Nov 22, 2019
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:
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.”
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?
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 Avengers–type 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.
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.
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.