Growing up, comics were a source of escapism for me. They propelled my thoughts into the realm of day-dream, wish fulfillment, and yearning for more than what my body could ever afford me, especially as a child still in the process of growing up and understanding where I fit into the world. You might assume that this realm would be entirely filled with super-beings. Why would I limit my levels of imagination in grounded reality? Who wouldn’t want to have a cool power?! The ability to fly? Yes, please!
But, no matter the comic, humans always play a key role at numerous levels of a super-being’s existence. Be it while nurturing an individual as they’re in the process of developing their super-power, or assisting as they complete a mission, or a random person working at a coffee shop who hands the super-being their latte, or a person existing in society with absolutely no relation to the story — Civilization and humanity as a whole.
What’s it like to be a human in a world where Superman might be disguised as a reporter for The Daily Planet? What would it be like to turn on the news and see yet another ‘puff-piece’ of a hero doing a heroic deed?
And so, within every single comic-book-universe there are humans that take on numerous levels of importance. Humanity, regardless of the circumstances, is required as we’re the baseline for understanding how humanity is represented by utilizing our definitions of love, hate, safety, mortality, etc. in the story.
Some of these people are heroes, some are villains, some are humans-in-distress (though it seems like damsels-in-distress these days), and some amass huge followings just because. Humans have, and will always play a part in comics, and along with it, our understanding of reality.
But yet, in a universe where so many are capable of unexplainable feats, how do we define humanity? What do we see these super-beings as? Gods? Monsters? Creatures? Love? What happens when a super-being challenges the very core of your belief system? What happens “when the next superman comes down and kills the President of the United States?”. Your God is imaginary, they couldn’t save him, but yet there’s Superman.
Like us, every super-being has an origin story, and with it they carry a unique experience that will shape their character and behaviour in not only the future, but the present. Their actions are what will ultimately affect how society sees them — as either good, or bad. How these characters respond to their life-changing experiences are what allow for us normal-folk to find a common ground with, and it even allows for us to identify with them, even if we do not fully understand the scope of ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.
Nevertheless, it’s uplifting to watch a character cope with affliction and suffering and then to turn that into a strength, even if it eventually leads them down an ‘evil’ path in the end. A heroes’ origin story can inspire us, provide us with models of coping with suffering, find meaning in loss, and discover our strengths and use them for good. It’s more than one life-altering event that makes super-beings (I’m including villains) so laudable — it’s the way they handle the entire scope of life as a human and still end up making the benevolent choices for which they are known.
But, when the element of humanity is widened to include civilians conducting their everyday tasks, be it working at a coffee shop, driving a taxi, or working in Wayne Corp Towers in Metropolis, humanity is represented as a bystander, incapable of understanding the simplest of tasks, including when it comes to deciding whether we should, or should not, flee a building as a massive alien structure is destroying an entire city block a couple of kilometres away — Come on, Wayne Corps employees, do you really need Bruce Wayne to tell you to evacuate?!
But, I guess that’s the point here. We simple-humans cannot comprehend the sheer complexity involved in not only the structural DNA for one of these ‘meta-humans’, but without them, we are powerless, useless, and expendable due to all our negatives. Our mortality cripples our sense of reasoning. And so, it begs the question — are we worth saving in these films? Are we supposed to be? Should we be saved? Furthermore, why do we need saving? It seems like we’re idiots!
Now, what makes Suicide Squad such an interesting production is that the cast of protagonists are all criminals who have been locked in prison for their actions. Chances are they were caught, again not by humans, but by super-beings, such as The Flash, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. The film is unique in that it asks audiences to root for individuals they would normally want to see someone like Batman defeat, and going by the opening-weekend box-office numbers ($133,682,248), fans are more than willing to indulge in the experience. Villains, or a band of mischiefs, can be more popular than their counterparts, but why is that? What makes the members of the Suicide Squad relatable? The bigger question is, are they? Did Suicide Squad explore what it means to ‘be bad’, did it justify, “we’re bad guys. It’s what we do”?
So then, what’s the real-point of the Suicide Squad? When looking at it through the lens of humanity, and what it means to be ‘human’, Suicide Squad is a fucking mess because mortality is not married with immortality, or unimaginable power. We are treated as irrelevant and incompetent, and unfortunately, including the Squad itself.
