See Suicide Squad for the Acting, Stay to Beat On the Script

I enjoyed the film. It was beautifully shot, perfectly acted (Will Smith is always amazing), and has some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen (I completely lost my shit in the theater when Deadshot single-handed took out an army of baddies).  Loads of really great moments.  I’m going to seeing this again sometime.

Suicide Squad is a textbook base of a weak script in super-good hands.  The dialogue was uneven.  A few good lines scattered in among weak information-filled sentences.  A line could be funny, but it was never meaningful, funny, and informative at the same moment. The words weren’t pulling their weight and in the hands of lesser actors, they would have fallen trite.

Like nearly everything else DC has put out recently, this movie screams of wanting that Marvel money without wanting to do the work.  There’s a depressingly small amount of time spent with Killer Croc, Katana, and Diablo (though all are extremely well-acted and visually stunning).  I could fill in a lot of the missing pieces from what I knew from the comic book world, but I was left with the feeling that I was supposed to know who these guys were.  As if Killer Croc and Diablo had appeared in other movies and I should have recognized them as baddies. Katana, with her odd reticence, felt like a cameo from a great movie I wished I’d seen.

The one thing this movie gives to the DC universe that I absolutely loved was this new version of Harley Quinn and The Joker.

      Harley Quinn and The Joker

I’ve always liked Harley Quinn.  Since she was first introduced in the animated series, she was exciting and crazy and funny.  I liked her better on her own or with Poison Ivy, than with The Joker. In the past her relationship with The Joker has always felt uneven.  She’s treated at best as a side-kick, the set-up for his punch line and at worst with downright abuse. The animated Harley Quinn worships Mr. J. and the animated Joker can take or leave her.

Expecting this version of the relationship (which is interesting and I have no complaint about it), I scoffed at Suicide Squad’s narration about Harley when they said she was his queen.  Then I realized it was true. In this incarnation of her love affair with Mr. J., Harley legitimately means something to The Joker. She’s crazier than he is, and they push each other deeper into madness.  The Joker never turns his back on her, repeatedly tries to rescue her, and there is no express abuse (well, besides driving Dr. Harleen Quinzel off the cliffs of insanity in the first place, I guess.)

So I loved watching Harley in this movie.  Margot Robbie was perfect. She remains the bold, sexual woman we’ve come to love, and has an interesting relationship to the men around her. I know there are people complaining about Harley as a sex object, but I think that’s unfair for a woman as unhinged and unrepressed as this version of Harley Quinn. Liberated from her coldness by The Joker, this is a woman who chooses to pole dance in his night club, to wear tight shorts, and tease everyone around her with her wild sexuality.

      Feminism and Race

The other two women in the squad have a lot to be desired. The real problem here is not in the amount of female characters or what they do, so much as a lack of who they are.  This is the same problem I had with Killer Croc and Diablo, where I just didn’t get the time I wanted.

As a result of this rush, Suicide Squad didn’t easily pass the Bechtel test. Amanda Waller does command Enchantress and reply to a sarcastic comment from Harley Quinn, and Harley does response to Enchantress’s demand for servitude, but there’s no real conversation between two women.

Though, sadly, there are opportunities. There are moments when Katana and Harley could sympathize with each other, though of course they would start by talking about their men.  Honestly, I just wanted Katana to talk to someone, damn it.

Katana is oddly silent, speaking only a handful of words in English, allowing others to tell her story about her dead husband and his soul trapped in the sword.  She changes sides inexplicably without every connecting with any character in the squad, though she was an apparent good guy at the beginning hired to keep them in check (how a vigilante assassin killing random Japanese gangsters with a katana gets to be on the good side is a question I won’t ask… except I just did.)

More disheartening to me was June Moone. When they introduced June as an archeologist, I was happy that they had taken her from her unimpressive origins (she’s visiting a castle of all places and stumbles across the source of her power) into one where she at least has a profession and some intellect.  That’s the last time I was happy with her. She is another oddly silent female character.  She hardly speaks to her lover, Flagg, and never speaks to her boss.  It’s only as Enchantress that she is able to find her voice.  This was a travesty because there was a lot of emotional weight on reuniting her with Flagg and it was difficult to connect with because we never saw them in conversation.

There’s also this weird thing happening where Enchantress is dark and animalistic and that primitive skin gets peeled back to reveal the white-skinned, blonde beauty.  It was such a great visual, though… I’ll let someone else debate the implications of that.

Suicide Squad brought up really interesting racial stuff.  All the superheroes in this world are white and many of the villains are black.  While this made for an excellently diverse cast, I wonder if the creators were trying to say something about race. In departing from the original all-white Suicide Squad and updating these anti-heroes to our modern sensibilities, the film shows us a group of Hispanics and Blacks working alongside but in conflict with the predominantly White law and order. While the army units fall apart or are overwhelmed, the gangster loyalty wins out. It was less about honor among thieves and more about remaining loyal to the criminal family that embraced these outcasts.

Without ever falling into the redemption trap (none of these villains wanted to become a hero or go straight), Suicide Squad has some really great moments with villains who are exiled from society (Killer Croc, literally because of his skin, which he calls ‘beautiful’ in a very powerful moment), who feel remorse for the violence they live with (Diablo never asks for forgiveness but never glories in his wrongs), and who are misjudged by others (Deadshot in particular is talked down to in an attempt to demoralize him before he steps into the leadership role).

 

My end thoughts on Suicide Squad are that it works as an action superhero film.  It would be perfectly acceptable, except that Marvel still exists.

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