Suicide Squad (2016): a recap (part 9 of 9)

Well, we got through Suicide Squad. If you just started reading this recap here, I’ll let Superman sum the movie up for you:

You can trust him; the Earth’s yellow sun gives him superhuman critical faculties.

But despite Suicide Squad’s banal ugliness, its addled editing, its incoherent characterizations, its risible villain, and its thumbtacks-through-the-eyelids comic relief, it’s in the upper tier of success in the DC Extended Universe so far. In terms of ROI, it blew the DCEU’s tentpole releases Batman v. Superman and Justice League out of the water, earning only slightly less than the former and more than the latter, on about half the budget in both cases. And surprisingly enough, given the critical strappado it received, it earned a B+ average on CinemaScore and 73% approval on PostTrak. So it’s a foregone conclusion that we’re going to get several more miles of this ass parade.

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How many more? Tricky question. There’s a straight-up sequel in the works. Said sequel may or may not be separate from the planned Harley Quinn spin-off, which at least for the moment seems to be centered on the Birds of Prey (the Gotham City Sirens movie seems to have fizzled out). But we’ve also got to tangle with a standalone movie featuring Jared Leto’s Pimp Joker, not to be confused with the separate-continuity Joker that Joaquin Phoenix is going to play. And it’s unclear whether either will figure into the newly Affleck-free Batman movie which may or may not happen and may or may not feature the existing DCEU Batman if it does. It’s all kind of up in the air at this point, but rest assured, whatever they’ll do, Warner Bros. will do it hard.

So, rather than wait to tear another Suicide Squad movie to ribbons with my unalloyed brilliance and biting wit (a prospect which I’m sure is keeping WB executives up at night), allow me to humbly suggest some dos and don’ts for the continuing story of the Suicide Squad, whatever form that may take.

DON’T: Have a mid-credits scene.

In the middle of the neon disco orgasm that is the credit sequence, we drop in on Amanda Waller having a lonely dinner with Bruce Wayne. She still has her job, but fears she may lose it because “people are asking questions about what happened in Midway City.”

Can’t imagine why.

Bruce Wayne assures her she’ll be under his protection, provided she hands over her pile of secret metahuman documents, which she does. Waller strongly hints that she knows Bruce is Batman. Batman strongly hints that if Waller does any more shady shit with the Suicide Squad, she’ll have to answer to the as-yet-unformed Justice League.

This, more than anything else in Suicide Squad, lays bare the extent to which Warner Bros. is cynically aping the MCU. The mid-credits stinger is so associated with Marvel that it may as well have the Disney logo on it. And like everything else they steal, WB has no idea what to do with it. This scene is baldly, painfully unnecessary. Batman already had dossiers on all the Justice Leaguers; Wonder Woman gave him a flash drive with all of them on it in Batman v Superman. What, his printer’s on the fritz?

“Says here this guy grew up in Norwalk, Iowa, and during a trip back home, was waited on at a bar by one Tyler Peterson, who reported he is a great tipper and super rad dude. Interesting.”

DO: Develop the characters.

Great stories start with great characters. The MCU understands this. Marvel doesn’t let two people with costumes appear in the same shot until everybody’s character traits, motivations, powers, and ability to quip with the best of them are all amply demonstrated. Suicide Squad, by contrast, tried to make an Avengerstype supergroup from whole cloth with seven complete nobodies. That’s like trying to get us excited about the Traveling Wilburys if Dylan, Harrison, Petty, Orbison, and Lynne were just five random old men. It’s only natural that the characterizations would turn out a little soft in the middle, but what’s more, what character dynamics do exist have all the grace and subtlety of Killer Croc’s interpretive dance routine: people team up for shaky reasons, get mad at each other because the stars aligned that way, and gaslight the viewer with references to conversations that never happened.

Here’s the most frustrating part of all this: I went back and watched the footage that didn’t make the theatrical cut of Suicide Squad, and almost all the material that was cut was character-building stuff. I mean, there wasn’t nearly enough of it, but an attempt was made. The characters talk among themselves. They reveal things about themselves. They talk about what they’re going through. They talk about what they want. They make plans. All this stuff would’ve gone a long way toward a tolerable movie, and it got the axe in favor of flashy Scott Pilgrim garbage and Joker’s baffling confrontation with a semi-famous rapper. It’s demoralizing.

The most dramatic change is in Joker’s relationship with Harley. One of the cut lines establishes that Joker didn’t torture Harley just cuz.