Suicide Squad is simple. Basically, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has a simple idea: Turn one of the nation’s strictest maximum security prisons, Belle Reve, into the home base of a new kind of undercover Spec Ops team. Members of the Suicide Squad, as it came to be known (since they provide “perfect deniability” were things to get out of control), would be specially selected by her from the prison population of now-caught costumed criminals. They’d be sent on any mission too dangerous to waste human agents on, and any mission so dark that the U.S. wanted full deniability if the Squad was discovered on the job. The Squad would act as a line of defence against another threat against humanity.
David Ayer and co. made an effort to stick to the comics, and maintained the Squad’s ‘past’ human element which can theoretically speak to someone watching the movie; Killer Croc had a troubled childhood where he’s now referred to as a “monster” and kept in the basement of Belle Reve. El Diablo is searching for atonement for his powers that caused pain to those he cares about (his family — specifically, wife and daughter). Harley Quinn and Deadshot both have aspects of love and family that motivate them to becoming better versions of themselves, even if that means shedding their former selves. Suicide Squad is a fascinating exploration of the idea that even awful people who commit crimes have some redeeming qualities. The real world isn’t black and white like some films portray — there are shades of grey present throughout society. It allows audiences to see parts of themselves reflected in these characters.
Now, is this represented well in the movie? Yes. To a degree, though, in the sense that everybody has (more or less — looking at you Slipknot… and you Captain Boomerang, oh and you Killer Croc, and you Rick Flagg) a backstory that is drenched in their former ‘human’ selves, which led to them becoming who they are ‘today’. But, unfortunately, not completely in the overall sense in that humanity tried to control a situation by creating our own solution, which invariably caused even more chaos than we anticipated. We, again, are incapable of even controlling an eco-system we did not understand in the first place. In the end, we still ended up going with the “Good Guys”, but why? What was the point of testing out the ‘Suicide Squad’? Was it considered a failure?! Suicide Squad could have shown how both humanity and ‘rejected members’ of society can co-exist side-by-side. Instead, the movie panders around expositions.
Also, civilians are almost entirely stripped out of Suicide Squad. The Squad is basically fighting in an evacuated city. Therefore, the portrayal of humanity rests solely on the shoulders of the protagonists. And, to me, that is where the film completely misses the mark.
I guess it should be noted that I loved David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. But, I already had the predisposition that I will enjoy it. So, my review is biased, and you might be wonder, “what the hell is he talking about?! 4 STARS!?. How dare he!”. Bear with me.
Naturally, after every film I’ll pursue reviews on Letterboxd, and try to create some sort of a relational baseline as to what someone may have got from the film that I may not have. But, the first thing that’s apparent is that there is in fact no general consensus as to what is wrong with the movie. There seems to be very little agreement on the problems with the film as a whole, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since that can be said about any film. Some people even ranked the film 7/100, while giving Ghostbusters 2016 70/100 for the same things they criticized Suicide Squad for.
As a result, the most predictable criticism is in fact actually not a criticism, but rather simply stating an observation in a demeaning manner — People call the film ‘too serious’ and ‘too dark’ and ‘dumb’ which is rather a description of the film’s tone. But, many films have those qualities and they are not all doomed to a life of debasement for their trouble. In their reviews, they are typically asserting that the film is boring and clumpy. But, for some reason people seem to link the film’s seriousness and darkness to boredom.
These comments all seem to come at it from a ‘tonal’ perspective. In general, superhero movies tend to steer away from some of the more wondrous elements of the comic books upon which they’re supposed to be based on. Most superhero films fit a specific spectrum. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy is on the one end, with the Fantastic Four and X-Men franchise being slightly in the middle closer to fantasy, but even those have all but abandoned their sci-fi elements in order to focus on a civil rights metaphor (Humans gaining extraterrestrial powers, or Mutants when peppered in modern age-society, respectively). And of course, Marvel Studios is at the opposite end of the spectrum with their lighter tone and preoccupation with human social politics (The U.N), but at least within the Marvel Cinematic Universe this continuity is respected.
