harley for the second time, takes the character to new heights in “The Suicide Squad,” especially with no Joker in her way. With an R-rating, the naturally funny and outrageous villain has room to get the laughs from the audience as silly and violently as possible. Robbie’s undeniable standout performance is the one thing the two different films have in common, as she remains the most well-cast role in DC’s modern movie era.

Meaningful deaths

Guessing who will survive “The Suicide Squad” is a fruitless endeavor. Don’t go sizing up by perceived popularity, or lameness or the fact that so many characters from the first film are in the follow-up. Gunn is brutal with his R-rating and takes aim at characters who you probably expect to make it to the end credits. They don’t. One death in particular is quite shocking and will definitely remind viewers of the fun behind the Suicide Squad franchise in the first place: No one is safe.

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