Harley: I did everything you asked. I helped you.

Joker: You helped me… by erasing my mind, worked through faded memories I had. You left me in a black hole of rage and confusion; is that the kind of medicine you practice, Dr. Quinzel?

Later, during a flashback that was cut (they cut a flashback?), a pre-clowned, dangerously obsessed Harley intentionally crashes a motorcycle in front of an exasperated Joker’s car.

Harley: I have done everything you’ve said; every trial, every test, every initiation. I have proved that I love you. Just accept it!

Joker: I am not someone who is loved. I’m an idea, a state of mind. I execute my will according to my plan and you, Doctor, are not part of my plan.

Harley: Let me in. I promise I won’t hurt you.

Truck Driver: Hey, dickface! Mind screaming at your bitch someplace else? [Harley pulls out Joker’s gun and shoots him]

Joker: I was about to say I wouldn’t do that if I were you. [Harley points gun at him] Oh, don’t hurt me. I’ll be your friend. [Harley glares] Do it. Do it do it do it do it.

Harley: My heart scares you and a gun doesn’t?

Joker: DO IT!! [snatches gun, laughs] If you weren’t so crazy, I’d think you were insane. Go. Away.

Think about how much their relationship is changed just from these two scenes. There’s pathos. There’s tragic irony. Both Harley and Joker have honest-to-God character arcs! I don’t think a DCEU movie’s ever had one of those before.

“Ha ha ha! You thought you could make me sympathetic THAT easily??”

DO NOT DO: Undersell the villainy.

I’m far from the only person to make the observation that, for a movie that made a selling point of anti-heroism, the evil on display in Suicide Squad is depressingly tame. If a Redditor who goes by Naydawwwg is to be believed, that wasn’t always the case. David Ayer’s original vision for Suicide Squad had characters who were both more genuinely criminal and also rougher around the edges. Killer Croc was an admitted cannibal who ate people to “gain their power”. Boomerang was a bigot who harassed Katana. Slipknot was a serial rapist. Joker beat Harley, pushed her out of a helicopter, and threw a grenade at the Suicide Squad.

I agree the grill looks dumb, but this seems drastic.

By comparison, here are the beyond-the-pale evil masterminds on display in Suicide Squad’s final cut: Deadshot shot a mob guy. Harley shot at Batman and stole a purse. Boomerang Dustbustered some diamonds out of a drawer. Diablo did unspecified gang stuff. Killer Croc was ugly. Slipknot hit a lady. These detention-worthy antics may have cut the mustard back in the days of the Comics Code Authority, but we’ve got a movie coming out this year where an alien who bites people’s heads off is the good guy.

DON’T NOT DO: Take your time.

A lot of blame for the way Suicide Squad turned out gets put on the reshoots. The story goes that David Ayer went into the movie with a vision of a dark, somber movie in the vein of his crime dramas like Training Day and End of Watch. Warner Bros., meanwhile, with the help of a company called Trailer Park that makes trailers (duh), put out promotional material that made the movie look goofy and irreverent, to capitalize on Deadpool‘s recent success. This trailer is infamous by now.

The trailer tested hugely positive, and this led to clashes between Ayer and WB over the film’s tone (only compounded by the underperformance of the massive humorless drag that was Batman vs. Superman). Two cuts were produced: Ayer’s dark one and the studio’s light one, which was made with the assistance of those same editors from Trailer Park. Both cuts were test-screened, the studio’s cut won, but then, instead of just releasing that version, they worked to integrate Ayer’s stuff in with Trailer Park’s stuff in what was described as a “common-ground solution”. This required tens of millions of dollars’ worth of reshot footage and the services of many uncredited editors. Hence the jumbled and sloppy nature of the final product.

But this narrative overlooks one simple fact: reshoots happen all the time, and they don’t usually turn out like this. Almost all big-budget movies undergo reshoots. Every single MCU release has gotten reshoots; Marvel routinely plans and budgets for them. And that’s the real issue. The DCEU plainly does not have the kind of meticulous forethought and well-oiled organization that Marvel has made into their trademark. Suicide Squad was rushed and it shows. They didn’t need to push David Ayer to write the script in six measly weeks. They didn’t need to stick to the release date after it became clear that tone was going to be an issue. That’s all on them. If they’re going to compete with the Marvel juggernaut in any real sense, Warner Bros. needs to learn to take a breather and plan with a clear head.

