Suicide Squad: What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this special Wisecrack Edition on one of the most tragic films of the year: David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Despite the fact that the movie was marred by critical changes at late stages of production, it still has signs of intellectual ambition. Join us as we look closely at the script’s thematic foundation and connect it to the other films of the DC Cinematic Universe. By tracing the theme of control through Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman, we can get a better understanding of what Suicide Squad was perhaps trying to achieve before the film was re-edited by the studio. Is it possible for us to still glean something insightful from a deeply flawed movie? With this new Wisecrack Edition format, we answer just that.
Written, Directed & Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
Suicide Squad: What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Hey guys, Jared again. If there’s ONE thing we at Wisecrack consume more than caffeine, it’s CONTENT- we’re constantly analyzing movies, shows, and video games while our bodies slowly waste away. Unfortunately, our efforts don’t always pan out. Some properties just aren’t as insightful as we’d like. Such is the case of Suicide Squad, a film that we spent hours discussing only to come up empty handed. There were a lot of underwhelming films in 2016, but Suicide Squad is a unique disaster. Warner Brothers thought the trailer was so much better than the actual movie that they decided to hire the trailer company to functionally rewrite the movie. Wondering why the first 30 minutes feels like a music video with too much neon exposition? Thank the MARKETING team. To be fair, though, the trailer was pretty awesome.
But despite the fact the movie got hacked to shit, Suicide Squad is still ambitious, and that’s what this new format is all about: breaking down media that doesn’t quite work and seeing what we can learn from it anyway. Think of it as a kind of autopsy, or the Wisecrack version of a participation trophy. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on Suicide Squad. This is another experiment for us so if you want us to do more, let us know in the comments. The hallmark of a thought-provoking movie is it’s ability to introduce a theme and develop it through conflict, characters, visuals, etc. This theme, in theory, should inspire thought or feeling for the viewer. For instance: Order vs. chaos in The Dark Knight; Family vs. “The” family in The Godfather; Truth vs. media narrative in Gone Girl; and The merits of punching Nazis in Captain America.
In Suicide Squad, the primary theme is control. 1. Dickbag guards control and abuse the main characters who are, appropriately, powerless prisoners. 2. Amanda Waller and Rick Flag control the squad with a device that kills them if they don’t stay in line. 3. The Enchantress battles for control over the body of archaeologist June Moone. 4. Amanda Waller controls the Enchantress by stabbing her heart when she doesn’t stay in line. 5. Amanda Waller also controls Rick Flag by exploiting his love affair with June. 6. The Enchantress controls people by turning them into slave monsters. 7. Enchantress’s brother takes control of this guy. 8. Diablo loses control and accidentally kills his family. 9. The Joker controls Harley Quinn through their abusive relationship. Her jacket even says “property of the Joker”.
We’ve actually seen this theme of control throughout the Snyder DC-verse. In Man of Steel we’re forced to ask ourselves: When metahumans with god-like powers walk the earth, how can mankind maintain control of their own society? The answer: Better hope one of them is going to be humanity’s savior and preserve law and order. Then in Batman V Superman, we ask: But what if this benevolent savior goes dark and triggerhappy like Batman? How will mankind maintain order then? The answer: Won’t happen. Cuz Superman is muthafuckin Jesus and he’ll even sacrifice himself for humanity. How will mankind maintain order then? The answer: Won’t happen. Cuz Superman is muthafuckin Jesus and he’ll even sacrifice himself for humanity. This is where Suicide Squad enters the picture. Now that earth’s metahuman bodyguard is dead, how far must humanity go to maintain CONTROL?
If Batman vs Superman explored the ramifications of a god-like being who can wield overwhelming power OVER humanity, then Suicide Squad is the opposite: it explores the ramifications of HUMANS wielding overwhelming power in order to fight god-like beings. Or at least it should. If Batman vs Superman explored the ramifications of a god-like being who can wield overwhelming power OVER humanity, then Suicide Squad is the opposite: it explores the ramifications of HUMANS wielding overwhelming power in order to fight god-like beings. Or at least it should. Suicide Squad further explores this dynamic, best reflected in the painting in Batman V Superman… Lex Luthor uses it to remind us that even Satan started as an angel: “That painting should be upside down, because as we all know. Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. They come from the sky.” He, of course, is talking about Superman, who, like Satan, could go apeshit evil at any moment. Similarly, Amanda Waller is compared to the divine twice in the film- once as God, and once as the Devil:
Will Amanda Waller, a righteous government official, fall like Satan in the same way Lex assumed Superman would? Will her quest for control go too far? So what we’ve got here is a pretty cool thematic setup; one that’s ripe for all kinds of juicy moral conundrums like: Is tyrannical control necessary to combat existential threats like in The Dark Knight? Or is that kind of oppression evil no matter its justification like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Well… Suicide Squad is… neither. So as a recap: At the end, The Squad confronts Enchantress who invites them to join her and fight those who have “caged them” ie: Amanda Waller and the government. The Squad says “screw you”, kills her, and go back to being jailed in their Guantanamo-inspired hell. Herein lies the film’s identity crisis: As an anti-superhero movie, the film is asking to make you identify with the prisoners- they have daughters, regrets, or are the victims of emotional abuse, and like most people, are seeking freedom so we see the humanity in the so-called “villains” while seeing the LACK of humanity of those in power.
