In Defense of SUICIDE SQUAD

Suicide Squad is a film that I think has garnered way too much hate since it came out. Now, I do enjoy the DCEU to an extent, but I will admit I’ve had problems with the franchise. Some of the dialogue in Man of Steel was cringeworthy, the villains in all of these films aren’t the most well written and the less I say about Jesse Eisenberg in Batman v. Superman, the better.

However, some of the reviews I’ve seen in regards to Suicide Squad have treated it like it’s the worst thing ever made and….I’m sorry, I just don’t really see it like that. In fact, I don’t really see any of the DCEU films as really that bad. Suicide Squad was probably one of the most fun films I saw in 2016. Not one of the greatest mind you, but still a lot of fun.

I would do a defense of the other DCEU film to come out of 2016, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but my fellow Screen Geek writer, Jennifer Huneycutt, already did that and honestly, I have nothing else to add to what she said. I’m gonna go ahead and stick with Suicide Squad here.

Now I’m not planning on changing any opinions.. If you think this film is irredeemable trash, that’s your opinion and no one has the right to tell you you’re wrong. I’m just here to go over the film in detail and share why I think it’s actually quite entertaining and at some points, rather character driven. I will be going over what I liked, didn’t like and some criticisms I hear constantly of the film that I won’t call wrong, but will explain why I don’t really understand them. Now, spoiler warning here. Let’s begin.

The film starts with a couple scenes focussing on two key characters in the film, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). These scenes help to inform us that while there are a LOT of characters to be shown in this film, these two will have the most focus, something I actually hear as a complaint quite a bit. Here’s the thing though, I actually don’t mind the film choosing two characters to keep consistent focus on throughout the story.

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Suicide Squad makes it clear that it wants to be a bit more lighthearted and simplistic than the films that came before it. Let’s be honest here. Had the film tried to give everyone equal amounts of screentime, it’d be jumbled and all over the place. I think the film made the wise choice of keeping Deadshot and Harley as the two key players here as they both have the most interesting backstories and character arcs. Not to say they’re the only ones who get a good amount of focus, but we could argue that these two are the characters we can easily call our leads.

Anywho, we cut to a character named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) who explains in a narration that the world changed when Superman first flew through the skies and it changed again when he didn’t. This moment perfectly explains to relevant details of Batman v. Superman that come into play with Suicide Squad. Superman is dead. The most powerful being protecting the planet is gone. The people and government are not sure what to do now. What better point for Waller to introduce this new crazy idea than when the world actually is in desperate need?

Now, while I like this idea to some extent, there’s also kind of a problem with it. Superman’s death serves as Waller’s foundation for the Suicide Squad (or Task Force X as it’s called). The purpose of this is to fight a second Superman in case he doesn’t share the same values as the previous one. Now, with the exception of MAYBE El Diablo, none of the Task Force members have superpowers and would more likely than not get their asses kicked should they confront a being with the same power as Supes. So…the entire foundation of Task Force X is kind of meaningless in hindsight.

Despite all this, Waller presents the files on all the criminals she wants in the Squad to a couple government suits. As she pulls up their files, we get details and backstories on all each individual member. Some have pointed this out as clunky exposition that grinds the main events to the halt while we get an info dump and each individual member. Personally, I think it helps that we get a bit of backstory on each character before getting to the main event.

I also like the little text intros for each character with neat little tidbits that you may miss the first time and each having a unique font and color scheme gives every character their own style. Obviously, not every character gets as much detail, but I think this helps pick up the pace as the longer backstories of Harley and Deadshot are done first while the shorter backstories of the more minor characters like Killer Croc and Captain Boomerang are saved for afterward.

Deadshot comes first. After some humorous banter with a client before going through with an assassination, we see him interacting with his daughter. We learn that in reality, Deadshot is actually a pretty nice guy (minus the killing of course). While some may see this as a problem as Deadshot seems too charming to be a villain, I think this honestly works. I think it’s important to note that Deadshot here is not a villain per se. He does bad things, yeah, but he just does it for the money. It’s the only way he knows how to make a living. And outside of assassinating people, he’s a caring father. He wants to support his daughter, but sadly he can’t make money any other way at this point. This shows that out of all the Squad members, Deadshot is probably the one with a good head on his shoulders. He’s a criminal, but he’s also a reasonable individual.