Multi-Part Article: Suicide Squad: a recap

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  • The_Shadow_Knows

    One thing I never understood about the Traveling Wilburys: with Roy Orbison in the group, how did the rest of those guys (whose voices range from thin to Geneva Code Violation) dare open their mouths to sing?

    • Tyler Peterson

      I guess they figured Roy being like 80% dead leveled the playing field a bit.

      • The_Shadow_Knows

        Dylan might have needed another 19%.

    • muchsarcasm

      While Roy Orbison had an amazing voice, it’s one of those voices I wouldn’t want to hear multiple songs in a row

  • Greenhornet

    I agree with your wrap-up, so I’ll just sum up my observations.

    The concept of “The Dirty Dozen” existed decades before the movie; in real life, also. But the difference here is that before, the movies and historical incidents were about redemption and getting a second chance. In the “Suicide Squad”, it was “do it, or die”. What do they get out of it? Nothing. Oh, someone gets a mini fridge in his cell? Big freaking deal. And by the way, don’t they have agents who are super talented already? What about the DOZEN or so solders who accompany the Suicide Squad on every mission?

    “How many of those guys can throw a boomerang or swing a baseball bat?”
    Oh, yeah. I’m convinced.
    “But what if Superman kidnaps the president?”
    We can call in Batman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern. Or we can just throw kryptonite at him.

    Seriously, Waller should have been laughed out of the service.

    As pointed out many times, Waller was the REAL villain and one has to wonder how she gets away with the crap she pulls. She is afraid of losing her job? (SPIT!) She should be facing at least a hundred and fifty years in jail or a double life sentence. It’s the COMICS writers fault. DC seems to think that “patriotic” means “blindly loyal to national government and doing ANYTHING for it without question”. Stop trying to be Marvel, DC and go back to the days when superheroes were (Somewhat) well-adjusted and didn’t act like mental basket cases.

    • Mortimer Brewster

      Their initial mission doesn’t even make sense. They’re supposed to go to Midway City to rescue the HVT-1, but the rescue consists of walking up a couple of flights of stairs with her (and no opposition) and loading her up into a helicopter for someone else to fly out.

      Seems like she could’ve walked up that staircase herself.

      • mamba

        You’re right…which is why it really wasn’t the mission.

        Waller stuck around just to watch enchantress and gauge her powers. she flat out said so to Flag before she shot her subordinates.

        As for the SS? Same deal…she was testing them out to see how they work. Plus as a bonus she gets a bodyguard in case the rubberheads cause a problem, but obviously they weren’t a huge threat.

        Waller’s just being Waller…”screw everyone and just ensure that I survive my mess.”

        • Greenhornet

          When she shot those guys, Flag should have blown her brains out. That’s what a sane person would have done.
          Blind loyalty to whoever’s in charge. Yeah, that’s never caused any problems. (Roll Nazi, communist and Jonestown footage)

    • PhysUnknown

      You are exactly right. The “What if Superman turns evil” was a stupid idea, because why would you send the Suicide Squad in for that? If Supes has kidnapped the president, he’ll likely have no qualms eye-lasering these mortals. Or, just snapping their necks (especially in this DC universe (no judgement here on MOS, just saying that if Lawful-Good Supes was willing to do that to save lives, Chaotic-Evil Supes would be more than willing to do it just because someone took his parking spot)).

      Waller’s argument should have been, “Supes and Batman are awesome dudes, but they’re moral. What happens when we need someone with powers to do something suuuuper shady? For example, what if *we* needed to kidnap the president?” Then, using criminals makes sense, because if they’re caught, you can echo Harley from this movie: They’re bad guys!

      And then you have the added threat that if they talk, you blow up their neck bombs.

      • Greenhornet

        You make a lot of sense.
        (Waller pulls out a gun)
        But I’m afraid we can’t have anyone pointing out the flaws in our plans.

      • Supes and Batman are awesome dudes, but they’re moral.

        I’m not sure how well that argument would work in this continuity, but the rest of your point stands because Superman and Batman aren’t controllable.

  • Derek Johns

    What’s sad is the movie was also clearly rushed to production to compete with that Sinister Six that wound up not even getting made so all their haste was completely pointless

    • Tyler Peterson

      Ahahaha I forgot about that! I actually kind of liked Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin, but the bench got pretty thin after him. The Rhino was just laughable. Like I literally burst out laughing in the theater when hr said “I’m a KILLER!”