The films with a more political stance, such as Captain America, or Iron Man, Ant-Man or Spider-Man all have human casts of characters, and do away with fantasy-elements. Whereas films with fantasy-elements like Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy lack the more relevant themes, thus allowing the audience to take them a little less seriously. And as such, they’re over-the-top, drenched with CGI, and light-hearted.
The problem I’m personally having with DC, or Suicide Squad specifically, is that the film views characters by how their characterizations contribute to the plot, rather than how they relate to a continuum in a universe where meta-humans exist, and human-criminals exist, and humans. The element of ‘love’ (which is also the theme of BvS & Man of Steel) is never fully explored, and therefore becomes but yet another missed opportunity in a film that could have been so so much more.
It even goes so far as to trip over its own feet. The entire point of the Enchantresses’ destruction rampage is because 5000 years ago humanity worshipped them, but now they worship machines, so “let’s destroy their machines”. What? Huh? The sense of worship is represented in Batman v Superman, wherein Superman comes down from the sky into a crowd of Latino’s (maybe El Diablo’s territory?). But, at what point in Suicide Squad was it hinted at how civilization saw and treated these beings, especially one with super-natural powers? Besides, we fucking erected a statue of Superman in Batman v Superman, so clearly we still ‘worship’ super-beings.
Another thing; Love is also largely ignored for the majority of the film, especially since the squad have a kind of love that drives them in the film. They’re not inherently bad, but rather they’re simply outcasts of society who also just so happen to ’love’ like their counterparts; Katana (played by Karen Fukuhara) is driven by her desire to reunite with her lost husband, but only after she avenges him. Rick Flagg (played by Joel Kinnaman) desires to reunite with his love, Dr. Moone (played by Cara Delevigne), who is also The Enchantress, but he must wrestle with the fact that he might have to kill her at some point. Harley Quinn (played beautifully by Margot Robbie) desires to reunite with the Joker (wish I saw more of Jared Leto’s portrayal of the iconic character), which overpowers her feelings for the team. Deadshot (Will Smith playing Will Smith) wants to reunite with his daughter, but she can’t accept him until he leaves the ‘vigilante’ world, so she sees him as a “… piece of shit”. El Diablo (played by Alex Meraz) seeks to not repeat the mistakes of the past that killed his wife and daughter, and an entire prison yard of convicts. And Killer Croc (NO idea who played him. Who cares), who just wants BET in his cell.
Within the framework, all of these relationships drive their actions in a way that causes the films point to slightly veer off course. Suicide Squad misses the point of itself.
In another contrast the film doesn’t even bother to remark on the fact that every character, more or less, faces the exact same situations as everyone else in the Squad. Katana and El Diablo both sit in situations similar to the conflict Rick Flagg faces for the entire film. Flagg is forced to kill his ‘true love’, just as El Diablo killed his wife and daughter in a fit of passion. Both could have acted as warnings to Rick Flagg on the bitterness that might await him, but only if he kills the Enchantress, a reality he partially accepts. But, when he finally does kill her, he ultimately broke the cycle that consumed the other squad members. By accepting his task, who he is, which even allows ‘love’ (Dr. Moone) to live in the end.
But, the human element was continuously grazed over. “Love” is for sure the biggest theme of the movie, but it unfortunately is not executed well at all. There are a few symbolic moments that seem good on paper, but do not make sense when you view them. For instance, when Deadshot fired Harley’s revolver to blow up the Enchantress, the barrel spins, and where it previously read “HATE” in big yellow letters it then read “LOVE” as the single-bullet was fired. That’s a very powerful image, and even incredibly subtle, but in the context of the scene it does not make sense. Is the film saying shooting the bomb is an act of love? Is it saying that Deadshot is accepting that he “LOVE”s to shoot? Is he stating that “LOVE” wins in the end? Was the Enchantress “HATE”, though? Her reasoning for ‘destroying machines’ was thin at best. Then, what was “HATE” in the film? Was it a representation for how humanity saw these mischiefs? It just seems to be there because it vaguely connects to the overall theme of the film.
Also, the movie missed a big chance to highlight “LOVE” when Harley Quinn asked Deadshot if, “[he’s] ever been in love?”, to which he quickly replied with, “Nope”. Maybe he hasn’t felt the romantic love she appears to feel for the Joker, but he has an understanding of “LOVE” for his daughter. After his denial, I spent the entire movie waiting for Harley Quinn to have an opportunity to call him a liar. Never happened.
