Thoughts on Suicide Squad

I know, I know. Everyone knows the score when it comes to the recent DC movies. I wasn’t even going to go see it, but I was invited. 2 for 1 tickets! I figured at least it would be like the recent Ghostbusters film in that with appropriately managed expectations, it would be fine. So, my expectations for Suicide Squad were set at ‘dumpster fire’ level. Maybe it would be so bad, it would be fun? I still found it disappointing. Spoilers ensue.

I can’t possibly list everything that’s wrong with the movie in this post. I’d need a copy of the film on my hard drive, half a dozen hours and a couple bottles of wine to make it through that. For many films like this, you know, the big-budget blockbuster, I’m quite happy to call them films where you can turn your brain off for a while and enjoy them.

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To be fair, lots of people are complaining to the clouds about this one.

That’s not even true for Suicide Squad, since even ignoring all the nonsensical plot and character inconsistencies, it’s actually boring. The actual interesting characters (that we want to see) have nothing to do for the whole first half of the film, then in the second half they get to go on one tedious mission where they… didn’t really do anything unique with their skills or abilities. Croc went for a swim once I suppose, not anyone could have replaced him there. Oh, except the normal Seal team that was with him and did fine.

On the big mission we spend half our time watching some generic army guys doing the usual military stuff that is so common in movies, with the squad just sorta hanging out with them. (you know what I mean, a bunch of army dudes sneaking about with presumably exciting hardware, firing guns all the time that don’t do anything. I assume there must be market research that says Americans won’t watch action movies without a bunch of hoo-rah American military exhibitions) There was some serviceable hand-to-hand fighting too.

Then our ‘anti-hero’ squad just do the same old stuff literally every normal hero team does and defeat some generic doomsday device (aka. unclear pile of special effects).

Being a big fan of the DC Animated Universe, you might say that I’m ruined when it comes to these films, since there’s very little chance anyone can match the depth of characters, cleverness of writing, or the perfect kind of tone where you can take things seriously but not be grimdark with people dying by the thousand every time anything happens.

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I dunno, can we really enjoy it if Waller doesn’t personally murder some civilians?

The worst thing I can say about what this film does is that it absolutely wastes some great potential in the source material. Here are some examples in no particular order:

1) Killer Croc: Killer Croc has the ability to be a really interesting character when not written as a mindless monster, and there were glimpses of that here. While as a general rule everyone should watch the Batman: The Animated Series anyway, check the episode Sideshow for how Croc can have depth and still remain a bad guy.

In the film, Croc was underdeveloped (like nearly every character to be fair, so I won’t just list everyone), going from ‘killing everyone they can get their hands on’ in prison, to unnatural-feeling heroism in almost no in-universe time. He barely had any screen time beyond standing around in the background and a couple of token appearances in fights. He had about what, 7 lines in the whole thing? I know he’s not the monologue type, but c’mon.

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At least he stayed strong all film, and didn’t get jobbed out to Bane for once.

2) Waller’s character: now I liked Viola Davis. She did a decent job at being Amanda Waller with what she had to work with. The problem is that Waller came across as foolish and ineffectual. So, because we need to introduce the characters to people who don’t know them already, we had Waller proposing the Task Force X members to some guy. Okay, fine, but not only is she having to persuade that guy… we immediately then see her at some board room meeting having essentially the same conversation to a bunch more random dudes. What? I can’t see Waller being so low down in any chain of command that she needs to be making PowerPoint presentations to justify what she’s doing. Waller is traditionally in charge of all kinds of things, and she gets them done. Oh, and the big bad was totally her fault too. Whoops!

3) Waller’s motivation: More Waller gripes! They completely buggered up her motivation behind creating the Squad. Sure, handling metahuman threats for the government off the books is Waller’s job, but what is her grand plan to deal with ‘the next Superman’ involving Harley Quinn and Captain Boomering? I think the reason for this ‘explanation’ is that they had to inject references to Batman vs. Superman. So, rather than the logical reason of ‘Waller just wants a completely disposable, morally flexible squad of people to take care of dirty jobs’ we are told this is the hand-picked team to beat up say, Mongul? Riiiight.

