So, I saw Suicide Squad…

Suicide Squad Deadshot & HarleyWhen I proposed the title of Suicide Squad to John Ostrander, neither one of us knew what would happen. For all we knew, DC wouldn’t be interested. Instead, they were and it was rolled into the Legends miniseries so it would spinout, much as The Flash and Justice League would.

And now, look, all three are coming to the big screen. Last night, I was invited to be NPR reporter Neda Ulaby’s guest at the press screening for Suicide Squad. I was to be interviewed afterward for a piece she was doing on the film’s origins.

As a result, I sat in the IMAX theater, popcorn at the ready, with an idiot grin on my face. After all, this was the first, and possibly only time, something I had a direct hand in creating would be made into a movie. By this time, I knew the film heavily took its cues from the first year or so of the series and as the film played, I could see the fingerprints left behind by John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, and Karl Kesel.

Suicide Squad Amanda WallerWhen the final credits rolled, I was utterly delighted with the mid-credits sequence, another nod to John’s groundwork. And there were all the writers and artists who contributed characters seen in the film – led by John and Luke — getting their just due.

The film, as I have stated before, has been marvelously marketed with brilliantly edited trailers and pop tunes that set the mood. It set me and the audience up for a serio-comedic adventure. What we got, instead, was something else entirely, which may be why the film has earned such mixed to negative reviews.

It’s not a horrible film by any stretch of the imagination. It’s also not the great savior of the DC film universe we had hoped for. Director David Ayer delivered, instead, an incredibly uneven action-adventure film that wasn’t sure what it wanted to be when it grew up.

Suicide Squad El DiabloThe sheer immensity of the cast, all of whom needed to be introduced, meant some would be favored over others and maybe the roster needed to be trimmed down. And maybe we didn’t really need flashbacks for all of them with, really, only El Diablo’s (Jay Hernandez) story needed to be told. He reminds us that not everyone in prison is a blackhearted criminal and there are shades of gray — something John wonderfully brought to the original series.

Instead, I would have had the team concept shoved down the Joint Chiefs’ throats by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), collected them, and sent the new team on a Bond-like pre-credits caper allowing us to learn about them by showing, not telling. Then sick them on the major threat.

Waller is cold, calculating, and note perfect although I missed people referring to her as “The Wall”. She manipulated, cajoled, and threatened. Of all the major characters, we learned the least about her background.

Suicide Squad KatanaWaller turns field control of the Squad over to military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who is not necessarily able to keep up with his teammates. Which may be why Waller assigned Katana (Karen Fukuhara) to be his enforcer (in the comics we used Bronze Tiger, but they needed a better male/female ratio). They clearly have worked together before, but later she does something that leaves me scratching my head.

The main focus is on the film’s biggest stars, Will Smith and Margot Robbie. Both are wonderfully cast and make the most with what they’re given. Deadshot’s characterization is definitely a more modern interpretation which works with Smith although I miss the fatalistic Deadshot John wrote. Harley Quinn is the liveliest and most consistently portrayed figure in the story, nearly walking away with the film.

Suicide Squad EnchantressThe film’s Big Bad is actually Waller’s biggest risk: the Enchantress (Cara Delevigne) has gone rogue, resurrected her equally ancient brother, and is out to rule the world through the creation of a “machine”. The Squad is activated to take her down but first they have a rescue mission, which begins showing how muddy the story structure becomes the deeper into the film we go.

Instead of a light-hearted thriller, as Guardians of the Galaxy was (and is too-often mistakenly compared), this one speeds up to be a dangerous action story, slows down to delve into people’s pasts, and then screeches to a stop every now and then. This uneven story structure, editing, and pacing actually makes the 123 minute film feel longer than it actually is.

Delevigne is sinuously creepy as Enchantress and her makeup is a delight. While her character is underwritten, she makes the most of her duality, splitting between freaked out archeologist June Moon and the reincarnation of the 6000+ year old witch.

Suicide Squad BoomerangGiven how little time is spent with Slipknot (Adam Beach), you know he’s there as cannon fodder, just as we did it in the series. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is fairly despicable but so underdeveloped you wonder why he’s in the film (although it uses a fun Flash cameo as his backstory). Honestly, I think they could have excised him or Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to make the cast more manageable and each character more relevant.

