Interlude – A Suicide Squad Revisit

Harley Quinn Margot Robbie

Suicide Squad is now up to a $635 million worldwide haul on a reported $175 million budget.  Without question, that’s a financial success (unless we possibly take into account marketing costs).  But as I saw the movie for a second time over the weekend, more and more issues jumped out at me.  This column is not meant to bash the film (I’m also going to discuss the aspects of the film that I still enjoyed).  Nor is it designed as an attempt to tell anyone that they shouldn’t like or enjoy the film in spite of its problems.  It’s just so obvious to me that, while $635 million (and counting) is a great number, this movie could have made so much more if the filmmakers and studio had had a little more faith in themselves and their characters.  There’s a way to satisfy most everyone rather than just the less-discerning audiences, and when that happens, al involved reap both artistic and financial reward.

(Fair warning . . ..  Unlike all of my other posts, I’ve diving headfirst into this one with full and complete spoilers.  I really want to touch on the good, the bad, and the ugly in specific detail.  Forge ahead if you’re fine with that.  If you aren’t, no problem.  Maybe you can read one or ninety of my other posts, since – you know – you’re already here and all!)

I would first like to state that the reason I saw the movie again is because my parents came to visit for the weekend.  My mom specifically said that she wanted to see Suicide Squad just to see Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.  I said in my original Suicide Squad post that Harley is the reason this film got made and this sort of thing just further proves my point.  My initial take on Robbie’s performance was spot on.  She nails it.  For example, when she’s strapped in and being wheeled down the corridor, she gives a glorious, “WHEEEEE!” that perfectly encapsulates Harley.  At every opportunity, she throws those subtleties in and she effortlessly personifies the complexities of the character.

I maintain, however, that Warner Brothers should have relied on comics writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti to assist with the writing for Harley.  They’re the only ones who manage to truly capture her voice through dialogue.  As I said earlier this year, they’re responsible for her current explosion in popularity and they should be acknowledged as such.  Sadly, in the film, she has very little of interest to actually say.  The lines that are supposed to be funny . . . aren’t.  The lines that are supposed to be crazy . . . aren’t.  They’re lines that anybody and everybody on the street say when they think they’re being quick and witty.  Honestly, how many times have you heard someone make a joke about talking to the voices in their head?  That sort of thing is the best writer/director David Ayer has for this character who has taken pop culture by the throat and she deserves better.  She deserves Conner and Palmiotti.  And so do we.  Their Harley is funny, endearing, and fresh.  Still, Robbie rises above the writing deficiencies (of which I’ll speak more about in a bit) and remains the primary reason to see the film.

Will Smith is truly fantastic as Deadshot, just as I remembered.  In fact, he was even a little better than I recalled.  Somehow, either he got all of the witty lines that Harley should have had or Smith adlibbed to inject a spark into the character and make him feel a little more real.  I’m betting on the latter.  There is actual time and effort put into the Deadshot character so that we get to see and understand what his motivations are.  Throughout the jokes and snappy comebacks, Smith maintains a morose demeanor as he longs for nothing other than to be with his daughter.  Or does he?  More on that, later, too.

The second time around, Jared Leto wasn’t as enjoyable for me.  I didn’t hate him.  But I didn’t love him.  I began to notice that his Joker persona felt as it if was just that: a persona.  His performance choices subtly communicate that it’s all an act to get into people’s minds and that he doesn’t really believe it.  It’s all too forced.  The laugh isn’t the sincere, maniacal laugh of a lunatic.  It’s a slow, calculated cackle designed to disturb those around him.  There’s no energy.  No urgency.  He’s slow.  Methodical.  Calculated.  He isn’t manic.  He isn’t over the top.  He’s just another gangster, but with bleached skin.  Some of this was caused by the writing and some of it was due to the performance.

But, as I mentioned in my original post, the writing is where this film truly suffers.  The two biggest calamities are the Harley/Joker relationship and the Enchantress.

The Harley/Joker relationship in the film is a complete mess and results in the internal logic within Suicide Squad being almost completely eradicated.  Let’s look at the beginning of the film, during their escape from Batman.  For some reason, Joker drives their car into the water.  Harley screams, “I can’t swim!” and the next thing we know, Harley is lying unconscious underwater while hanging through the windshield and Joker is gone.  He has unquestionably either left her to drown or -best case scenario – to be caught by Batman.

However, for the rest of the film, we’re to believe that he wants to rescue her from Arkham Asylum.  And why?  Why did he not care enough to help her when he crashed the car, yet suddenly cares enough to repeatedly risk being caught in order to break her out of a maximum security prison?  And why isn’t Harley upset that he left her behind to begin with?

