Suicide Squad is a film based on the DC Comics team of supervillains officially known as Task Force X that are assembled into a paramilitary response team to complete missions that would risk the lives of more valuable people. The original Suicide Squad team debuted in Brave and the Bold #25, consisting of Hugh Evans, Jess Bright, Karin Grace and Richard “Rick” Flag. The Suicide Squad film stars, in no particular order:
- Joel Kinnamen as Flag
- Will Smith as Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton
- Margot Robbie as Harleen “Harley Quinn” Quinzel
- Viola Davis as Amanda Waller
- Jai Courtney as George “Captain Boomerang” Harkness
- Jay Hernandez as Chato “El Diablo” Santana
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Waylon “Killer Croc” Jones
- Cara Delevingne as June “Enchantress” Moon
- Karen Fukuhara as Tatsu “Katana” Yamashiro
- Adam Beach as Christopher “Slipknot” Weiss
with appearances from
- Jared Leto as the Joker
- Ben Affleck as Bruce “Batman” Wayne
- Ezra Miller as Bartholomew “The Flash” Allen
as well as an image of
- Jason Momoa as Arthur “Aquaman” Curry.
The Suicide Squad is brought together by Waller, who wants to compile a task-force that can combat threats from potentially dangerous metahumans. Waller even refers to the Suicide Squad’s members as “metahumans”, even though Santana is the only person fitting that description, being the only one amongst them possessing superpowers of any kind.
Waller has been gathering information on the world’s meta-Humans, and the mid-credits scene reveals Waller giving a portfolio of that information to Wayne in exchange for protection. But what’s never considered is that, if Waller wanted to created a meta-Human response team, and Wayne was aware of that plan, why could they have not collaborated on establishing the Justice League, avoiding the need for the Suicide Squad altogether?
For a film about a team of villains, Suicide Squad frequently forgets that the strongest feature on offer is the team dynamic. The majority of the story is action-oriented set-pieces that uses the characters as props, rather than as people. They become plot functions, as opposed to instigators of it. A short scene toward the end, in-which the Suicide Squad share drinks and discuss their situation is a standout, but that’s because there are few other scenes of this nature.
Even then, the members themselves don’t seem to have been selected for any particular reason. Suicide Squad’s characters have been selected based on who DC wanted to include, not based on the story at hand. This means that the team relationship isn’t developed organically; instead, there are quieter scenes in-which characters will acknowledge how close they’re becoming without any sign of it really happening. We’re told that they’re becoming a family, but outside of those scenes, there’s no sign of it.
Also, through these events, there’s never a sense of urgency. As Moon constructs a world-ending McGuffin, the Squad move through the abandoned Midway City at their own pace, like a military patrol, rather than as an emergency task-force deployed to tackle supernatural threats. When being dispatched, the Squad are told they have ten minutes before departure, but this kind of immediacy is never repeated. The McGuffin is activated before they arrive, and there’s still half-a-film’s-worth of story left to happen. That makes the level of threat difficult to understand, which compromises one of the most important element of storytelling: tension. And “compromise” feels like the ideal word for Suicide Squad – there’s an inconsistent tone running throughout, with every scene switching between a neo-noir crime thriller and an experimental psychedelic art film drenched in bleach, and accompanied by licensed pop music. This means that the tragic backstories given to some of the more important characters clash with the light-hearted, carefree style; how exactly am I supposed to feel about them if the film cannot itself decide?
Stories of extreme studio interference are hard to deny, leaving Suicide Squad feeling like a diluted form of what could have been, which ultimately has been lessened by trying to appeal to the populist masses, rather than a specific audience.
Even then, those pop music tracks are totally misused; one song will begin playing, before being quickly sidelined for another one. This means that the music tracks are used too often, which means that none of them are effective; they’re simply one of many, rather than a track accompanying a specific moment. And there are quiet moments when an original, composed soundtrack is used, but there are so few that Suicide Squad feels like watching a randomised playlist of its own trailers interspersed with promotional clips. Of course, the actual trailers feature all the best jokes; the gags left to the audience’s surprise are smaller and less memorable. The audio-visual style of counterpointing pop music against completely juxtaposing scenes is an old trick used by such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino, but Suicide Squad doesn’t use this style as it does mimic it – the technique is there, but hasn’t been understood enough to have an essence in the moment. Not to mention that songs are chosen because they’re cool, rather than because they work for their scenes: a suit-up montage is accompanied by The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, but there’s nothing specific about that track that means it couldn’t have been replaced with any other.