Which brings me to Jared Leto’s Joker. Despite a winning interpretation, Leto’s villain does nothing to advance or illuminate the main story and is a distraction. His arc goes nowhere and was, frankly, unnecessary although someone decided if the film had a Harley it needed the Clown Prince of Crime. Maybe he could have been there in flashbacks to explain how the psychiatrist was turned into the acrobatic nut job but he was extraneous and distracting to the film’s core. Similarly, they’re final scene together undercut’s the Squad’s effectiveness (watch it and you’ll see).

Suicide Squad Harley Quinn(A continuity quibble: since Batman (Ben Affleck) has been operating for 20 years and it has been established that the Joker killed Robin, Leto is a little too young to be the Dark Knight’s chaotic counterpart.)

By film’s end, the team has performed well, and the survivors have had time commuted on their sentences but all know they may be summoned back for another mission. We are left wondering if the US Government sees the mission as a success or failure and what Waller’s status is. A loose end in a film filled with odds and ends that together, doesn’t add up to the major wow we had come to want – and expect – from the film.

2 comments

  • Joe Tages

    I was surprised to see them go with the early issues, especially anything involving the Enchantress since that could have looked good on paper but also had the potential to be awfully messed up on the big screen. (It was.) I did like how they mostly stayed true to the series as if someone at Warners had actually read the trades, right down to Boomerbutt’s use and abuse of Slipknot as per the Millennium crossover.

    Regarding Amanda, I would have loved to have seen her portrayed more like John’s version. Modern audiences keep being told that she’s an outright villain and longtime readers understood that this was never meant to be the case. We knew this going back to the Secret Origins issue which spotlighted all the various incarnations of the Squad. (Lord, what a thoughtfully planned out comic you gave us back in the day when editors and their creative teams actually enjoyed working together!) Amanda is the heart and soul of the Squad. Heck, the whole series basically revolves around her as the lead character in a book with a constantly evolving membership core. If anyone deserves a fleshed-out backstory, it is Amanda.

    By comparison, Deadshot became a breakthrough character because he was basically a clean slate, not unlike Wolverine over at Marvel. Not much had been done with Lawton from the time Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers revamped him up to the point that John, Luke, Karl, and yourself got ahold of the guy. Deadshot was cool to me because we knew so little about his past and what made him tick until John’s original miniseries came out in ’88. He was a badass, he had a cool costume, spoke as much as Clint Eastwood, and nobody wanted him to be killed off.

    I wasn’t expecting much from this movie because great comics rarely make the transition to film in a manner that is faithful to the original source material, but at least they tried. I hope they go with the “The Flight of the Firebird” arc for a sequel: It could introduce audiences to Bronze Tiger, Nightshade, and Nemesis, throw in another Batman villain in the form of the Penguin, as well as to help set things up for a movie version of the classic Squad/JLA crossover. Nonetheless, I’m very happy that most everyone involved in the modern Squad creation has gotten to see it reach mainstream status in the shaky realms of modern pop culture.

  • Now see, not having the Joker as a main focus worked for me. I LIKE stories that see how characters glance off each other and go into tangents, the way pool balls ricochet on a table from a single hit. To me, it gave me a feeling that the whole storyline isn’t limited to that movie, that a whole lot more was going on, and would be revealed in the future; that this was important by showing something that would come along later. This guy is a nutcase who is out of control and could really complicate the mission. He worked on a number of levels, and I liked that. I had no problems, really, with the Joker being younger. This felt more like a prequel to me, BEFORE Joker really starts to tangle with Batman. This is the Joker before he grows up, before he turns even darker and nastier. He’s still refining himself here. There hasn’t been enough damage done yet. Uneven? Yes. Disposable characters? Check. A Grade-A film? No, but no loser by a longslide. I don’t read the comics, I don’t know all the details of where the characters are coming from, so for me, the background bits gave me the info I need. The only part that made me restless was the crisis. It’s like, “well, we can’t come up with anything original, so let’s make a dead deity come back to life and wreak havoc.” There are a dozen movies like that, from Raiders to the Mummy to Young Sherlock Holmes…. I’m bored with that storyline. And while it may have been original to the series, as a film point, it’s worn out for me. I’m tired of glowing lightning clouds over a city heralding doom. You’ve been through Superman. You’ve (my sympathies) been through Batman v. Superman – you can bet your $$$ that if I see a glowing flashing cloud, I’m getting out of there NOW. But I really enjoyed the movie, and if I ever had a free minute to spare I’d be sneaking off to see it a second time, and I still haven’t seen Star Trek a second time.

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