Second Take: Suicide Squad

By Connor Fineran

Well, another year, another one of DC’s attempts at getting that sweet Marvel money. So what are they going to try now? With Batman vs Superman serving as a harbinger of an overall disappointing summer (with the exception of Civil War, Swiss Army Man, Finding Dory, and hopefully Kubo and the Two Strings and Pete’s Dragon), those holding out for the DC Extended Universe hoped that Suicide Squad, the much hyped Dirty Dozen of superhero films, would swoop in to save the day. What happened?

Well, I didn’t hate it…but that still doesn’t excuse it for being the mess that it is.

For a little bit of history, the Suicide Squad or Task Force X as it would also be known was a team that first appeared in 1959 and reworked in 1987 with the idea of supervillains acting as expendable agents. It’s rather simple, really: Rot in prison, or go on a suicide mission where you could die if you step out of line and from the power of espionage backstabbery. But hey, succeed and you get some time off your prison sentence! It’s an appropriately fatalistic set of options perfect for a gang of bad folks seeking a way out. So you’d think that this would lend itself well to a story with a darker edge to it. You have a bunch of weirdos and creeps forced to the dirty work for people who despise them, willing to do whatever it takes to complete the mission and get out alive. So what do you have your characters do?

Fight a supervillain who wants to destroy the world. You know, the typical thing black ops teams do. Because this movie needs to end like every other blockbuster these days. In the rain. In the dark.

Go government agent and resident hardass Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to set up a team to deal with a threat on the level of Superman (who is dead). So she gets Deadshot (Will Smith), a family-cum-hitman; Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a petty crook who throws boomerangs; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the Joker’s moll; Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a crocodile man; El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a regretful tattooed gangbanger with pyrokinetic powers; and finally Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), an ancient witch occupying the body of an archaeologist. But that last character doesn’t exactly comply with Waller’s command and soon escapes to cause a disaster in a city that threatens the world. So the squad is activated to get someone out of the city and…not stop the world-ending threat. Oh, and there’s some guys named Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and Slipknot (Adam Beach). And Joker (Jared Leto) is looking for Harley. I think. And there’s a Japanese woman named Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who’s Japanese.

Personally, I’ve found DC’s attempt at chasing Marvel’s success to be similar to a nuclear blast in slow motion. What’s especially astounding is how this franchise has gone from somewhat watchable yet mediocre (Man of Steel) to astoundingly desperate and misguided (Batman vs Superman). Where does that leave Suicide Squad? Well, let’s just call it “desperate and sad”. The good news is that I didn’t hate this movie quite as much as the previous entry. But this is still an awful movie in many ways.

For starters, I feel like I can’t even judge this as a completed film. There are literally two establishing scenes for Deadshot and Harley. First it shows them in prison, then we go to Waller discussing her plan for the squad that introduces them again with SUPER KOOKY PROFILES AND QUIRKS, YO! A scene early in the film establishes how the Enchantress caused the disaster that started the plot, then a scene later in the film has Flagg explaining what caused the disaster…with the same footage we just saw not an hour ago! With nothing different! We knew what caused the problem, we don’t need to see it again!

The film then alternates between what was probably David Ayer’s original vision for the film and awkward new scenes that are horribly incongruous with any others. Quick cut to Joker and Harley in a club where Joker randomly shoots a guy! Let’s tell you that Killer Croc is monstrous and have the one monstrous thing he does be dragging a dude underwater! Let’s show you in one scene that Boomerang’s a backstabbing coward and have that barely come into play at all throughout the film! What about the fact that the entire plot is set in motion because Waller thought that she could control an all-powerful magical being…something she has zero experience with. What did you think would happen, you dumbass?! In that case, you deserve to die! How about flashbacks to Harley’s origin that seem to hint at something more in the original edit, but that’s clearly been excised in favor of a random, extremely tacky homage to Alex Ross’ painting of Mr. J and Harley. I could go on, but the film has far more frustrations.