Next comes Harley. Like all interpretations, she starts off as a psychiatrist working in Arkham Asylum. She’s assigned to the Joker (Jared Leto) and starts forming a romantic connection with him to the point of helping him break out. However, once she’s fulfilled her purpose, the Joker tortures her, seemingly creating the maniac we know as Harley Quinn. Harley’s story has some pieces missing that will be filled as we go through the story. These pieces will slowly help us understand her as an individual and really get the full picture of her relationship with the Joker.

On the topic of the Clown Prince of Crime, Jared Leto’s performance is often a base breaker when it comes to this movie. Personally, I don’t feel he’s in enough of the movie to really get a grasp on his performance. I like some things about him such as his great chemistry with Margot Robbie, but there are things I don’t like such as his pretty bad Joker laugh.

Back to the plot, Waller goes over all the other Squad members whose backstories aren’t nearly as detailed, but they work well enough to get us a general idea of the characters. El Diablo’s minimal backstory is actually intentional as we will learn more about him later. The last people we learn about are Dr. Moone, the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). Moone accidentally unleashed the Enchantress and is now possessed by her and when Flag was assigned to guard her, the two formed a relationship. Waller reveals that she actually wanted this to happen as now that the two are romantically involved, it’s now guaranteed that Flag will not back out of helping her with the Squad, as established later on. This shows that while Waller is, by all definition, one of the “good guys”, she’s not really a good person. She’s a manipulative and a relentless individual who will stop at nothing to make sure things go her way.

While Waller is getting the Squad together, we learn that the Joker is getting desperate to find Harley and break her out. This starts a small side-plot in which Joker becomes something of a wild card in the story. He’s not really involved with the main conflict. He has his own agenda that will ultimately get him to briefly cross paths with the main characters somewhere down the line. While some were hoping the Joker would have the role of main antagonist, I think this kind of works in playing a HUGE part in Harley’s overall character arc.

On the topic of the main conflict, I should probably get to that. The Enchantress at one point manages to gain complete control over Moone and after releasing her brother, Incubus, the two unleash hell unto Midway City. The government gives Waller permission to bring in Task Force X. The criminals are all brought in and are given their gear.

This is a good opportunity to talk about the cast of the film. Personally, I think all the Squad  members do an amazing job at portraying their characters. There are a few highlights in my eyes. I think Will Smith is a great fit for Deadshot, able to portray the more sympathetic individual as well as the snarky bastard I love so much (Triangle, bitch!). Jai Courtney is surprisingly hilarious as Captain Boomerang and every scene he’s in, I’m almost always getting a laugh. Say what you will about the movie, but making Jai Courtney charming is a task once thought impossible.

Honestly, none of them compare to Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She nails just about every key aspect of this character down to a T. She’s a convincing psychologist, very psychotic at times, hilarious when need be and is just a treat whenever she’s on screen. Some have accused the movie as sexualizing her to the point where apparently the only people who like this movie are teenage boys who just want to see her ass. To that I say there’s really only one scene where the camera KIND of panders on her being sexualized and that’s when she’s getting into her outfit and even then, it’s brief. There’s no other point in the film where I felt the cameraman was putting extra attention on her ass. Also, who cares if someone finds her hot? I think she’s hot and I am not a teenager nor a male individual so…blah!

The Squad gets ready to go as one last member is brought into their ranks, Katana. This is where we get a line that has been annoyingly criticized so much that it’s just a pain to even quote. Not because I find the line bad, but because EVERYONE gives this line shit when it’s really not that bad. The line goes:

“This is Katana. She’s got my back. I would advise not getting killed by her. Her sword traps the souls of its victims.”

I seriously don’t understand what people’s gripe with this line is. It’s clear that Flag is just saying this to intimidate the Squad. I mean, he IS trying to keep them under control and the idea of a sword that traps your soul is admittedly kind of terrifying. But what makes this scene work is that Flag’s intimidation tactics…don’t really mean anything. As soon as he says all this, Harley just reaches out to shake Katana’s hand like she’s the greatest person she’s ever met. Flag’s attempts to intimidate these guys mean nothing.