Since Waller was underdeveloped, we don’t hear her actual reasons for choosing any of these people, or her ability to do things that might actually help against an evil Superman. No super-clones or anything! This silliness comes from the filmmakers conflating Project Cadmus, a multi-faceted plan to find ways to counteract the metahuman threat, and her other roles as someone who can clean up a mess when really they should have been separate.

4) The Joker: I think this portrayal of the Joker could have been interesting. It seemed like, you know, he actually did some crimes for a change, after many iterations of him being a pure psycho-killer, he actually seemed to have a gang, make money and so on. He is meant to be the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ after all.

Here’s the thing: Joker should not have been in this film. At all. It was a complete waste of everybody’s time, he was nothing more than a distraction. Show him very briefly to explain Harley if they must, but Joker had nothing to do with anything in this film. He stopped Harley from having good scenes with the actual main characters, and we had all these pointless scenes with team Joker doing stuff instead of seeing the Suicide Squad doing things or talking to each other. It felt like somebody in charge of money decided Joker had to be in the film to get an audience.

5) The whole concept: So, ignoring that Task Force X in this movie is meant to fight Superman level threats, the whole thing about Suicide Squad is that we have a bunch of morally loose (at best) characters being forced to do dirty jobs that are too dangerous for anyone else. That means they are able to do things that normal heroes can’t do. They can kill people, and not just armed combatants. They can steal things. They can sabotage things. The film did also say they would be ‘patsies‘ to take the blame if something goes wrong. They don’t need to commit mass murder every scene, like Superman and Zod, just, you know, be willing to do bad things and actually do some of them.

But it was all wrong. This film was a masterclass in telling and not showing, the opposite of good story telling. Why are these guys bad? We are told they are, and they attack some guards that are demonstrably abusive, thus deserve a beating in movie-land.The film had to be PG-13, so there couldn’t be blood, so they had to kill weird faceless non-humans, removing any moral ambiguity to their actions. Hell, Waller got her hands dirty more than these guys. (you can argue she is the most sinister character, but she uses others to carry it out her schemes)

In the end, despite some snark, they followed orders. They grew consciences, worked together as a unit, started spouting cheesy lines about friendship and family on their first mission. They didn’t do anything morally dubious except steal a handbag from a deserted shop window or a watch or two. They didn’t try to come up with a plan for escape, it was just the Joker trying to do that. (and it was pointless) They might as well have been any other semi-reluctant heroes.

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These guys are looking for work. Put them in! 

Oh, I know! They kept telling us they were the bad guys, that’s why. They talked about Will Smith’s huge body count a bunch. There were multiple instances of them literally looking at the audience and saying ‘we’re the bad guys!’. That’ll do it I guess.

I feel like I’m being really hard on the film, I suppose I am. I didn’t even hate the thing. I just wanted to like it, but it just spectacularly failed to be entertaining.

Ah well. If we ignore all the continuity errors, dumb character choices, broken plot threads, bad action, and so on, this film could have been good if it had a clear vision right from day one. Obviously this is easy for me to say from my couch at home, but a shift in focus on a couple of areas would have improved things 500%

  1. The film needed to get rid of the Joker and focus on the actual characters in the squad. Give them a bunch of smaller tasks to do in the first half of the film. Let us see what they can do, and how they get on with each other. This would showcase their skills, make Waller look smart for selecting and utilising them in a variety of situations, make the sudden drama moments later in the film less jarring and so on.
  2. Don’t make them fight some weirdo abstract weapon of destruction beyond any reasonable scope for their skill sets. If Enchantress had been on the team for more than 5 seconds and interacted with the others, maybe it would have meant something. Leave this kinda thing for Dr. Fate or some other cosmic nonsense hero. Make them do a mission that’s morally ambiguous, instead of ‘well, if you don’t do this mission, the entire planet is doomed anyway’. It says nothing about the characters for them to walk down the street to stop the apocalypse, since it’s still in their own self-interest to do it. And don’t have tons of army guys hanging around helping them!

Alrighty. I’m done. I’m quite sure other people on the internet have picked the film apart in several times as much detail, I just wanted to say my piece. Because I care about dumb comic book stuff. Despite Warner Brothers’ best efforts.

 

See you next time!

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Suicide Squad

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