This sentiment could also be said for the ending, which is interchangeable with the third acts of more typical, less imaginative comic book adaptations, in-which a disposable army of generic grey monsters are used as cannon fodder, before a blue portal is created in the sky.
That kind of climax might not feel so unimaginative if the overall plot had a more coherent structure. The machine being built by Moon is activated at the end of the first act, once the team members have been introduced. This has the effect of it no longer being an exciting finale, but just another element of the story; by the time the team reach Moon’s station, we’re already familiar with her intentions, so there’s no element of surprise, further undermining the tension. Suicide Squad is a beginning followed by an extended ending, which is about as generic as can be.
The Midway City monsters turn-out to be transmuted Humans, but this is also explained post-facto, as an afterthought. When the scene was initially happening, there was no context.
But nevertheless – each member of the team should be assessed as individuals, not just as team members.
The Joker isn’t a member of Task Force X, but has been the most-marketed character due to his iconic status. Three previous versions of the Joker have been featured in live-action cinema: Cesar Romero in Batman (1966), Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989) and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008). The Joker is a rejection of social norms, a reaction against society and adopted illusionary concepts. Leto’s version is not this – the Joker in Suicide Squad is an Edgelord; his sense of humour is only used to aggravate people, and his character is obsessed with fashion, and his status and self-image. Fundamentally this means that Jared Leto’s Suicide Squad character is the Joker in name only. His skin isn’t white, it’s just pale, and his wardrobe style means that the green hair could very well be nothing more than an aesthetic choice. And that’s what the Joker is: an aesthetic. There’s nothing beneath the surface. And the Joker doesn’t even contribute anything. The only reason the Joker is seen in Quinzel’s flashbacks is because the Harley Quinn identity only exists because of the Joker. There’s a scene in-which the Joker attempts to rescue Quinzel from the mission with a plane, which Quinzel then escapes before it crashes, leading us to think that the Joker is dead. Except that the Joker is obviously not dead, because he’s the Joker, and needs to be kept alive for future Batman films; plus, this means that his attempt at rescuing Quinzel is irrelevant, because nothing comes of it. The Joker appears again at the end as he breaks Quinzel out of prison, but this would’ve been more effective had his previous scene not occurred – that way, the Joker only makes one apperance in the story outside of flashbacks. It would’ve been more surprising for the audience had the Joker appeared at the end without us knowing that he’s already part of the story. And how the Joker survived is never even explained – Leto’s gone on record as saying that most of his scenes were left on the cutting room floor, creating an inconsistent journey for the Joker. In an interview with IGN, Leto said:
“That’s a good question. I have no idea. I think he probably went and had a drink or something. Stretched – once you get blown up in a helicopter your muscles get a little tight.”
Ideally, the Joker should’ve been the antagonist. If the Joker is in a film, the other characters will always be overshadowed. Suicide Squad wastes the Joker as a character. Making the Joker Suicide Squad’s antagonist would have made more sense narratively: there’s a scene in-which Lawton is ambushed by Wayne, explaining how Lawton came to be signed-up to Task Force X. Had Task Force X’s target been the Joker, this would’ve given Wayne a better reason to personally capture Lawton other than just so we get a Ben Affleck cameo. Quinzel would’ve also been better-served as a character also, because her relationship with the Joker would’ve been a driving plot thread, rather than just existing on the periphery of story.
Speaking of Quinzel, she didn’t need to be there. Not being a metahuman, Quinzel’s role is to either shoot people with pistols (which anyone could do), or to react to gags by indicating to the audience when they should be laughing. Quinzel’s transformation is explained in backstory, but never explored. We’re simply told that “she fell in-love with the Joker”, but that’s it. It’s hard to like a character if we’re not given enough reasons to.
Quinzel (or I should say Robbie) is done a disservice by the editing. Comedy is all about timing, and Suicide Squad is edited so frantically that no dramatic pauses are given to allow for Quinzel’s one-liners to settle. An article from The Hollywood Reporter claims that:
“while Ayer pursued his original vision, Warners set about working on a different cut, with an assist from Trailer Park, the company that had made the teaser. By the time the film was done, multiple editors had been brought into the process, though only John Gilroy is credited. (A source says he left by the end of the process and that the final editor was Michael Tronick.) ‘When you have big tentpoles and time pressure, you pull in resources from every which way you can,’ says this source. ‘You can’t do it the way it used to be, with one editor and one assistant editor.’”
The end result of Suicide Squad means that Quinzel isn’t given enough time to develop independent thought, or to process her available options. Instead, Quinzel’s impulsive nature is used to simply further the plot.
