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The Bittersweet Aftertaste of Suicide Squad

Warning: MAJOR spoilers for all of “Suicide Squad” movie

From a bunch of “unknowns” to one of the most expected movies of the year, Suicide Squad sure went through a lot. It was over a year ago that DC announced the movie who would be helmed by the masterpiece that is Fury’s director David Ayer, and headlined by big names such as Viola Davis, Will Smith, Jared Leto, Tom Hardy (then replaced by Joel Kinnaman), Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbajeand, Jay Hernandes, and Cara Delevingne – all either proven or growing talent. The movie would also be scripted by David Ayer himself who appeared to be doing his homework and reading SS comics. Everybody (ish?) went wild with all this potential. What could go wrong?

Finally, the movie was released after the critical disaster that was Batman v. Superman. It was the third chance for the DCEU to redeem itself. The trailers looked amazing – energetic, fun, characters who some people loved, great talent in the cast and crew… Suicide Squad HAD to deliver.

Unlike my fellow reviewer Katie today, I was one of those who ultimately believed this movie would be amazing. I remember when the full trailer dropped in January, I was in class and just completely ignored the lecture to watch the video several times. I’ve been keeping the same over saturated BTS pic of Margot’s Harley Quinn as my phone background for also over a year (I’d take a bullet for you Margot!!). So, it’s EXTREMELY bittersweet to say…this movie was not what I hoped it would be.

However, I also want to be very clear off the bat: the movie did not suck. Like, for real. It’s an enjoyable movie. Some fun quips here and there, the usual Badass Moments ™ one might expect, good set pieces, charismatic characters, CGI packed action… It’s a summer blockbuster that delivers on summer blockbustery things.

It’s when you start to see it under some scrutiny that part of it falls apart. Honestly, for me, there were things that could have been fine-tuned with a couple of extra drafts on the script. Minor to medium details (and even unfortunate implications) that throw it under a slow moving bus.

Harley Quinn

I’m gonna start with her because it’s dead obvious she is the main character, and also because I have a lot to say about a lot of things. So, have you read about the weird auditions some actors like Cara Delevingne went through for this movie? Margot Robbie was offered the role of Harley Quinn. I’m am such a fanboy of hers so I’m clearly biased here. It is to be noticed, however, that Harley is Jewish and Margot isn’t – some fans took issue with this decision.

Now, when it came to the movie, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just me that got confused with the messy timeline between the flashbacks and the present of her arc. Apparently, Dr. Harleen Quinzel got assigned to be the Joker’s therapist while he was imprisoned in Arkham Asylum. During the time together, she fell in love and aided his escape. Then, the Joker decides to use shock therapy on her to “supposedly” make her “crazy.” Harleen says she can take it all and torture ensues. Some time later (maybe… who knows?), the duo is at Ace Chemicals. The Joker asks her if she would live for him. She says yes and throws herself dramatically in one of the chemical plants’ waste pools. The Joker appears to leave her for dead, but then turns around and jumps. The two emerge in a very aesthetically pleasing shot with the Blue and Red in the liquid.

Now, I can only guess this next flashback took part way later. The Joker and Harley are at a strip club: the Joker is meeting with Monster T while she is dancing. The point of this scene is, apparently, to show how much the Joker loves/owns Harley. Eventually, the couple is being chased by Batman in the Lambo (this scene was cool, very comic-booky; Harley was speaking like a carbon copy of the animated version). They reach a point where the car is approaching a bridge. Harley screams that she can’t swim, but that doesn’t stop the Joker from racing the car into the water. Batman jumps in, the Joker is gone, but Harley isn’t. He saves her and we get to the beginning of the movie when Harley is in Belle Reeve. In her introduction, she is said to have been involved in Robin’s death and to have killed/injured several guards who entered her cell. We are shown that she has been tortured inside the prison – she apparently was starving herself, so she had to be fed through tubes in her nose.

In her next appearance, she is approached by Amanda Waller. “Are you the devil?”, Harley asks. “Maybe”, responds the Wall. WHAT? I’m sorry but what kind of question is that? I get that the movie was being anvilicious about Harley being “crazy”, but why would you ask someone you just saw for the first time this specific question? No offense, it looked good on the movie, but on paper, it’s just silly and random.

