Which Gunn Movie Is Better?

adminAugust 19, 2021

Which Gunn Movie Is Better?

Warning: Contains SPOILERS for The Suicide Squad.

Both The Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy are strong superhero outings from writer/director James Gunn, but which movie is better? Gunn made his mainstream breakthrough with Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014; having previously helmed smaller fare for studios like Troma, this was him making a leap to the big time. Gunn managed the jump easily, retaining a sense of the style that had earned him a cult following, but meshing it with the MCU to deliver a heartfelt space opera that took a bunch of C- and D-list characters and turned it into a major Marvel Cinemaic Universe movie franchise.

Gunn repeats that trick with The Suicide Squad, which ones again takes a bunch of lesser-known, weird comic book characters and brings them to life in his own unique way. Crossing the divide from Marvel to DC is no small feat itself for a director, but Gunn again pulls it off and then some. The Suicide Squad goes even bigger, harder, and weirder than Guardians did, for better and worse.

Related: All 15 DC TV Shows Releasing After The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad has understandably received plenty of comparisons to Guardians of the Galaxy, since they’re both made by Gunn and feature a team of oddballs banding together to save the day. While both feature some of the director’s hallmarks, there are plenty of differences between them too – from action to humor and tone – and, while both are good, there is a slight disparity in quality as well.

Task Force X vs. The Guardians

Side-by-side of posters for The Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy

Back in 2014, James Gunn’s movie introduces viewers to a new bunch of characters who, crucially, weren’t just A-holes, but were lovable A-holes. Star-Lord received one of the MCU’s great character introductions, with an inflated sense of cool and ego that it quickly appeared was hiding someone sweet, vulnerable, and rather goofy underneath. Once the Guardians all come together, though, is when the real magic happens. The casting of each individual role is perfect, but it’s the alchemy of them as a team that makes Guardians of the Galaxy so great. The way the heroes play off one another, and learn to become like the family all of them have either never had or have tragically lost, allows for a host of laughs, but also a real sweetness to the movie and plenty of emotion. There isn’t a weak link among them, with each contributing something – be it Drax’s comedy, Gamora’s skills, righteousness, and redemption, Rocket’s heart and hurt, or I am Groot – that builds the larger whole. They’re powerful, dysfunctional, weird, and impossible to dislike.

For his Task Force X, James Gunn initially goes a lot bigger. The Suicide Squad‘s roster of characters is massive, and full of oddballs who make the Guardians seem normal by comparison, but it’s quickly whittled down to a group of a similar size, with clear comparisons: King Shark is the lovable, non-human who can’t say much, Bloodsport the cool leader, Ratcatcher 2 the scorned, heart-of-gold center of the team etc, but they’re much more than just Guardians repeats. They all feel distinct, and Gunn repeats his trick of taking whacky, minor characters and making audiences root and feel for them, though he doesn’t quite manage the same level of investment: there’s a greater balancing act here, meaning certain arcs aren’t quite satisfactory (Bloodsport’s feels slightly unfinished, Peacemaker’s is saved for a spinoff, Harley Quinn is a slightly squashed fit into things). Guardians of the Galaxy‘s team just has a much greater chemistry, and the natural feeling between them gives it the edge here.

Winner: Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Suicide Squad vs. Guardians: Which Movie Has A Better Story

Guardians of the Galaxy is part of the MCU (and it has plenty of references and connections to let you know as much), but it’s also hugely indebted to Star Wars, especially in terms of its story and the overall feel of the movie. Marvel it may be, but this is a space opera at heart, with galactic battles to be fought, romances to be developed, and quests to be undertaken. Guardians‘ story is a relatively simple one, structured around the various characters attempting to get their hands on the Orb (which secretly houses an Infinity Stone), but it’s a plot that always feels entertaining and keeps things moving. Clocking in at 122 minutes (which is somewhat trim by modern standards), Guardians absolutely breezes along thanks to its mix of action and irreverence. There are no points where the story really sags or that feels like unnecessary bloat, and the chase for the Orb allows for the focus to firmly be on the titular team, allowing them to shine brightly. It offers up some great thrills, lots of humor, and also manages to tug at the heartstrings.

Related: Every DC Easter Egg, Secret & Reference In The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad‘s story is similarly uncomplicated – get to place, take out thing – and when it does decide to deliver a twist late in the day with Peacemaker turning against (and killing) Rick Flag, it fits with what’s established about the characters and packs a punch. Like with Guardians, Gunn clearly knows the strength of this lies less in complex plotting and more in allowing the characters to take center stage, and it’s once again carried by just how great these characters are to watch together, while allowing for some stunning action sequences, a couple of shocks, and a whole lot of deaths. The Suicide Squad‘s plot does feel a little longer than necessary, though: some of the diversions it takes mean the pacing is a bit off and it doesn’t all progress quite as neatly, with Gunn perhaps luxuriating just a tad too much in the outrageousness of it all. The gore arguably hurts The Suicide Squad‘s story as well – while most of it is earned, there are moments where a quick visceral impact is chosen over something a bit deeper, which Guardians doesn’t suffer from.

Winner: Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Suicide Squad’s Action Compared To Guardians Of The Galaxy

Explosions in The Suicide Squad beach attack scene.