Moon is Suicide Squad’s antagonist, and therein lies the most significant problem.
Moon is defeated by Quinzel stabbing her with Yamashiro’s Soultaker Sword which was lying between them, but at such a position that Moon should’ve been able to see the Soultaker Sword and understand what Quinzel was about to do.
Even then, the Soultaker Sword’s significance to that scene was telegraphed in a previous shot that shows the sword lying between them, making Quinzel’s ultimate defeat of Moon predictable and obvious, even though the moment is played as if it’s supposed to be surprising.
Not to mention that we’ve already seen that Moon has a form of teleporting ability, so why could she not have escaped the Squad by doing that, rather than facing them when there was no need? Moon isn’t just an overpowered character, she’s an overpowered character who forgets how overpowered she is just so there can be a final battle sequence.
But the real problem with Moon is that her presence in the story is the trigger event for Task Force X to be deployed; Moon is selected as one of Task Force X’s members, but then escapes and becomes the threat that needs to be stopped. But why Moon was chosen for inclusion isn’t specified, other than because DC wanted to include her. So Task Force X is only deployed because of a character who is brought-into the story for ambiguous reasons. Moon should’ve been chosen for a reason, rather than just for the sake of her being there.
But Moon is the villain nevertheless, and cannot be taken seriously as such. When confronted by the Squad, Moon decides to strut-about and speak poetically with a fancy accent, but none of it means anything. Very much like the Joker, Moon is a personified style or cliche, rather than a character.
Rather than being threatening, Moon just comes-across as being stupid.
Standing still would’ve been more intimidating.
Once Moon is established as a character and has constructed her world-ending machine, she, as a character, becomes irrelevant. She continues to be dramatic while also doing nothing.
And her relationship with Flag is resolved in a fashion that completely contradicts the established style of the story: Flag knows that he may need to destroy Moon to save the world, and is ultimately able to find the strength to do so. But just as it seems that Suicide Squad is about to end on a tragic note, it turns-out that Moon has survived while having been able to escape possession from Enchantress. Of course, how Moon survived is never given time for a real explanation, but that ending itself doesn’t fit the tone of Suicide Squad, which was supposed to be cynical and dark. One can only assume that this ending arose from late-in-the-day reshoots that were quickly planned in the wake of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s negative response. (The reshot scenes can be easily identified by Flag’s changing hair style.) I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon learn of an alternative ending in-which Moon doesn’t survive.
What also doesn’t work about the Moon/Flag relationship is the dynamics. Very much like the Joker and Quinzel, it’s built around short flashbacks that establish a backstory without developing it. Only when Flag confronts Moon is the setup paid-off, but the way it’s paid-off is such a cheap ending that the very foundation of their relationship is unstable.
Also – what exactly were Moon’s motivations? Moon finds that the modern world no longer worships gods but machines, and to that effect decides to build a machine that will destroy the world. But why was this her solution? Why was it a problem? And why does a magical being need a machine anyway? Not only is Moon a weak villain, but her motivations don’t make any sense.
In fact, Waller is a much scarier character, and she’s only supposed to a plot device that can exposit information.
Santana has sworn to not use his pyrokinesis again after accidentally burning his family to death. There’s a scene in-which Lawton is able to convince him to do so during a high-stakes encounter, but Santana’s sudden reverse-decision comes without any build-up. Lawton simply asks Santana to change his mind on something pretty important, and Santana decides to just go along with it. Santana’s character fundamentally changes in a moment because the plot requires it.
This is repeated later when Santana says that he considers the Suicide Squad to be his new family – they’ve known each other for little more than about two hours (give or take), and Santana suddenly decides that these characters are his family now. This is yet another example of the way Suicide Squad tells us how the characters are progressing without actually showing it happen.
Plus, why would Santana even trust the Suicide Squad? He’s murdered his family, and now finds himself in a team of other criminals. His natural suspicion of these people is ignored because it’s inconvenient.
It’s possible that these problems are explained with deleted scenes, but if that’s the case, those scenes shouldn’t have been deleted.
Harkness suddenly decides to leave simply because he can, only to continue being an active member of the team in successive scenes. This feels like another scene that’s missing. Even then, Harkness is an Australian character who throws boomerangs and that’s it. Harkness is an underdeveloped character based on lazy stereotypes. I appreciate that Suicide Squad is only adapting pre-existing characters, but if its characters are going to be chosen based on who DC wants to include, rather than who fits the story, at least do something with those characters. Harkness is traditionally an adversary of Allen, who briefly appears in the same was as Wayne; to capture him. The difference here is that Wayne at least does something, what with Waller giving him files on metaHumans to allow him to establish the Justice League. Here, Allen is there just because. It feels more as if Harkness is included as an excuse to show Allen, rather than being incidental.