“He thought he had a better chance with his men than one-on-one against Batman!  And he knew Batman wouldn’t let her drown!”  Okay, let’s assume that’s the case.  The biggest problem arises during Joker’s rooftop helicopter rescue of Harley.  After Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) orders the copter to be blown away, missiles connect and Joker pushes Harley out of the helicopter as it explodes.

Under absolutely no scenario does this crucial plot point make any sense.

We know for a fact that scenes featuring Harley and Joker were cut to make their relationship appear less abusive.  As a result, additional editing was necessary on what was left in order for the final narrative to achieve that goal.  As the scene plays in the final film, the helicopter begins to explode and Joker pushes Harley out onto a rooftop to save her life.  For now, let’s continue to tell ourselves that he didn’t leave Harley to die earlier in the film (even though he did).

So, why didn’t he jump with her?

Because he somehow knew he would survive the crash?  How?  He’s just a guy!  And even if he had a plan to survive, why not extend that plan to Harley so they could survive it together?  He clearly thought going down with the copter meant death or he wouldn’t have pushed Harley out under this he-truly-loves-her scenario.  So, it makes no sense that he wouldn’t jump, too, and escape with her.  So, here we again have Joker abandoning Harley and restarting the cycle of attempted rescues.

Now, let’s go with the original intent of the film to portray their relationship as abusive, as it always was in the comics and animated series.  First off, why rescue her to begin with?  Okay, fine, we’ll say he wants her around so he can feel like a big man by continuously grinding her under his boot.  So, he rescues her.  Under the abusive relationship scenario, the prevailing theory is that he pushes her out of the helicopter to kill her.  Why, when it’s just been hit by missiles?  She’s going to die, anyway.  And why does he still not try to escape the copter, himself?

Okay, let’s say the changes in editing mean that he originally wouldn’t have known that the copter was about to be shot down and he would have pushed her out of the copter before it was hit, not knowing that it was about to become a death trap of its own.  Why go through the trouble of rescuing her just to kill her?  Because he wanted the pleasure of doing the honors over Amanda Waller?  Then why hadn’t he killed her already?  How many chances had he had?  This scene was put there for the sake of drama without any real thought behind it.  As a result, irreconcilable contradictions are formed that leave the viewer unsure of who the Joker is and what kind of relationship he and Harley have.  And that would have happened regardless of edits.  They aimed to redefine the relationship as loving instead of abusive.  Instead, it’s neither.

I also maintain that Joker had no business being in this movie at all and a Batman standalone film with Harley and Joker as the villains was pretty much necessary between Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

And then there’s Enchantress.  This is as much of a mess as the Harley/Joker relationship, if not more.  First off, how is it that the Enchantress and June Moone, the one person in thousands of years who just happens to find and unlock Enchantress, look exactly alike before they’re even joined?  Nowhere is it established that Enchantress takes on different forms, so don’t even try that one.

After that, Enchantress manages to escape the clutches of Amanda Waller in a way that she could have pulled off at any given time in their past.  I guess she just didn’t feel like it?  And then, she’s all butthurt about people’s attachments to their iPhones, so she plans to build a machine to destroy the world.  How does this machine work?  What is its function?  What does it require in order to achieve its purpose (it appears that it runs on cars, as that’s what keeps getting sucked into it, maybe?)  And if she can do all the things we had already seen her do by that point, why did she need a machine?  Nobody knows, including David Ayer, apparently.  What we do know is that the machine appears completely constructed within a few seconds as no further progress is made throughout the remainder of the film.  Enchantress just stands in front of it, waving her arms and wiggling her hips while being all, “It’s almost done, okay?!  Gosh!” to her brother, who is all, “Seriously, what’s going on over there?”

Once she gives the Suicide Squad as much time as they need to get there and put the kibosh on her plans, we see that these two super-powerful beings are fortunately completely vulnerable to things like small bombs, fire, punches, and knives.  What a lucky break!  So, the Squad destroys the machine.  Enchantress is still there but she just gives up because I guess she no longer has powers for some reason?  That’s lucky, too!  That’s a completely unexpected side effect because, even though they have once again taken her heart as they had earlier in the film, she still had powers then.  But now?  Nope!  And just in time for the film to end!

Let’s look at some other questions.