She is then tied and taken to have the nano-bomb implanted in her neck before going outside for that scene where she, in another amazing (rolls eyes) display of Crazy ™ she threatens everyone because “that’s what the voices said” (rolls eyes again, harder and stronger). The ableist implications are just astounding: the cool edgy colorful character had her mental illness given to her by torture from her abuser boyfriend who she somehow loves and romanticizes. Also, in that same scene, some fine nitpicking can ensue as Colonel Rick Flagg says something along the lines of “dress up for we’re leaving in ten minutes”.

Now, this would be just fine with the other character who just need to change clothes, but Harley, who was given not only an entire ark full of her clothes (the government is so kind! They are giving Harley her trademark costumes!!), but also hair dye, nail polish, and makeup! And we’re supposed to take that she got ready in ten! I don’t claim to be an expert on makeup, but look at how elaborated her eye shadow fade style is. Obviously, I’m grasping at straws here – I love that costume as it fresh and yet in character -, but this is the kind of silly thing that could have avoided just by putting in “30 minutes” instead of ten.

There’s also a subplot involving the Joker trying to break Harley out of prison, but that only leads to her being briefly rescued by Mr. J in a helicopter that gets blown up in 10 seconds. Harley gets on the ground and realizes that the Joker died. This leads to one of the best moments of the movie in my opinion: as the SS meets again with Harley, she is sitting atop a car. She is not smiling. She is half crying. As everyone approaches, she quickly changes tone to the familiar high pitched voice, but you can hear in her voice that, even if it was just for that moment, she is broken. Margot acted the hell out of that. It was brilliant. I really don’t know how to convey how awesome that little moment with Harley trying to appear to be fine and hiding her feelings was because that’s just so relatable. Yes, she was grieving her abuser, and it’s complicated, but the movie seems to suggest that it’s complicated.

Harley has a few more cool scenes. That trailer part where she breaks the glass of the store to steal a purse? Looked better in the trailer. In the movie it just seems detached and random. In the end, when Enchantress says she knows what everyone deeply wants (the Heart’s Desire ™), Harley is shown as Harleen, with a non-Jokery Joker and two kids, living in a suburban house, settling down for breakfast with her loved ones.  Finally, she is responsible for the fall of the Enchantress as she slashes the heart of the witch with the Conveniently Placed Katana ™. Later on, as she is back at Belle Reeve, the Joker breaks her out.

This was Harley Quinn in the movie. Even though she is the fan favorite, her character has a few issues when you compare it to comic book canon. So, a couple of important facts: HQ has two origins and both of them were mixed into what was shown in the movie. It was a distortion of the older original one, but an improvement on the newer one (New 52). The original one showed Dr. Harleen Quinzel as Mr. J’s therapist being played mind games by him as he used her own past against her as a means to get admiration.

This was an abusive relationship from the get go, but Harleen ultimately had agency on becoming the villain we know as Harley, as she fucks up in colossal ways making bad decisions, but still being a smart woman who learned to love a psychopath. She truly believes the Joker loves her as well, but during some of her comics, she seems done with him. She is a very humane character, capable of good and evil. She is a testament to women in media who are idealized and never allowed to fail. She has a strong friendship with Poison Ivy who injects HQ with a special serum that gives her the agility she possesses w—which the movie doesn’t seem to care at all how the therapist suddenly can be an acrobat or it just wants us to assume it was the waste pond.

The New 52 gave Harley a new origin that is sort of like a Joker rehash. In case you haven’t heard of (or read about it), “The Killing Joke” is the arc that is most commonly accepted as his beginning: a man loses his pregnant wife and falls on chemical waste, going mad and having his skin, lips, and hair changed. The new 52 Harley was also in contact with these chemicals that gave her the pale look and blue/red hair, but she was PUSHED by the Joker, having no agency.