Then there’s Lawton himself. Lawton never feels like a villain. He’s a hitman-for-hire, and Wayne has a problem with this for some reason, even though there’s only a small difference between them. And in being a member of Task Force X, Lawton is essentially a government contract killer. He’s given a family situation, and comes across as a hero with problems. Nothing about Lawton feels villainous, which is a problem if we’re being told he’s a villain. Of all the members of Task Force X, Lawton is arguably in the most tragic scenario, yet this is juxtaposed against pop music and flashy imagery. Suicide Squad wants the audience to have a good time in spite of its substance, which is why the tonal clashes are so noticeable – any character complexity that does occur is never given enough respect by the story, and is reduced to being a footnote in the narrative rather than a constructing element of it.
Yamashiro is a character in Suicide Squad, but apart from the sword, that’s about it.
Jones has the same problem as Quinzel; he never gets the chance to be a self-functioning character and whenever he speaks, it’s just to react to other characters and stimulus. Jones never says anything because he wants to, only because other people are.
Weiss is also there for about two scenes; the first is when he joins the lineup all of a sudden with barely any kind of introduction, and the second is when he’s killed-off almost immediately after. This was supposedly to raise the tension, but given how little introduction Weiss had, it was difficult to care. In the editing process, there was probably the realisation that there wasn’t enough time to give every character a backstory, so Weiss was trimmed-down to the bare minimum because he’s going to die anyway. Even more-so than the Joker, Weiss is the most unnecessary character because he’s barely even there.
Really, there are two fundamental problems with Suicide Squad.
One: the characters aren’t given respect. For the most part – Lawton aside – the characters appear to be names drawn-out of a hat and then applied to singular gimmicks: boomerangs, swords, ropes, etc. In grouping these characters together, Suicide Squad has to make me care about them. But since none of them are developed characters, I can’t. None of them have spirit; they’re empty vessels of plot. Suicide Squad feels like it was made by a studio wanting to rush its characters into the mainstream, rather than letting them develop properly. Suicide Squad isn’t about the characters in the Suicide Squad, but about a government motivated by a post-modern fear of Metahumans. Who those people are isn’t considered important. But the scenes showing Lawton and Santana’s life outside the Squad, and who their families are, is the kind of scenes that should have permeated everywhere else. That’s what makes Suicide Squad so infuriating: there are moments that hint at the potential it could have, but doesn’t. There’s a dream sequence in-which Quinzel and the Joker dance in the dark as a direct throwback to the cover of the comic book anthology Batman: Harley Quinn. But a brief moment of parallel imaging isn’t the same as reflecting the essence of that source material.
Two: the characters are never introduced properly. Some (like Lawton) get numerous introductions in the past and present with flashbacks, some (like Santana) get just a flashback and others (like Weiss) are summarised with a line of dialogue that describes their gimmick, rather than who they are. This is a film based on characters with rich histories, yet ignores them in the pursuit of being aesthetically pleasing. The Joker is only here because he’s the Joker. Allen is only here because he’s going to be in Justice League. Yes, DC films are feature-length advertisements for comic books, but if so much effort is going to be put into them, they could at least try and be well-constructed pieces of art in their own right. The most interesting plot thread in Suicide Squad is Quinzel’s history with the Joker, but by condensing that into a brief flashback montage, DC have bypassed the opportunity to make that its own thing, which would complicate those characters. Instead, the Joker may as well hold a sign that says “THIS CHARACTER IS THE JOKER”. In fact, the fake police uniform the Joker wears while breaking into Quinzel’s prison has a badge that reads “Joker”. How has so much attention been given to that kind of detail, but not the more important things like who the Joker is?
Suicide Squad seems to think that being based on a comic book is enough. For the people who read those comic books and will already be familiar with these characters, that may be the case. But for the people who haven’t – which is the majority of the audience – they’ll just be left underwhelmed.
at least it’s better than Green Lantern
Still – Wonder Woman looks pretty cool… oh.
Suicide Squad #1
On sale 17th August
Letterboxd review: http://letterboxd.com/gallifrey103/film/suicide-squad-2016/
Original draft: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1h3k3D7yg5mY3Crz8GPtOvMCZAME9H7CadNsec6T3KrI