The implications of the contrasts between these six can be seen throughout the film, and it’s not only brilliant subtle characterization, but it’s lost in the environment of a film that doesn’t let you reflect on a scene immediately upon viewing it. It largely goes missed for ¾ of the film.
Suicide Squad is a missed opportunity to explain much more than the point of fighting a super-power.
These characterizations get lost in the environments of the film, since the film fails to establish the ‘otherness’ of the cast, especially Killer Croc and what it means to be seen as ‘monster’ by society. His beatings by the guards are not taken as signs that he’s uniquely feared, but only viewed in the same context in which the other prisoners are mocked. And so, we fail to see the distrust placed in him by the Navy Seals, who are also ignored as character’s in spite of their importance to the movie’s plot. They’re just normal men carrying out the same mission as the Suicide Squad, but they lacked the same need for motivation as the Squad. Even when the Navy Seals trust the rest of the Suicide Squad, especially in preparing the target for the bomb, they still distrust Killer Croc, especially when he demands to go underwater with them, and because the underwater sequence is only shown in partial bits, the full effect of humanity on the one hand, and ‘super-powers’ on the other, is lost. There was no further development on ‘humans’ and ‘meta-humans’ fighting side-by-side.
But, by going underwater, Killer Croc embraced what disconnected him from society, proving himself to the Navy SEALs in a way that’s never fully explained. In addition, since the movie ignores the characters of the SEALs and only shows you enough of the underwater bomb run to confirm that it’s happening, the weight of the fact that both El Diablo on the surface and a SEAL member underwater both sacrifice their lives is ignored; the two factions that once distrusted each other are now laying down their lives side-by-side. It even missed ”LOVE” from that element.
Additionally, the movie could get away with having these people fighting above their weight class if they were originally organized for more achievable tasks (say, fighting organized crime) and circumstances happened to pit them against a formidable super-villain. That would have made more sense, especially since 90% of the Squad possesses absolutely zero super-powers. It makes little-to-no sense for this to be the reason to organize this group in the first place. Waller even manages to convince skeptics in the government of her ridiculous plan. At what point would a human, who just lived through the destruction of an entire city in Man of Steel., say “Oh. Yup. Totally onboard with this! We can claim zero deniability? Perfect! Let’s give them our Huey’s, and a Navy SEAL team. That’ll keep it covert!” The answer would have been “No! Are you fucking insane?. Let’s reach out to the actual super-heroes for this task!”
None are truly presented with any weight to give the film’s resolution any real significance. This is compounded by a basic flaw in the films overall reason for being. Rather than being an inverted Justice League where the participants are forced to team together for a greater good because they are inherently expendable, the story has them face off against an otherworldly superhuman who can destroy humanity as we know it (enslaving human beings and destroying our technology). This kind of task should be the domain of the Justice League, or even just one of them.
Unfortunately with this end of the world setup, the actual justification for forming the Squad gets lost. If Waller’s goal is to provide a safeguard against meta-humans (like Superman), then why does Harley Quinn or Boomerang need to be part of this team? What is Katana going to do? What the hell will bullets do against ‘the next superman’? They have no ability in this realm and offer no special skill that makes them necessary.
The film spends almost all film continuously setting up the aspect of ‘love’, and ‘family’, and ‘friends’ that it never actually followed through with itself. It fell short.
I still loved this movie. I laughed, I was rooting for them, and my eyes were drooling, especially when viewing it in IMAX 3D.
But, ultimately, these rich character moments are lost in the movie, due to the woefully poor editing, and unfortunately, this is why Suicide Squad is simply an experience, rather than a long lasting impression. The characters, their interactions, and their story are subtle genius squandered by executive meddling.
DEAR, WARNER BROS. PLEASE STOP TOUCHING YOUR FUCKING MOVIES. LET THE FUCKING DIRECTOR DIRECT THEIR VISION. YOU ARE SITTING ON A GOLDMINE WITH DC’S RICH CHARACTERS! FUCK OFF! LOVE, A FAN.