The movie conciliates both of these stories by ‘sort of’ having Harleen/Harley (by that point, she may have been tortured to madness) jump into the waste herself as a means to prove her love to the Joker (who, once again, almost left her for dead) by – I’m assuming – sharing the same origins. The unfortunate implication of this scene is that Harley can’t swim. She willingly jumped to her death for a man who, in a sense, gaslighted her. The line is very thin that separates what is love and what is madness for both of these characters. The Joker had so little screentime that I THINK he loves her, but probably not as much as she loves him. It’s unclear, but also likely – he did, after all, raced the car into the water as a means to escape. On another note, seeing as Harley only became more pale with the waste, that pretty scene with the blue & red flowing sort of loses part of its depth/origins power.

HQ is the highlight of the movie in my opinion. She was allowed to be more fleshed out, had great scenes, and interacted well with the rest of the characters. It was a particularly heartwarming moment when she referred to them as “my friends” however unearned because when Harley Quinn isn’t isolated, she is a better person.

Deadshot

Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot was played by Will Smith – the other character who had some sort of more deeply explored backstory. He was an elite hitman, divorced single male with a daughter who loves and accepts his evil doing. He is captured by the Batman and taken to Belle Reeve. During the movie, he takes on a co-leading role, having his fair share of Cool Moments ™, with his highest motivation being to get custody of his daughter. There’s not really a lot to talk about him – he is a Mary Sue of Guns, only missing when he wants to, his fantasy being killing the Batman when he was caught. It flows well and Will does a good job.

Rick Flagg & June Moone/Enchantress

The plot on these is quite thin. Archaeologist to the Stars, Dr. June Moone, enters an ominous cave, pops off a little doll with a bottle of champagne kind of vibe and gets possessed by the Enchantress.

Waller starts controlling her by threatening to puncture the Enchantress’ “heart/doll” (Yippee ki-yay for Female Agency) in order to do her bidding. June is severely disturbed by all this as the witch’s power takes a toll on her. Fortunately, she is dating Col. Rick Flagg who would do anything for her – including leading the Suicide Squad on Waller’s orders. However, Sneaky Enchantress manages to steal her never mentioned before Brother’s own doll from Amanda’s condo and release him. Said Brother is a CGI figure who wreaks havoc in Midway City. The Enchantress herself wants to build a machine to do something that will allow her to rule the world again. Okay. Sure. Let’s go with that. By the way, given how powerful the character is shown to be, she sure as hell took her sweet time building the machine. Eventually, she is defeated by the aforementioned Conveniently Placed Katana ™ and June is safe and sound back on Joel Kinnaman’s arms.

El Diablo

Chato Santana is a man full of regrets. Former Gangbanger who, during a heated discussion, killed his girlfriend/wife and kids. He doesn’t want to use the powers again. El Diablo is no more… except when Deadshot screams at him a lil bit, then it’s fine, because he was killing the Enchantress’s minions. Impressive powers, sure, for someone who can not only burn several people at once, but also create fun doodles with fire which includes words and a mini fire stripper/dancer (I’m assuming that’s his wife). His fantasy was having the family gathered once again, but during the final act, he realizes the Squad is his new family :’) and worth fighting for :’) Way to go, dude!

Amanda Waller

Exuding authority, Viola Davis is NOT to be messed with, we all know that. It was a perfecting casting for DC’s tougher and meaner Nick Fury. She is dealing with the threat of super powered individuals like Superman (who is dead, by the way) by assembling Task Force X in case shit hits the fan. In a very unexpected scene, she murders a bunch of interns (?) who knew too much! Yay, female empowerment! Violence! She is also captured by the Enchantress and tortured/extracted for information.

Katana, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, & Slipknot

These four definitely weren’t so lucky. Slipknot, the guy who can crawl everything, dies within five minutes because it’s sort of a tradition in Suicide Squad stories to always have someone die very soon to show that Amanda/Rick Flagg aren’t kidding around when they say they WILL blow your head off. Honestly, this didn’t come off as a surprise to me. He wasn’t heavily figured in merchandising and, as I said, it’s tradition: someone had to bite it and Slipknot seemed like the most obvious choice since he doesn’t have particularly “awesome” skills and, amidst a group of relatively-known unknowns, he was pretty obscure character. Plus, in the comics, he has a similar arc but the bomb blew his arm off. The unfortunate implication for his death is that Adam Beach is native American – one of the very few we could see in a movie theatre this year – and it’s just poor taste doing that when in real life AND in fiction, as 2016 insists on proving, POC and minorities are killed off willy-nilly. Sure, the cast is pretty diverse (one black woman, one Asian woman, one queer woman, two black males, one native American, and one Latino just on the squad) but the only people killed off in this movie that we were ‘supposed’ to care about were POC.

