(Warning… some spoilers ahead… also, I discuss the abusive relationship between Joker and Harley in the Batman animated series and the comics. Not in much detail, but still…)
So let me be honest up front… I don’t read a lot of comics, but I do prefer DC to Marvel. That said, that’s only for two reasons: Batman and Wonder Woman. I’ve always been a fan of both, and through them I prefer Justice League to the Avengers.
When Marvel and Disney started on their Avengers cinematic universe, I was hoping for DC to do a Justice League cinematic universe. And I wasn’t the only one. Many had hoped that Nolan’s Batman movies would be the start, but he refused to go that route, and honestly, his movies would not have fit in a Justice League universe with fantasy and sci-fi all around, especially as Nolan’s trilogy was more of an exercise in “what would Batman be like in the real world” (even if TDKRises sort of ultimately failed that question).
Then, Man of Steel came out. I was… not impressed. Although I’ve never been the world’s biggest Superman fan, following Justice League through Batman and Wonder Woman makes the other heroes, including Superman, very hard to avoid (though no, I wasn’t trying to, as I like the Justice League in general, as well). Superman is not an easy hero to pull off. Being the first, his over-powered, nearly god-like status made sense back when he was created. But DC has never been able to successfully update him, and when he has been amazing (All Star Superman, for example), they never really understood why he was so amazing, and so would kill it. And, of course, DC and WB gave Zack Snyder (of Sucker Punch infamy… gods that movie was terrible) the reigns over Man of Steel… which means that what we got was a Superman based quite a bit on Dr. Manhattan (which really shouldn’t be that surprising in hindsight). That just didn’t work. It’s not too surprising that critics weren’t fans.
Then we got Batman V Superman. I’ve been promising a spoiler-heavy review of the ultimate cut, but have so far failed to deliver, and I apologize for that. Hopefully I’ll get one up eventually, but suffice it to say, I really did not like the movie… I think largely because what I wanted was something more akin to World’s Finest. But I’ll get to that in my spoiler-heavy review… if I ever get to it.
But now, we have Suicide Squad.
Right off the bat, there was controversy over Harley Quinn, and how she was so heavily sexualized. After seeing the film, I have to side-eye anyone who would disagree with that. Harley was treated almost entirely as eye candy. Esther Zuckerman wrote a wonderful piece at the AV Club about this, and I highly recommend reading it. I’d like to quote something she said in the piece here, as well, to give you a taste:
It was naive to expect more, probably. The costume was one indication, and, despite the fact that I have my fingers and toes crossed for Wonder Woman, Warner Bros.’ DC franchise hasn’t been particularly kind to women. Plus, canon dictates that the relationship between Harley, who first appeared in 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series, and the Joker is laced with abuse. That doesn’t exactly scream “feminism.” But it was frustrating to see Robbie in this position once again, especially seeing how, in interviews, she’s trying to alter the narrative of her career.
However, there is one aspect of Harley’s story in this movie I want to disagree with Esther on:
…and the script refuses to give her any motivation outside wanting to reunite with the Joker (Jared Leto), her psychotic, manipulative boyfriend, who electrocutes her and makes her jump into a vat of acid to prove her love.
That last bit (“makes her jump into a vat of acid to prove her love”) isn’t completely accurate (although the rest of the statement is, but I’ll get to that in a bit). To be completely honest, I was actually slightly pleasantly surprised by how they handled the Joker/Harley relationship. And the whole thing about Harley falling into a vat of acid is part of it. I cringed at the part where they showed the Joker electrocuting Harlene Quinzel, in large part because the abusive nature of the Joker/Harley relationship in both Batman: the Animated Series and the comics always made me uncomfortable. In the Animated series, at least, it was handled about as well as you can expect an abusive relationship to be handled in what was ostensibly a kids’ show, and the sympathy was with Harley for nearly all of it. DC, however, is not known for their forward-thinking, feminist ideals in their comics, which meant that the Joker/Harley relationship could be pretty terrible and tone-deaf in the comics.
I was expecting the more abusive dynamic between the two of them. But instead, in Suicide Squad, their relationship was actually mutual. See, in the animated series and comics, the Joker didn’t care about Harley at all. Honestly, she was an annoyance and distraction to him. But in Suicide Squad, he actually loved her. And as for her transformation… yes Joker electrocuted Harlene, but it was her decision to jump into the vat of acid. She didn’t have to, and there was no indication that the Joker would force her to. She did so of her own free will. So the movie sort of combined her two origins: the animated series one, and the New 52 one. In New 52, for those who don’t know, she never had any agency in her transformation. The Joker forced her into it, as part of his mind games. In Suicide Squad, they took that New 52 origin, but made it Harlene’s choice.
