There are over a dozen super-villains, antiheroes and outright psychopaths at the core of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, the new DC blockbuster hitting theaters and HBO Max today. From superhero celebrities like Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn to little known Z-listers like Javelin and Mongal, the cast is absolutely packed. And yet, over the course of the movie’s two-hour running time, certain characters begin to stand out and they’re not always the ones you expect. In fact, The Suicide Squad is arguably stolen by the two characters that seem like the biggest punchlines on paper—Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher II.
If you don’t know them, you soon will. And chances are, by the time the credits role, you’ll be hoping for spinoffs, sequels, prequels or whatever it takes to see more of them. But it’s not because of their powers or skills—though both are considerably more impressive than you’d think—or because of their good looks or witty one-liners. Rather, the appeal of Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher lies in the characters’ heart. For people who can control large swarms of rats or spew destructive polka-dots from their body, the two villains are surprisingly relatable.
Polka-Dot Man, or Abner Krill, has existed in comics since the 1960s, largely as a bottom-tier Batman villain. However, The Suicide Squad’s take on the character, brought to soulful life by David Dastmalchian, is an invention of Gunn’s script. At times both comedic and heartbreaking, Polka-Dot Man seems to reflect the nihilistic reality of Task Force X—serving on the Suicide Squad offers the chance for heroism, yet it will almost certainly go unrecognized and ultimately will just lead to your death. But none of that was present when Gunn chose to include Polka-Dot Man in the film.
“At the beginning, I was just trying to figure out who would be in the Suicide Squad,” the director elaborates. “I wanted it to be a really deep mix of characters, some of whom we know, some of whom we don't. Polka-Dot Man, seriously—I would look up who are considered the dumbest super-villains of all time on Google and at the top of every list was Polka-Dot Man.”
When he debuted, Polka-Dot Man’s signature dots would transform into various weapons and items he could use in his criminal endeavors, though this gimmick was quickly abandoned as the character devolved into more of a jokey thug. Gunn, however, chose to eschew all of this in favor of a more interdimensional approach to Abner Krill, in the process giving him a new, tragic backstory.
“I wanted to take this character and give him a soul,” he explains. “This character who we think is like the dumbest character of all time, who is made fun of at the beginning of the movie by the other dumb super-villains, he has this incredibly dark, dark, dark backstory, which of course is just purely a cinematic invention.
“I think it was just about giving us this guy who was the typical loser and getting to see him on his journey. And I think most of us in the world probably relate a lot more to Polka-Dot Man than we do to Captain America.”
While Polka-Dot Man may be a Silver Age character, Ratcatcher II is technically brand new. (The original Ratcatcher, who is mentioned in the film and seen in flashbacks, is a low-level Batman villain who made his comic debut in 1988.) Played by Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior—in what’s likely a star-making turn—Cleo Cazo possesses wisdom and empathy that belie her young age…as well as a scene-stealing, furry companion named “Sebastian.” Amusingly, it was this pet rat that seems to have led to Ratcatcher II’s inclusion.
“I love rats,” Gunn enthuses. “I grew up with pet rats. When I did Guardians, a lot of people started having pet raccoons, which is not something I suggest. They're terrible, terrible pets that tear your house apart and sometimes attack you for no reason. But rats are actually the best small animal pet in the world. They're so affectionate. They almost never bite. And so, I'm like, ‘If I'm going to make people have a pet, let's make it something that I think is a really great pet.’”
While Melchior’s Ratcatcher is probably the least threatening Squad member on the film, her mask and costume—which were inspired by the original Ratcatcher’s comic book getup—do look like something from a horror movie, which Gunn says was intentional.
“I really wanted to create, with the primary team, people that seemed like they were from completely different movies,” he shares. “As if this is coming at the end of ten years of a dumb Peacemaker TV show and a scary Saw-like show with Ratcatcher and a cool, hip, grimdark Bloodsport movie, and put them all together in one thing and see these people that are in and of themselves each a different genre. Ratcatcher kind of came naturally from that. I liked the fact that her name is Ratcatcher II. It makes it an even sillier thing because we've never met Ratcatcher.”
Fans have most likely never met Melchior either, who shares most of her scenes with bigger, more recognizable stars like Idris Elba, John Cena and Viola Davis. Casting her in the role wasn’t an easy process, but it proved to be one of the more fulfilling moments in the movie’s pre-production and called to mind a similar experience Gunn had with the first Guardians of the Galaxy film.
“I knew that I wanted to have a Latin actor,” he reveals. “We did a search with literally hundreds of auditions from everywhere, from some actors who are sort of well-known, but a lot of actors who aren't known at all. Daniela sent in her tape and it was really mellow, but she was so natural and so grounded. She reminded me of the old French new wave movie stars—she has that sort of shine and natural ability about her. She screen tested along with two other actors and I just knew immediately. It was the same as with Chris Pratt. When he auditioned for the first time, Chris came in and I knew that he was Star-Lord within forty seconds of him doing his read. Daniela did her screen test and I knew immediately that she was the one.”
Of course, whether you’ve seen the film or not, you couldn’t be blamed for asking why. Why spend so much time and effort making characters like Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher II more sympathetic and understandable. Why try to redeem not only villains, but ridiculous villains?
That’s always been the soft heart deep within Suicide Squad’s otherwise brutal premise. The world these characters inhabit may not realize or appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made, but we as viewers do. If we can empathize with them and cheer for their success, perhaps we might not be so quick to judge the next time we come across someone whose appearance or life seems laughable or unimportant.
“Taking a character like that, who's a joke and who's thought of as a joke and looking behind the curtain and seeing, ‘Oh my god, he's so sad,’” Gunn explains. “You're giving depth to something. There's a line in the movie that says something like, ‘If you can take the most useless, dumbest character of all time and give him enormous depth and meaning, don't we all have that in this world?’ It’s true, you know?”
The Suicide Squad, directed by James Gunn, hits theaters and HBO Max tonight! Not yet an HBO Max subscriber? Sign up today to enjoy the best of DC movies and TV.
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