Suicide Squad: Initial Reactions

AmandaWallerss3I saw Suicide Squad about a week ago, and had a lot of thoughts about it. I expect it’s going to inspire a number of upcoming posts where I go deep on specific aspects, including the nature of redemption, the Joker/Harley relationship, and the character of Amanda Waller, but for now, I wanted to start with some quick thoughts, in no particular order. Some are about ethics, some are just reactions to the movie, all of them are addressed to the makers of the movie, for no particularly good reason. 

  • You gave us an enjoyable popcorn movie, and for that, I’m grateful. Far more fun than B vs. S (can we please never, ever let Snyder make a movie again), this movie was funny and entertaining, with great performances by Smith, Robbie, and Davis.  It also made absolutely no sense, but hey, not every movie has to. But it also left me frustrated because this movie could have been so much more. And while it’s not your job to make the movie I dream of, you spend most of the last year TELLING me it would be so much more in your marketing and all the buildup. Not to mention you started with source material that was so much more.
  • Don’t be afraid of moral complexity.  You told us you were going to tell a story about really bad people and then spent most of the movie giving us reasons to like them- family, love, heartbreaking regret. You never really made us believe how bad they were, you just told us. Filmmaking 101— show, don’t tell. If the movie is about really really bad people, don’t be afraid to have us hate them before we come to like them. I was looking forward to a movie with a lot of darkness, that left me rooting for people I might not want to root for. This wasn’t that. Instead you showed us people you told us were bad guys, and then spent the whole movie showing them as good guys.
  • Amanda Waller is a great antagonist, played wonderfully by Viola Davis.  But she doesn’t shoot people. She gets other people to do it.   You tried too hard to show her as the worst, thus making the Squad members look better in contrast.  When you try so hard to make the Squad the heroes, you lose what makes these stories so great.  The Suicide Squad stories are, in part, about the contrast between Waller’s willingness to get others to do terrible things to serve her idea of the greater good vs. the Squad’s doing terrible things, cause why the hell not. Again, that would have been a great movie. This wasn’t that.
  • That being said, I give you a lot of credit for having a major character who was a black, middle-aged, woman, who was powerful, bad-ass, respected, feared, and was neither sexualized nor anyone’s mother. Other versions, I’m looking at you, Arrow, went away from the original character, making Waller young and overtly sexy, focusing on her high heels and tight skirts as much as her attitude.  I applaud you for avoiding that.
  • On a similar note – this was a movie where a majority of the major characters (the squad + Amanda) were non-white.  Furthermore, you had one character who could have been of any race and was played by a black actor, and others whose story was clearly influenced by their racial background. It’s sad that this is so uncommon as to be noteworthy, but it is.
  • But whatever credit I give you on the issue of race— woo-boy did you fuck up on gender.  The most obvious is Harley/Joker, of which much has been said, and I’ll go into more detail on that in a later post, because there is some complexity, but still a lot of problems. But even looking past Harley- how about giving Katana some character detail besides being motivated by a dead husband? That’s a great story note to be sure when it’s part of a larger picture, but instead you just gave us a woman motivated entirely by a man.  And if you’re going to tell us about the super scary witch who can destroy the world, maybe not dress her like a stripper out of a Tarzan porn parody? Seriously, why the undulating hips every time she spoke? You get points for not sexualizing Waller, but you don’t’ have to make up for it with every other woman who appears on screen.
  • And on the subject of character development- the ensemble movie that comes before the individual movies just isn’t working. You can’t introduce more than half a dozen characters, AND tell us how we are supposed to feel about them AND then try and change that. It’s just not enough time. Especially with multiple characters.  This movie would make a lot more sense if it wasn’t the first time we were meeting most of the characters.
  • The first half of the movie did a great job at placing this in the wider DC universe. Short appearances by Batman and the Flash, references to some of the other stuff going on without having to focus on it- perfect. But all that goes out the window by the second half when we have an ENTIRE CITY being evacuated, a weird portal thing appearing in the sky—and the effort to take it out is totally clandestine? Where is Wonder Woman and friends once all this starts going down? The whole point of Task Force X (their official name) is that they get sent in to do the secret missions that Waller and her organization don’t want anyone else knowing about. Secret, off the books, total deniability because the team is completely expendable.  You sort of, kind of, explained how this fits that with the, rescue Waller, thing, but it would have made a lot more sense with a situation that wasn’t a global catastrophe type event.
  • As for the new Joker. No. Just No. All of those stories about abusing other cast members in the name of method acting make a lot more sense if they result in some actual acting. Still not justifiable, but at least understandable. But I’m pretty sure a performance as campy and overstated as Leto’s could have been pulled off by an 8th grader after his first drama class, without a single used condom or dead pig needed. Every time he was on screen I cringed, and hoped for it to end quickly. I grant that he was trying to fill some very very big clown shoes, but maybe this is what happens from trying too hard.
  • All in all, a decent movie that kept me entertained and enjoying the popcorn for a few hours. But it could have been so much more. You told us it would have been so much more. And then you failed to deliver.

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