It makes sense that the anti-superhero movie would use tyrannical control to complicate the divide between the “good establishment” and the “evil super villains.” Even the Enchantress is a victim of control, a great opportunity for some thematic interplay. Should we identify with the Enchantress as we do The Suicide Squad, and if not, why? Their inhumane exertion of control makes us identify with the squad and question its over-use by the government. Unfortunately, instead of developing this moral grey area, the film takes refuge in the lamest of superhero movie tropes: making Enchantress another bland “evil” villain who wants to destroy the world with an arbitrary doomsday machine and a super vague motivation: “No, Now they worship machines. So I will build a machine that will destroy them all.”
What is she talking about? Is she lamenting that we’re all glued to our Googlephones and kindlepads? I don’t see indication of that in ANY DC movies. So this is just nonsense. But I digress- The film is set up to ask some really interesting questions about the characterization of evil in comic book movies: What does evil look like when our protagonists are bad guys who have been oppressed, the bad guys are bad guys who have been oppressed, and the people pulling everyone’s strings are also bad guys? What is real evil in a world like this? The film dances around something insightful: “We were all chosen to fail.” “Yeah I know that. The worst part about it is they’re going to blame us for the whole thing… don’t forget we’re the bad guys.” But in the end, all nuance is thrown out the window and evil is just lazily labeled as the thing that wants to destroy the world:“Lady you are EVIL!” Why is this a problem? Well, it robs the themes of control and oppression of meaning. It neither develops the statement that oppressive power is necessary since ultimately the Squad kills Enchantress of their own accord nor does it suggest that oppressive power is evil, since Waller essentially wins and her corrupt status quo is reinstated. In fact, those who have been put under the control of other people unilaterally get the shaft- the enchantress dies, Diablo dies, the squad goes back to the slammer, and Harley Quinn isn’t even free from the Joker, who treats her like a possession.
So is the film saying that control is a necessary evil? Or does it stress the value of freedom? Neither, really. It’s more of a movie about subjugated people defending their own imprisonment against someone who has also been a victim of control. But not in a cool way, either. It’s a mess. And speaking of messes, one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the film is that Jared Leto’s Joker serves no purpose. This is mostly true, however…The only part in which the Joker SEEMS to contribute to the thematic discussion is in this line: “Would you die for me? That’s too easy. Would you live for me? Careful. Do not say this oath thoughtlessly. Desire becomes surrender, surrender becomes power.”
Okay so… Desire becomes surrender, surrender becomes power. Does this manifest itself in the film, or is this just deliberately cryptic edge-porn bullshit? If we look at the end of the film we sort of see this play out. In order to stop the Squad from thwarting her plan of world domination, the Enchantress seduces them by showing them their desires. Harley dreams of a normal life with the Joker, Deadshot dreams about killing Batman, and Diablo dreams of having his family back. Desire makes them want to surrender, and by surrendering, they would grant Enchantress power over them. So this sort of works, but does it actually say anything about the nature of control and its relation to desire and surrender? In the final cut of the film- no. But there are hints of an attempt to do so. It seems like the writers were trying to establish an arc with Harley Quinn’s relation to desire, surrender and power.
At the beginning she submits to desire by letting the Joker dominate her, but then at the end she rejects desire and doesn’t let the Enchantress dominate her. Problem is, this isn’t any kind of lesson for Harley. She doesn’t have a paradigm shifting moment where she refuses to let her desires become the power of others. Instead, she’s right back under the thumb of The Joker. So… does this line develop the theme of control in a meaningful way? So, there’s a spark of intelligence in Suicide Squad—enough to tell there were likely earlier versions of the film abandoned by the studio, that could have been so much better. But until someone emails me a much-guarded copy of the original script/cut, we can only ruminate on what may have been. a
Hope you guys enjoyed this. Let us know if you want us to do more media autopsies in the comments below.