James Gunn had long promised that The Suicide Squad would be the biggest, most epic movie he’s made, and in terms of its action and the sense of scale and spectacle in the film, he certainly delivers. The Suicide Squad is a comic book movie, but it also draws from 1970s war films too: this is a film that’s not afraid to get gritty, dark, and dirty – words that not too long ago would have produced scorn in conjunction with a DCEU movie, but here show a greater breadth of Gun’s filmmaking abilities than in Guardians of the Galaxy, in particular for its practical effects. Gunn sets his stall out early on, with an explosive opening on the Corto Maltese beach, and that really sets the tone: this is a hyper-violent, gruesome movie, and a chaotic one, but the director never loses control of the action, nor the perspective of the characters within it either. There’s room for huge set pieces that are incredibly thrilling to watch, but also more personal fight scenes that better capture the personal dynamics of the team and show off individual fighting skills, such as Harley Quinn’s flower-powered sequence.

In that sense, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t quite able to compete. It does have some of its own great fight sequences – pretty much anything involving Gamora is great, while the brutish strength of Drax is used to good effect, and there’s good action-comedy value in the Guardians as a whole. Again, there are plenty of thrills in that regard, but it falls down a little too much towards the end, with a big, CGI battle-in-the-sky that is overly familiar and does little to differentiate itself from much of what’s come before and since in the MCU. It’s not bad, by any means, but compared to both the rest of Guardians and The Suicide Squad, it is lesser, showing how Gunn has advanced in that regard at least.

Winner: The Suicide Squad

Starro vs. Ronan: Which Villain Is Better

Starro the Conquerer breaking out of Jotunhein in James Gunn's The Suicide Squad

Another of the weaker elements of Guardians of the Galaxy was Ronan the Accuser, the chief villain of the MCU movie, albeit one partly in service of none other than Thanos himself. The core idea of Ronan as a Kree zealot isn’t bad, but the execution is: there’s no room in the story to truly flesh out Ronan’s character, motivations, or much else about him besides being a bland blue guy who likes to kill people. Actor Lee Pace doesn’t get any opportunity to show what he’s capable of, and in the end Ronan only really works as something of a joke figure of the Guardians (in particular Star-Lord) to play off and make fun of, which makes them better, but doesn’t help Ronan as a villain. This was a time when Marvel really struggled with its villains, and while Ronan wasn’t the nadir of that run, he was very much a part of it.

Related: The Suicide Squad’s Secret Guardians Cameo: Where To Spot Pom Klementieff

The DCEU has had its own struggles with forgettable villains, especially in terms of weak CGI creations, but The Suicide Squad‘s Starro avoids those mistakes. The giant, pink-and-blue starfish certainly looks impressive and memorable if nothing else, with a vibrancy and sense of fun to the design often missing from larger-than-life bad guys. He’s also a major threat, given he’s essentially a kaiju in terms of his city-destroying potential, quickly levelling much of Corto Maltese (indeed, if there’s an issue with Starro it’s that he’s arguably too big a threat for Task Force X to be dealing with). Most crucially, though, is that Starro has a tragic backstory that works – it makes you understand and even feel for him (to a degree), all while wanting him to be defeated at the same time.

Winner: The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad’s Soundtrack vs. Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Awesome Mix

Awesome Mix Volume 1 from Guardians of the Galaxy

Even from its first trailer, it was clear Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be different (at least in terms of superhero movies) when it came to its soundtrack, with audiences immediately hooked on a feeling that this was going to be something special – and so it proved. James Gunn extensively curated a soundtrack full of 1960s and 70s pop hits and deep cuts, all of which were used to perfectly complement – or brilliantly juxtapose – the action on screen. From the use of “Come And Get Your Love” in the opening to “O-o-h Child” in the dance off, it’s a truly awesome mix that immediately gives a sense of character, elevates the action, and will guarantee you want to listen to the whole soundtrack on repeat afterwards.

Given the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, then it’s somewhat fitting Gunn ended up directing The Suicide Squad and putting together its soundtrack; after all, the 2016 Suicide Squad tried (and failed) to copy Guardians’ approach to music, with a mish-mash of radio songs that gave it the feeling of a music video rather than a movie (though it came from the studio, not David Ayer). Gunn delivers on the kind of musicality WB wanted all along, with another great collection of songs. It’s even more eclectic than Guardians, which isn’t surprising given this is a movie with a love montage set to The Fratellis’ “Whistle for the Choir,” but it doesn’t have quite the same cohesion that Guardians‘ does (which is boosted by its emotional connection to Peter Quill and narrative importance), nor does it quite demand to be played immediately afterward.

Winner: Guardians of the Galaxy

Why Guardians Of The Galaxy Is Better Than The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy

Both The Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy are very good superhero movies, with each reflecting different aspects of James Gunn’s filmmaking style, sensibilities, and personality, while delivering the kind of big comic book team-ups audiences want. The Suicide Squad is gory, violent, deeply weird, and earns its R-rating; for Gunn, it draws on his Troma roots to deliver the kind of movie he could never make under Marvel and Disney. It’s certainly not perfect though: the pacing is off in places, there’s a little less emotional weight, and some characters get a shorter shrift of things. Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t perfect either, but it perhaps does more things right – or at least, more of what matters. It may not be as pure Gunn in terms of its gore and shock value, but it does feel like a far more personal movie from him, with its heart on its sleeve. That allows a much greater emotional response to Guardians of the Galaxy, and combined with a more likable and memorable team of characters, and a stronger script, means that Guardians of the Galaxy is ultimately better than The Suicide Squad.

Next: All 19 DC Movies Releasing After The Suicide Squad (& When)

  • The Batman (2022)Release date: Mar 04, 2022
  • DC League of Super-Pets (2022)Release date: May 20, 2022
  • Black Adam (2022)Release date: Jul 29, 2022
  • The Flash (2022)Release date: Nov 04, 2022
  • Aquaman 2 (2022)Release date: Dec 16, 2022
  • Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)Release date: Jun 02, 2023
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release date: May 05, 2023

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