Sadly, that’s where her agency as a character ends. From that point forward, Harley, as Esther points out, only exists as Joker’s girlfriend, and literally nothing else. All she wants is to be reunited with her “Puddin’”. Now, in the trailer showing her throwing away her Puddin’ choker and no longer wearing the jacket, I had hoped that it was because she was finally accepting the fact that the Joker hated her and wanted nothing to do with her. While I did rather like the reason it wasn’t that (Joker actually loved her), I did kind of hate the fact that, instead, it was because she thought he was dead (of course the Joker wasn’t dead! Come on… everyone knows better).
As for Harley’s physical look… she ultimately existed purely as eye candy. Now, I work at a mall, and I’ve talked to a bunch of women about her, and many of them absolutely loved her… especially her look. Some were already gathering the stuff they’d need to cosplay her. But even they admitted, after seeing the film, that she was sexualized to an uncomfortable point. One of them even told me “if this had been rated R, we’d have seen her naked… a lot… for no reason” (I got similar comments about Enchantress, but I’ll get to that later).
The Joker himself really could have been awesome. I’m one who actually loves the transformation of his look. I love the tattoos (yes, even the “damaged” one), and I really enjoy the sort of “mob boss” image he was given. It was markedly different while still honoring his past.
The problem, ultimately, is that the Joker just wasn’t in the movie. I really believed that he would be the “Big Bad”, not least because the trailers focused so heavily on him. But he was a bit player at best, and honestly, wasn’t even a villain in any sense here. In fact, you could almost call him a hero in this movie! I’m hoping the Batman solo film really showcases Jared Leto’s Joker to his full potential. Sadly, that’s really all I can say about him.
As for Will Smith’s Deadshot… I did like the character a lot, but he was basically Will Smith playing Will Smith. Luckily, it largely worked here, but still… this Deadshot’s real name was basically Will Smith.
Of course, there’s the rest of the squad, but there’s not much to say about them. Of the Squad members, Harley and Deadshot were basically the two main characters. It was ultimately their movie, with the rest being just the supporting cast. I did like Diablo, though his character was rushed and we had nothing about it. Captain Boomerang was shown being captured by The Flash, which was actually a cool little scene.
As for Batman’s part in the film, it was in flashbacks capturing Harley Quinn and Deadshot. Then Bruce Wayne shows up talking to Amanda Waller in a mid-credits scene.
Of the women, Amanda Waller was actually handled well. I’ve actually always liked Amanda Waller, and especially her respectfully antagonistic relationship with Batman. She was played so amazingly well by Viola Davis. She was surprising and cool and… to a point… evil. She was ultimately the bad person doing the right thing the worst way (which, by rights, should have been the distinction of the Squad itself). She was definitely abusive to the Squad, which makes sense if you know the backstory of each member of the Squad from the comics (which you really needed for the movie). Of course, she was ultimately damseled, which took some of the edge off, and not in a good way. And it doesn’t help that it was the Enchantress that damseled her…
For me, she was the movie’s biggest mistake. I’m not going to say that Enchantress wasn’t sexualized in the comics, because duh… this is DC we’re talking about, here. Even their feminist superhero, Wonder Woman, wears essentially a one-piece bathing suit (or at least did when she was first introduced). However, Enchantress usually wore outfits that were full body and didn’t show off all that much.
Her depiction is, in my opinion, actually a worse offender than Harley’s depiction on this front. If Harley was sexualized, Enchantress was all but porn. From her initial outfit to her final outfit, it was honestly annoying. Sure, Cara Delevingne is a very beautiful woman, but this movie was PG-13. It was Enchantress that really pushed that envelope. And don’t get me started on her damn dance in front of… whatever that whirling magic tornado… “weapon”… was. And yes, I realize that Enchantress is the spirit of a succubus. But even succubi can be depicted better than that.
The depiction of June Moone (the woman Enchantress possessed), while not overtly sexualize in the same way, wasn’t much better, sadly. June was basically just a damsel in distress who was only-just-not-fridged to service the story of Rick Flagg (happily, she ultimately lives, but still). That he was sort of expected to fall in love with her makes sense to a point, I guess, in service of the story (was this a thing in the comics? I honestly don’t know… wouldn’t make me like it better, though), but the whole thing was just… ugh…
And as the main villain, Enchantress was… weak. Her being the motivation to put the squad together itself was just plain weak. This was supposed to be a movie about villains being heroes, so I expected them to actually do something heroes wouldn’t or couldn’t do. Instead, they go up against a generic big bad that any group of actual heroes could have gone up against. There was nothing about Enchantress that made her a villain only villains could take on.
