Editorial: Franchise Suicide (Squad)?

If you’ve been following the angry rants of the online masses, you’ve probably seen the kind of vitriol being thrown at the DC Cinematic Universe normally reserved for warlords, serial criminals, or corrupt CEOs.  I kind of get it. Despite actually really enjoying them, there are some pretty stupid and easy-to-fix issues with both of this year’s entries that reek of studio interference and short-sighted planning. So here we are; let’s talk about a little flick that came out this summer called Suicide Squad. In the months leading up to its release it didn’t seem like anything was going to be able to stop the legion of undesirables, so what went wrong?

 

NOTE: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SUICIDE SQUAD

Look, obviously action movies have been huge money makers and audience favorites for decades, but the modern tidal wave of big-budget hero flicks starting with Spiderman and X-Men brought audiences a type of action scene that they hadn’t really seen much of before- natural flexibility in the way a fight scene could play out. No matter how gigantic Arnold Schwarzenegger is, or how many guns Sylvester Stallone can carry into battle, there are only so many ways that fists, guns, and the occasional vehicle can interact. Superhero movies change that, and the action is exciting because the audience gets to see new interactions and possibilities that they’ve never seen before. It’s cool to see how a hero or villain is able to use their abilities to fight or problem solve in a way that nobody else can. A normal fist fight turns into something much more exciting in Captain America: Civil War when one character has a pseudo-indestructible shield and the other has a robotic suit that can shoot lasers. It’s fun to see the fresh possibilities that open up during an infiltration in Guardians of the Galaxy when you throw a huge living tree into the mix. Iron Man wouldn’t nearly as fun to watch if he had his suit, but brawled like a boxer every time he got in a fight (which, tangentially, was one of my problems with The Dark Knight Rises, but that’s an entirely different conversation). We wouldn’t care about Ant Man if he strictly took on his enemies at normal size. It’s the core of what makes the superhero genre fresh and engaging, and it’s something that Marvel Studios has done a fantastic job of showing in every single one of their movies. It’s one of the reasons the sweeping shot in The Avengers was so jaw-dropping. It wasn’t the illusion of a long unbroken shot, it was the visualization of how these vastly different people with vastly different skills and abilities work together in new and inventive ways to accomplish a common goal.

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This wouldn’t be possible with any other characters. Where are moments like these in Suicide Squad?

It might seem weird for me to spend an entire paragraph early on here without even mentioning Suicide Squad, but understanding the importance and draw of character uniqueness and differentiation is crucial to understanding the movie’s single biggest flaw- that the action itself was the most boring part of the whole damned movie. On paper this flick should have been jam packed with great, original fight scenes. I mean come on, among others we’ve got a dude that spews fire from his hands, a guy that can shoot any weapon with infallible aim, a demi-hulk with a bad attitude, and a woman with a soul-stealing sword. But, when the fights start, they might as well have just been regular folks taking swings after a few too many cocktails. The central premise of the Suicide Squad is that its members are uniquely qualified to take on the challenges at hand due to their particular abilities, but at no point in the movie did I ever get the sense that the situation wouldn’t have been better taken care of by a full team of military specialists like Flagg suggest at the beginning. It acts against one of the very cores of what’s kept the hero genre going.

Harley’s whole deal is her twisted sense of humor and high acrobatic ability, but we never see her us them. Where are the sick jokes, and why do we only see her doing anything remotely athletic in her cell at the beginning? Killer Croc loves the water and looks absolutely terrifying (or at least is supposed to). Why does that only come into play in his intro, and in a completely pointless shot of him swimming with the soldier to set the D-Charge for no clear reason? Why do we only see Boomerang actually throw boomerangs two or three times, and use them like normal knives every other? Why does Katana’s katana fight look and act exactly like every other katana fight in cinema history? Why doesn’t Flagg show any examples of exemplary leadership or grit? The only two who really get to let their abilities shine at all are Deadshot, who gets one fight that shows off his apparently huge amount of ammunition more than any actual aim, and Diablo, who actually gets a really cool scene at the end where he shows off the extend of his power. There’s a reason that Diablo became a fan-favorite character- because it’s the only one who gets to use his powers to solve problems in ways that only he can.