As their helicopter flies into the city, it is immediately attack and they have to make a crash landing. The helicopter rolls all over the place and yet somehow…everyone in it survives? Okay then. Right as the mission begins, Boomerang converses with a late addition to the Squad, Slipknot. He explains that the threats that were made against them by both Waller and Flag regarding bombs implanted in their necks are all just psychological and meant to trick them. Slipknot, for seemingly no reason, believes this and gets his head blown off. If you are a fan of this character from whatever comic he’s from, I sincerely apologize.

Most of the next 20 or so minutes of the film consists of the group trying to get to their objective while running into strange creations of the Enchantress from time to time, forcing them into battle. Personally, I find the action scenes to be a lot of fun. Some think the editing makes it hard to make out what’s going on, but I never had any real issue with it myself. One detail to note in these scenes is El Diablo’s refusal to engage in a fight until one point in a building when he’s provoked by Deadshot. This heavily hints at this character’s pacifistic nature, but we don’t get into much detail about it until later.

When the Squad isn’t fighting the creatures, we get some nice conversations between different members, more so in the extended cut. There’s two particular bits from this cut that I want to bring attention to. The first is a flashback that shows a bit of dialogue between Harley and the Joker some time after he broke out of Arkham Asylum. Why this scene was not kept into the original theatrical cut, I have no idea. This one little bit adds essential dialogue that shows how Joker really views Harley at this point in time. He sees her as a tool. She was just a means to get Joker out of Arkham but it should’ve ended there. And through Harley’s simple question of “My heart scares you but a gun doesn’t?”, we understand the complex nature of this relationship.

The other scene to mention takes place directly after it as we see Harley converse with the Squad and, in her own psychotic little way, psychoanalyze each of them. I found this scene to be of particular interest as it calls back to one core aspect of Harley’s character: she was at one point a psychologist. And we see through this that she still retains that aspect of her character after everything that’s happened. It also allows us to delve a bit more into the more minor Squad members, especially Katana.

As the Squad ascends the building, we’re treated to another flashback from Harley. At some point between this and the last flashback, the Joker decided to bring her to a chemical plant to test her loyalty to him, asking two simple questions. The first is a cliche “Would you die for me?” When Harley confirms she would, the Joker deems that question way too easy and flips it around, asking her, “Would you live for me?” Harley once again responds with a yes before willingly jumping into a vat of chemicals, officially cementing her loyalty to the Joker. At first, he’s about to leave her to die, a decision that makes a whole lot of sense when you consider the flashback added back into the extended cut.

However, seeing her as someone who has unending loyalty to him and only him, the Joker decides to jump in and save her. Personally, I think this scene is fantastic. The Joker’s hesitation to leave Harley and ultimately deciding to save her is done very effectively without the use of dialogue. It’s also stunningly well shot and the image of Joker and Harley arising from the vat with all the colors surrounding them is something that stays with me even after the film’s over.

Anywho, the Squad get to the room of the person they were assigned to rescue, who turns out to be Waller herself. The Squad’s about to kill her along with Flag and Katana to save themselves, but Waller is quick to remind them that she has them all on a leash and won’t hesitate to activate the explosives in their necks. Cue a very humorous line from Croc. (“I like her.”)

They’re about to leave when suddenly, the Joker comes in to save Harley. With the help of a scientist he’s held hostage, Joker manages to get Harley’s explosive deactivated, allowing her to escape. And before anyone asks, no, I have no clue why Flag doesn’t just shoot her upon realizing the explosive isn’t working. I may like this film, but I can’t defend every single aspect about it and I’ll admit that was a stupid move on Flag’s part. However, just as soon as Joker and Harley are reunited, Waller calls for her forces to shoot down their helicopter. Harley is able to escape, but the Joker seemingly dies in the crash.

And now the one thing Harley has been fighting to get back to throughout the entire film is gone. With nothing else left, she goes back to the only other people she can, the rest of the Squad. And it turns out she couldn’t have picked a better time to join back as Waller’s chopper was shot down and she’s become a prisoner to the Enchantress. With her heart back, she is able to wreak havoc upon the entire world.

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I suppose now is a good time to talk about the film’s villains. The Joker is less of an antagonist here and more of a wild card in the events of the story that plays a huge part into Harley’s overall character arc. I understand it’s a bit disappointing that he’s not the one the Squad is fighting in the end, but I personally don’t mind. As for the main threat, we of course have the Enchantress. And I gotta be honest, I’m not a fan of her as an antagonist. Mainly for the fact that she’s just something for the Squad to fight and doesn’t have that interesting of a character. The main intrigue of her comes more from the part she plays in Flag’s character. Because Flag wants to save Moone, Enchantress sees him as the biggest threat. It’s mentioned briefly that this is why the creatures are primarily targeting him in their run-ins with the Squad. But yeah, she’s still not that good of a villain. I will admit I like her design, but that’s about it.