Which brings me to the characters. Or rather, the pieces of cardboard that we’re supposed to buy as characters. Look, I bet it’s cool seeing them on screen. It’s something fans have most likely pined for since the possibility arose. But here’s the thing: This is a MOVIE. This is not a comic book. These characters need to work on film because as far as everyone else is concerned, we’ve just been introduced to them in the world of the film. This is also due to the fact that there are scenes missing, so no one has a satisfactory arc. El Diablo suddenly decides that he thinks of the team as his “family”, so he sacrifices his life to save them by turning into a giant fire demon(?)! Where did this come from?! What about the fact that Katana, Croc, and Boomerang have virtually nothing to do other than participate in action scenes?! Where were their moments where we got to know them outside of really small scenes that are just as quickly forgotten about?! Because of the hack job, no character really endures an arc that is satisfyingly and coherently completed. Characters meander through the film one way and suddenly decide to change. There’s no progress that feels earned. It’s like if Charlie from Rain Man was an asshole to everyone throughout the film even during his road trip with Raymond up until the very end where he suddenly cares.

What about how much of a non-character Enchantress/June Moone is? Seriously, she’s the belly-dancer from hell only exists because we need a world ending threat. Oh, and because she’s a witch, she can suddenly develop new superpowers as the plot demands. That’s not to say there wasn’t potential. Will Smith is as charismatic as ever (despite him basically playing Will Smith as a hitman), Diablo’s backstory gives him a bit sympathy, and Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley is spot on, giving just a little bit of life to an otherwise bland, underwritten cast.

But I bet you’re thinking, “Connor, you handsome fellow, what about Jared Leto as the clown prince of crime?” Well, the movie spent so little time with him, I’ll give an equally small summary: embarrassing and inconsequential. His bling-wearing tweaker freak Joker is just “there”, never being able to do anything else other than be unintentionally funny in how hard he’s trying at being quirky and weird. He’s never menacing or funny because he’s barely given any time to leave an impression, and his impact on the plot is so minor that he might as well not even be in it.

And what else? Well, do you like incidental, non-diagetic songs played over scenes? Do you like incidental songs literally being played one after another after another immediately following a scene change? Then this is the film for you, dear viewer! Let’s not pay any attention to setting a consistent tone, let’s just throw in pop songs because Guardians of the Galaxy was popular, so this film can do it too! That continues throughout a good half of this film before finally tapering off, but repetition seems to be this film’s modus operandi, because the second half is walking through a dark dingy cityscape followed by some fight scenes with caviar-headed zombies. No joke, that’s what it feels like for an hour and a half. Sure there’s some attempt at character building right before the climax where we learn El Diablo’s tragic backstory, but it’s too little, too late. In fact, that bar scene that’s shown in the trailers? That’s probably the best part of the film because we’re actually seeing the personalities we should have seen actually kinda manifest! And the dark tone that WB has been pushing so hard for (and failing to deliver on) actually–gasp–works!

But a few good scenes, performances, and fan service shots for comic book geeks alone can’t carry a film that’s both been robbed of its original vision and made purely to cash in on another company’s success. Look, I really want DC to figure out how to translate these characters to the screen. They are legendary at this point, some having been around for nearly a century. But for this franchise to succeed, they need to have a vision and stick to it.

Stop looking at Marvel or any other trend and trying hard to ape off that while avoiding having any fun with your material. Stop the droning exposition and music. Stop apologizing for including a character who flies around in tights and a cape. Stop the constant brooding. Stop telling us these are the characters we love and actually show us why we should care. Bring back some color to this dreary world you’ve created. Be proud of the legacy that your heroes and villains have left. Stop chasing the angsty, po-faced, “edgy” teenage demographic. Stop the faux Hot Topic punk atmosphere, it’s painful.

And especially stop taking advantage of your fanbase. Just because something from the comics appears on screen doesn’t guarantee that said images or scenes are used in a meaningful way. It’s cynical, it’s disrespectful to the source material, and above all, it’s pathetic. Hopefully you’ll have learned that by Man of Steel 2.

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