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The only guy that really lets to utilize his powers.

Much like the Sinister Six project that was in the works before the character’s second rebooting, another core pillar of the Suicide Squad was suppose to be that these were not good people. They might not be evil to the extent of the Joker or Darkseid, but there’s a reason that they’re incarcerated and being sent on suicide missions. Yet, as core a concept as this may seem to the premise, they never seem like bad guys. They’re all a misunderstood good guy to some degree. Every single one. There should have been moments where the audience really isn’t sure if the good in these people outweigh the bad. That creates tension. That creates drama. That creates space for character development. That differentiates these characters from a team of good guys, but it never happened. The only “conflict” that came of it, and I use that term very lightly here, was Flagg constantly telling them they better not back out, which they never did (except Slipknot, but come on). Not one of them came out the end of that movie looking even remotely like a jerk, much less a villain, with the possible exception of Harley- though even she was more like a good person that’s understandably unhinged after serious mental and emotional trauma than someone who actually wants to do bad things or hurt anyone. One of the big potential draws of Suicide Squad was supposed to be that they were an anti Justice League, where they could be introduced together then break off and be the villains in individual movies. Now, I don’t think any of the Squad except Harley would make any sense as a villain in another movie given their personalities and actions in this film. That means these characters can only logically be in more Suicide Squad movies, which is an affront to the entire premise.

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Where are the dastardly deeds?

Unfortunately the aforementioned issues with combat choreography and characterization are magnified by a villain that, while a fine character in her own right, was an absolutely terrible choice for this movie. I actually did like the Enchantress (though her brother seemed entirely unnecessary and suffered from pretty poor CG in spots). She would have been just fine for Justice League Dark, which has recently been confirmed as on the slate. It MAKES SENSE for a team focused on the paranormal and the occult to deal with a woman possessed by the spirit of a witch because that’s what they do. That’s what makes that group of characters unique. That allows them to showcase their individual talents to overcome an obstacle. Enchantress did none of those things for the squad. She was grossly overpowered for a bunch of street-level characters. You don’t send some people with clubs and rifles against a literal god that’s destroying battleships and cities with giant magic lightning. After all of the lackluster action the rest of the movie, the final confrontation devolved into yet another fist fight that didn’t make any sense. Why didn’t she fry them out of existence with the magic bolts? Why is everyone just punching her? That’s not special. That’s not unique. That doesn’t show why this group is the only group for the job, which is what a main antagonist in a superhero movie should do.

All of that is besides the fact that Enchantress’ plan didn’t even make any sense. Despite me not thinking that she should be in the movie in the first place, there are ways that they could have made her at least make more sense in the present narrative. Why did she have to have a brother? All he did was provide some muscle, and was given absolutely no personality or arc. They could have just as easily let Enchantress spawn a big nasty creature for Diablo to fight at the end (a scene they totally need to keep, because it was awesome). What did she want to accomplish? She said that she’ll make a machine big and nasty enough to make everyone worship her again, but then makes a giant energy vortex thing that spews lightning? How were people even supposed to know who he was or what she wanted?

It’s a testament to other parts of the movie that despite these flaws, I still enjoyed Suicide Squad for what it was. The acting was largely fantastic. Waller was terrifying. Jai Courtney finally found a role he can emote with, and he knocked it out of the park. Despite taking a bit longer than they probably should have and being fairly disjointed from any narrative flow, the character intros were well done too- in fact, I wish I could have seen a little more of the rest of the crew getting captured besides Harley, Deadshot, and Boomerang. Since the movie did gangbusters at the box office it seems like a no-brainer that a sequel will come down the pipeline at some point, and I’ll be there night one.

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