Overall, the movie itself just went by way too fast. I saw some criticism saying this was basically just a 2-hour long music video. I think it’s more accurate to say that this was a two-hour long stitch-up of various trailers instead of a movie. It really is like Suicide Squad was made as a bunch of trailers stitched together into a movie. Worse, we already know that a bunch of scenes were missing because so much stuff from the trailers was not in the movie. This is shades of Ultimate Edition, which I had hoped DC and WB would have learned from BvS was a bad idea. It was over-stuffed and not long enough to accommodate everything it had in it… which, again, was something I had thought DC and WB would have learned not to do after BvS.
All that said, however, I do diverge from critics somewhat. This was not a deep or intelligent movie. You didn’t have to pay attention to follow it. It was mindless fun and, perhaps in spite of myself, I had fun. I did enjoy the movie for what it was and actually didn’t think it was terrible. It was certainly better than Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. And I’m actually looking forward to seeing it again, unlike BvS. Despite all the problems I had with Suicide Squad, I did enjoy it for what it was. It was also funny, and I did think the humor worked just fine and fit, rather than being forced and out of place.
But the movie was, overall, mediocre. Better than MoS and BvS, but that’s about the lowest you can set the bar.
I’m a bit scared, though.
Because of the amount of pressure that’s now on Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman can’t just not fail, now… it has to be on the scale of Oscar-worthy. Wonder Woman now has to be a game changer, because now it has the added task of actually bringing back viewers who, at this point, have probably lost all interest in any DC cinematic universe. That upsets me, because I love Wonder Woman, and she deserves her own feature-length, live-action film… one that’s amazing. But I’m actually terrified that the pressure on the movie is just too much, and that it’ll fold under the weight.
And that scares me.
If Wonder Woman is a failure, I’m not even sure how Justice League can happen. DC will just have to start over from scratch. And frankly, I really don’t want to see anyone other than Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman right now, I’m rather excited (again, in spite of myself) for Ben Affleck as Batman, and I truly believe that, given the freedom, Henry Cavill could be an absolutely amazing Superman. So no, I don’t want to see a reboot, unless it’s a soft reboot that largely keeps the current cast (we can debate about Lex, though… still think Bryan Cranston would have been an incredible Lex, and I like Jesse Eisenberg). Or maybe they could just scrap the idea of a DC-based cinematic universe all together, but that would suck, because there really should be one.
DC’s and WB’s biggest mistake (I mean, aside from letting Zack Snyder preside over this universe… though with his leaving after Justice League, that mistake will, thankfully, be rectified and, hopefully, not replaced with another one) is that they’re rushing. They’re trying to catch up to Marvel and Disney, while skipping everything that makes Marvel’s cinematic universe work, especially the world building. Why DC and WB didn’t just start earlier I’ll never understand, and I don’t quite understand many of the creative choices (like an older Batman, for example), either.
Basically… MoS and BvS were strikes. Even though I did like Suicide Squad overall, it was a third strike. Technically, it’s 3 strikes and you’re out. Which means Wonder Woman now has more pressure on it than any movie ever should.
So thanks DC and WB, for not getting why Marvel and Disney have been successful, and rushing all for the sake of money. I can’t even trust that they’ve learned from their mistakes here, since BvS proved that they clearly didn’t listen to, or understand, the criticisms of MoS. I’ll see Wonder Woman, of course, but whether or not I see Justice League depends entirely on how Wonder Woman does, now. If it’s a failure, then I’m giving up on any possibility of a DC cinematic universe… or at least this one.
And Hollywood, please do me a favor… just let Zack Snyder go (note: I’m aware that he didn’t direct Suicide Squad; but he was the producer, and he is still the head of the universe Suicide Squad exists in). He’s not the amazeballs director you seem insistent on selling him as. He’s mediocre at best, a misogynistic (see: Sucker Punch) hack at worst. Why he’s a player in Hollywood at all makes no sense to me; he doesn’t deserve it. Force him (and Michael Bay, for that matter) to find a different line of work.
Thanks to brucegee1962 for putting this link in the comments. It’s an article on /Film listing the scenes that were probably/definitely cut. I’ll list them here:
- “In early cuts, the movie’s opening detailed June Moon’s possession by Enchantress in a real tome. Reshoots reshuffled the scene to be later in the movie in flashback form in favor of a new opening centered on Deadshot.”
- “Deadshot in the prison cell, watching the rain fall and thinking about his daughter.”
- “El Diablo observing the flame of a lit match, before putting it out due to his vow to no longer use his powers.”