Katana was Rick Flagg’s bodyguard. Named Tatsu Yamashiro, her husband was killed off screen with the same sword she uses which traps the souls of people. The character had no arc – her only two features were Sword Wielding Fighter & Woman in Grief. I personally liked her, but the costume department could have arranged an armor for her – midriff sounds unrealistic, I’m sorry. Then there was that moment when she is talking to the soul of her husband, deeply grieving, when Cap Boom said “you know what they say about the crazy ones”. What the fuck? The woman is grieving. She uses a sword that has the soul of her husband trapped. She wants to join him. Who authorized this line? The movie tried to be edgy by calling people “crazy” (Harley got the short end of that stick MULTIPLE times), but I don’t see how that could apply to Tatsu.

I don’t really have a lot to say about Captain Boomerang. People responded to him. I barely understood what he was saying behind the thick aussie accent. All I know is that he likes pink unicorns, Magically Appearing Beer ™, boomerangs, got Slipknot killed, and was caught by the Flash. Virtually useless during the movie.

Killer Croc also was very bland. He kills people. Looks like a crocodile. He has self-esteem though – “I’m beautiful” – which was a nice moment. His reward for the mission? TV.

The Joker

I have no issues with the Joker’s tattoos, for starters. I dig them. Can see it happening. My issue is with the character being an afterthought on the movie, being in I’m guessing 10-15 minutes tops, despite the press insanity that surrounded the character. Jared Leto said a lot of his scenes were cut (this seems to be a problem with the movie, because a quarter of the trailers weren’t in the movie). Still, he didn’t really have to do those things (which may or may not have been exaggerated by the press) like sending sex toys and dead pigs. Good enough acting to be menacing, but not nearly enough screen time to be a main character.

Sexualization & Objectification of Women in the Movie

Harley Quinn, in this movie, is a more sexual/male gazey character. Her sexiness was amped up to 12 in the videogames and this trend carried on during the New 52, where she  is constantly seen with tight “corsets” and fishnets. The movie translated well, in my opinion, this sexually active and in charge of her life character. I still have issues with fighting-type characters who show too much skin (not realistic), but they allowed Harley to be more like her comic counterpart in costume. She is an objectified character who is in a relationship with the Prince of Clowns. Sure, we could have done without a couple/all of ass shots; this movie is overly straight, but that’s also a nitpick that doesn’t ruin the experience.

In contrast, June was not overly sexualized to the audience (she was in a committed relationship with Rick Flagg) while Enchantress wore that black ‘let’s-call-it-dress’, but the witch is not sexualized. Katana, with her short amount of screentime, gets an exposed midriff instead of an armor. There’s not a lot of space for sexualization either. The fourth prominent female character is Amanda Waller and she doesn’t get any type of chance to be objectified.

Worse (Movie) of the Worst? No.

Honestly, the movie wasn’t a waste of my money or time whatsoever: it’s more suited in the Problematic Fave file cabinet. Seeing these characters on the big screen meant a lot to me. I obviously think some things could have been handled better (did Harley need to say “pussy” twice to call other people coward? No. Not even once) and the plot could have been better thought-out. People are getting tired of generic villains, even in a movie where the bad guys fight the worse guys.

It did felt fresh to have a female as the main villain though, I’ll give them that. Plot armor was noticeable with Harley and Deadshot (at least once each they went against their orders which we were led to believe would entail head blowing). The movie is impossibly straight and made for the male gaze (Harley’s ass shots, killer croc’s TV ass shots, “grab your girl’s ass”, and so on…) which I guess was to be expected.

This isn’t a bad comic book movie. It’s actually very comic booky. It’s just a not-so-good-could’ve-been-better movie.


All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. 

Matthew
Written By

Matthew is a 20-year-old sucker for the superhero/fantasy, crime, and queer genres. He is doing his best to become a forensic scientist, but, alas, he gets easily distracted with how much great TV is being produced right now.

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