First of all, be warned. This little essay is riddled with SPOILERS. There are a lot of SPOILERS here. Every second word is a SPOILER. I’ll assume you saw the movie. You’ve been warned about SPOILERS. Don’t come crying to me about SPOILERS. So many SPOILERS. So many.
We’ve lost the SPOILER-averse? Good.
“Suicide Squad” is not as good as it could’ve been. They hammered elements into the scenario with Harley Quinn’s mallet. The movie struggles to contain all that has been thrown into it. This doesn’t work.
Suffering from indecision
The movie suffers from a problem that affects most comics-based movies. It has trouble balancing fan service and broader appeal. In its bid to appeal to everyone and explain everything, its exposition is long and strange and forced. Members of the squad are introduced one by one as Weller speaks with high ranking national security officials in the restaurant. That structure which works in heist movies such as Ocean’s Eleven feels wrong and unnatural here.
Having secondary characters come to the fore and important characters (like Batman) recede in the background is an ambitious project. To pull it off, character development should at least work well and fast. It doesn’t. Character development in “Suicide Squad” has too many moving parts. They take up all the space to the detriment of the story. Focusing on fewer elements would have stoked the ire of some fans but would have made things easier to order into a more functional cinematic narrative machine.
Focusing on characters and letting the audience spend some time with them could help us forgive problems with the story. Characters enter from the left and the right at odd times. Slipknot, for example, appears without any back story or forewarning only to be killed moments later. His arc exists solely to ensure that audiences understand nanobombs injected in all their necks are real and stakes are high. Katana appears seemingly out of nowhere too. So does the Enchantress’ brother/slave. These moves seem gauche and took me out of the flow.
Harley, Deadshot and ALL the others
Harley and Deadshot are introduced rather well — most probably because there might be romance in the air next. Their skills and motivations are covered early and they are therefore better established from the beginning. These characters work very well and the actors who portray them have stuff to work with. They do so very well. This creates expectations for other members of the squad which aren’t met.
The Joker is perhaps the biggest disappointment of the whole movie for me. The scene where the Joker offers Harley was out of character and didn’t do a thing to establish the nature of their relationship. However, the “Would you die/live for me?” was powerful and purposeful. Were it introduced sooner, it may have worked better.
Killer Croc is presented by Waller as damaged by the way he is treated because of his appearance. It is almost left at that. We’re not invited to try and understand his motives. He is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, shrouded in character dysfunction. He is not one of the most well-known and oft adapted characters in the DC universe. The audience is right in expecting something more, especially since his unique ability to swim is very important to the dénouement. He deserved a better treatment.
For most other characters, seemingly random tidbits of backstory and dialogue are presented. They don’t form a coherent picture. It doesn’t smell like writers have the characters straightened out either. This problem is lurking throughout the DC universe and isn’t exclusive to “Suicide Squad”. As long as they are secondary characters, one can keep them a little blurred in a background of (sic) moral bankruptcy. As soon as you bring them to the fore, strategies to distance the “villains” from the “good” guys should be forbidden. Motives should be made clear. Moral complexity should be embraced. It seems the movie doesn’t bring them fully into focus and neither does it keep them in the background which makes for a blurry ensemble.
As antagonists go, the Enchantress and her barely one-dimensional brother are very sad. “She does magic, impressive shit — naked and covered in wet ashes” is the full depth of the character, it seems. Her brother is hastily introduced because the story reaches a stalemate in her confrontation with Weller. Neither him nor her have clear motives. The Enchantress’s plan materialises out of nowhere. Losing the brother, keeping the Enchantress under Weller’s thumb and making Weller the antagonist would have opened so many great doors.
A late glimpse of potential in the bar scene
Lots of the things I adore about the DC universe were definitely there.
- Individuality and conformity in tension,
- the impossibility (real or imagined) to adhere to “normal”,
- the problematic relationship between mental health and criminality,
- the age-old Gothamite question of contagious antisocial behavior
These are all themes and problems in the DC universe that I love. They are explored in “Gotham” way better and more thoroughly than here, obviously. In many ways, “Suicide Squad” could have been an even better venue to explore them because Harley and Mr. J. are present and everyone is farther along in their careers.
The bar scene is a pivotal moment. It made the characters’ struggles real and relatable. Three quarters into the movie is pretty late to establish the motivations and struggles of main characters. Elements about them gel and aggregate only at that point. If you’re gonna have a thin story, the movie could’ve been laced with more of a reflection around evil, what makes them bad, can they repent and reform, is a punishing prison system the best way. The elements are all there but they’re not developped to their fullest because of time constraints and completely out of order.
Amanda Weller does some terrible fucking things in the name of law, order and patriotism because she fears superhumans. Some prison guards are clearly sadists, what about that? What makes law and order so great if the “good” guys kill and torture too? What makes Batman different to Weller if he has offensive weapons? Deadshot and Flag have a conversation in the helicopter about their differences. Flag — whose name is funny in that context — gets out of the argument by stating that he’s a soldier. He has other reasons to be there but the argument just ends never to be referenced again. Loose ends like this are everywhere. It’s sad.
It would have been relevant to explore these issues more. As a culture, we desperately need more reflection around these topics as we grapple with gun violence, police brutality and various extremisms.