- “El Diablo being escorted to a training center by being placed in a tube that fills with water to quell his flames, and then unceremoniously dropped onto the ground.”
- “Early interviews showed Captain Boomerang’s racism and sexism, but the movie is light on examples of such behaviour, which have apparently been deleted. Most of them were reportedly directed at Katana, to whom Boomerang is attracted to.”
- “Early reports indicated more backstory for Killer Croc, revealing that he entire life as a social outcast due to his physical appearance and has convinced himself that he is beautiful in his own way. Croc crossed paths with Batman while working as muscle-for-hire for numerous Gotham’s crime bosses, while secretly planning to take over one day. There were also scenes displaying his affinity for making sculptures out of discarded materials. Aside from jokes about Croc viewing himself as ‘beautiful,’ one of these were retained in the final cut.”
- “Also deleted was a scene where he becomes sick at the helicopter escort to Midway City, throws up half-digested pieces of goat, and then eats them again, disgusting the nearby Navy Seals.”
- “Early cuts reportedly included a passing reference to Slipknot being serial-rapist, likely to further paint him as unsympathetic to the audience ahead of his own death.”
- “More scenes of Rick Flag and June Moon’s romantic relationship, including him, reading the files of the Suicide Squad recruits after Waller delivers them to him.”
- “Another scene where Flag and Moon are out on a date.”
- “Extended scene of Joker interrogating Captain Griggs, including the line, “I can’t wait to show you my toys,” which was in every trailer, but was removed from the movie.”
- “Joker and his men escaping after shooting up a restaurant. Harley, who is already affiliated with the Joker, follows them on a motorcycle and intercepts their car. Joker bangs his head against the glass in frustration.”
- “Joker and Harley then get into a fight, which ends with Harley pointing a gun at Joker’s face. Joker sweet-talks Harley into lowering the gun, charming her, then backhands her across the face. Afterwards, he sweet-talks her again, and they kiss.”
- “Extended Ace Chemicals scene where Harley jumps into the chemicals. More bits of dialogue from Joker.”
- “Extended Batmobile chase scene with more interaction between Joker and Harley. One of the examples, presented in all the trailers, is the Joker punching the roof of his car.”
- “Harley using her baseball bat as a mock gun to play shoot at invisible foes.”
- “Extended scene of Joker breaking into the nano-bomb manufacture facility to arrange for Harley’s neck-bomb to be disabled.”
- “More interactions between Harley and Boomerang. Early cuts apparently included her really disliking him despite growing affectionate to all the other members of the squad.”
- “Extended bar scene with Harley taking everyone’s orders. Deadshot calls for a shot, Katana wants whiskey, Croc and Boomerang settle for beer, Harley asks Diablo wants, and he prefers water which she jokes, “is a good idea.” The scene was featured in the trailers, but in the movie it cuts directly to Deadshot’s speech about them all almost pulling the mission off.”
- “Removed several scenes with the Joker to repaint his relationship with Harley as more loving rather than abusive.”
- “Joker and Harley get into an argument after he rescues her in the hijacked helicopter. In early cuts he reportedly pushes her out to kill her, then the helicopter gets shot down. This was apparently reworked into the helicopter getting shot down first and Joker pushing her out to save her.”
- “Joker returns during the final battle in the subway station, face half-burnt from the helicopter crash, which apparently leads to a brief altercation with the Squad. He calls for Harley to escape with him but she refuses for once in order to help her friends, and the Joker escapes after throwing a live grenade at the group to cover his own escape.”
So it turns out that the Harley/Joker relationship that I liked was a result of editing… had they kept all of the Harley/Joker scenes, the relationship would have been a lot more like their “canon” relationship… abusive. But it also appears that, as in Batman: the Animated Series, the sympathy would have been with Harley. As I mentioned… their relationship always made me uncomfortable, in the same way that I just can’t watch a film or TV show that actually shows rape (I could never put my finger on why until Mad Max: Fury Road came out, which proved that you can build a story that has rape in the background, and you don’t have to show even a hint of it at all and still have an amazing story). But I don’t know if I’m glad these scenes were cut and their relationship was re-edited, because, honestly, I do think that background would have gone a long way to making a better movie.
In fact, a lot of these scenes would have gone a long way to making a better movie. Hopefully, Ayer relents and either releases all the deleted scenes or releases a “director’s cut”. Clearly, this is (yet again) WB’s fault for meddling. I absolutely understand their panic after Batman V Superman, but maybe they should have trusted Ayer more than they trusted Snyder…
Hopefully they will trust Patty Jenkins and not hack the Wonder Woman movie all to hell…