  • Amanda Waller says the Squad is constructed to take down “the next Superman” if it’s necessary.  Who, exactly, on the team does she believe can take down Superman?  At that stage, she was under the belief that the Enchantress would be part of the crew.  So, maybe that’s who she had in mind because Enchantress’s magical abilities put her on a similar level?  But Enchantress turns against them and so Waller sends the rest of the Squad against this supposedly Superman-level being.  Again, so lucky that she has a glass jaw!  I wonder how that would have faired against that next potential Superman?
  • All Deadshot talks about is reuniting with his daughter.  It’s made clear throughout the entire film that she is his motivation for everything.  So, when Enchantress gives them the chance to live out their fantasies within their minds, is his being reunited with his daughter?  Nope.  Suddenly, his deepest desire is to kill Batman and his daughter takes a backseat.
  • Speaking of Deadshot and his daughter, during the climax, as he prepares to deal the killing blow to Enchantress’s machine (because among the aforementioned affronts, this world-ending machine constructed by this all-powerful sorceress is also vulnerable to bullets), he hesitates as he recalls his daughter telling him that they can only be together if he doesn’t shoot.  Wha?  How does that memory apply to this particular moment?  He’s trying to save the world, but the film is telling us that, by pulling the trigger, he risks never seeing his daughter again (which we now know is the second-most important thing in the world to him)?  How so, exactly?
  • Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is the good guy.  He’s a man of honor who is assigned to the Suicide Squad by Waller to ensure they remain reigned in, under control, and don’t do bad instead of good.  And he takes it seriously.  None of them will kill, maim, or do bad things in any way!  So, when he sees Waller, herself, coldly shoot and murder a room full of good people just because they knew more than they were supposed to know, does he respond with swift, heroic justice, having finally been exposed to the true Waller?  No, he makes a flat comment about her being mean and then walks out of the room at her side.  Good man, Rick Flag.  The best, even.
  • When Harley is escaping on the rope dangling from Joker’s copter, Waller orders Deadshot to kill her.  He lines up, takes the shot, and Harley pretends he connects, with everyone on the rooftop alongside Deadshot assuming that she has just been killed.  By the way, they all assume this even though there’s no blood and Harley continues to hold on to the rope.  Expert killers, this bunch.  This was another predictable attempt at an audience misdirect that we’ve seen a million times and completely falls flat.
  • Diablo is a rough man.  He was born and bred by his hardnosed life, evidenced by the multitude of symbolic tattoos spread all over his face and body.  So, naturally, he finds a domestic goddess to marry.  She cooks him and their two clean-cut kids dinner in their suburban house where they’ll later probably settle in to watch some I Love Lucy reruns on Nick-at-Nite.  This was before he had decided to turn his life around, by the way.  But I guess nobody says that the mean streets don’t allow pastel-colored Polo shirts.
  • Also, Diablo inadvertently kills said wife and kids as a result of not controlling his fire powers.  As he cradles his dead wife in his arms, she appears to have just gotten ready to go grocery shopping, as there are no burns, cuts, bruises, or visible wounds of any kinds.  It’s rather hard to be swept up in the horror of the incident when the visuals run in direct contradiction to the events.

Okay, that’s enough.  I think I’ve made my point.  And I’m not even going to get into the more subjective components like the uninspired but serviceable action scenes or the mixed bag of character designs (though Killer Croc is truly awful-looking with his oversized head and average-sized frame.  He’s one of the smaller male characters in the film.  CGI was the way to go, there.).  And I won’t get into the complete lack of true character development for characters like Katana and Captain Boomerang (a line or two doesn’t count.  Time is necessary.  No Joker thanks to a Batman solo film would have helped.)  These specifics mentioned above aren’t along the lines of a character’s pencil moving from behind their ear to their right hand between shots.  Those types of continuity errors are going to happen in practically every film.

No, these are huge problems that get in the way of story and/or character development, emotional impact, and consistency.  If WB and DC want to succeed at or near the level of their primary competition, they have to realize that their films need to appeal to the masses, who aren’t going to let them slide just because they really like Harley.  Appealing to comic fans alone isn’t enough.  A best-selling comic book typically sells around 100,000 copies.  At $10.00 a ticket, that translates to $1,000,000 in ticket sales.  Practically nothing.

Warner Brothers got away with it, this time, thanks to the Harley appeal.  But if some attention to these types of issues isn’t given, general audiences will wane.  Decide on a vision and stick to it.  Believe in yourselves and your characters.  And listen to the professional criticisms (not the fan criticisms.  Nothing would ever get done, that way.).  I love these characters and I want these movies to do well.  Suicide Squad is in no way the worst film of the year.  It’s not even the worst comic book film of the year (I’m looking at YOU, X-Men: Apocalypse!).  And Wonder Woman‘s trailer looks better and has me feeling more confident than any Suicide Squad trailer ever did.  But the bar has been set high by their competition and, at some point, Warner Brothers needs to invest in a longer pole.

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Interlude – A Suicide Squad Revisit

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