The Squad finally grows tired of all this and decide to stop at an abandoned bar for a drink it was is admittedly my favorite scene in the film. The group just sits at the bar, have some drinks and shoot the shit for a few minutes. I don’t know why, but I always just love scenes of characters talking. It helps us to see some pretty damn good chemistry between all of them and the humor in this scene is all on point. Again, more humor from Croc. (“I’m beautiful”) But the heart of this scene lies in this: It is finally here where we learn about El Diablo. It turns out he was cursed with his powers from a young age and the only person that kept him in line was his wife. However, when she found out that he had been earning money through committing crimes, she decided to take the kids and leave him. This caused Diablo to lose control and in a fit of rage, accidentally kill his wife and kids.

It’s at this point where everything we needed to know about the character comes into perspective. It’s because of his powers that he lost the people he cared about and we now understand why he was so reluctant to fight up to this point.

It’s here that Flag decides to come in and tell the Squad that with or without them, he’s going to fight the Enchantress and free Moone. He breaks the remote to their collars and at the sight of this, Boomerang bolts out of there with some beer. Hilarious. Flag then gives Deadshot some letters from his daughter that was kept from him. At this point, Deadshot is reminded of the reason why he does what he does. Everything is for his daughter and remembering this, he agrees to help Flag in taking down the Enchantress. The rest of the Squad decide to help as well because they really have nothing better to do at this point. Hell, even Boomerang comes back to fight. Am I the only one who would’ve found it funnier and more consistent if he didn’t come back?

At this point, the film becomes a giant battle against the Enchantress. One thing I like about this bit is how she tries to mess with everyone’s heads, putting them inside their greatest desires. It isn’t until she tries it on El Diablo, an individual who has accepted the reality of all the bad things he’s done, that he’s able to snap them all out of it. I find this interesting because it shows that Diablo is the one person in the Squad who has come to terms with everything he’s done and the consequences of those actions. I don’t know. It’s a nice little addition to his character before the big fight.

The fight is admittedly a bit hard to see and a bit of a mess. Plus El Diablo’s sacrifice to take down the Incubus didn’t feel that impactful to me. However, at the end of the fight when they all work together to detonate the explosive, Enchantress tries one final desperate move. Using her powers to screw with people’s minds, she puts an image of Deadshot’s daughter in front of him, begging him not to pull the trigger. However, in the end, he understands what needs to be done and does the deed. Flag then threatens the defeated Enchantress to bring Moone back or he’ll crush the heart, ultimately killing both of them. The Enchantress refuses, thinking Flag doesn’t have the balls to do it. However, calling back to an earlier scene where Moone told him to kill both of them if it ever came to this point, Flag reluctantly and emotionally crushes the heart. However, through the power of “Fuck it! Give Flag Happy Ending”, Moone survives. The criminals are all put back into prison with time taken off their sentences as well as extra rewards such as Deadshot being able to see his daughter and Harley getting an espresso machine. But it doesn’t end there. It turns out the Joker survived the crash and rescues Harley from prison, ending the movie in a badass cliffhanger.
So in the end, do I think Suicide Squad is a good movie? Personally, yes. I think the film’s biggest strength is the characters. Everyone has an established personality and quirks that allow for great banter between each other as well as some solid character development.

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Now yes, some of the Squad members get more development than others, but in a movie with a cast this big, I was honestly expecting that and wasn’t disappointed they decided to pick a few to have primary focus on. I think that helped make the film easier to follow as a whole. The action is fun, the cast is great and the soundtrack is awesome!

There are problems, sure. Some action sequences could’ve used better lighting and I feel a few bits of dialogue weren’t as good as the writers were hoping. Also, only having Joker in the film for so little time when Jared Leto had top billing was admittedly disappointing. I liked his role in Harley’s story, but I would’ve loved to see more. It’s not one of the greatest superhero films ever made, but I do think it’s a fun time.

Nerdy trans girl. Loves anime and video games. Probably drinking Pepsi right about now. Who knows?