Posted by : Unknown Thursday, 11 August 2016

Thoughts on Suicide Squad. I have them. I wish I didn't. I wish I'd had more to drink at the restaurant where I'd gathered with my Ladies Comic Book Night posse to eat drink and be merry prior to invading the movie theatre. But I didn't. And so, instead of appreciating this movie as the fun romp it was intended to be, I continue to discuss where it failed. Where comic book movies in general fail.

Not shown: Slipknot in his red shirt
There are the obvious technical problems, which were to be expected from the moment we started hearing about elements of the film being re-edited and re-shot in response to internet reaction to trailers and rumours and "leaked" footage. Or, as Felix Biederman describes it at The Concourse:
"I suspect the disjointed nature of this movie owes to the fact that it is two separate stories director David Ayer is doing a very half-assed job of trying to present as one. The first is a romance between the Joker and Harley Quinn. This element seems like the result of Jared Leto wanting to make a music video about how badass the Joker is, and Warner Brothers deciding they should build a movie around it using another film they were already shooting, a divorce and morality tale surrounding Will Smith, who must fight powerful monsters with his friends."
I'm so tired of hearing about movies getting this kind of treatment that ultimately results in a disjointed mess hitting our screens. Hate on Josh Trank all you want for his rant about the Fantastic Four he wanted to make versus the movie we got, but that's yet another example of people who don't know sticking their fingers in the soup to tell us what we ought to know and what we should want, without actually understanding any of it. And with more and more superhero comics being plundered by ignorant executives who are only interested in money, things are not going to get better. Not that I expect to see everything from the comics translated to the big screen exactly as they are. That's crazy talk. But I do expect bringing the essence of those characters and stories to be the priority instead of seeing how much shit can be crammed in to sell merchandise and bust box office records.

I'm na├»ve. Idealistic. I know. Truth is, dressed in my Harley corset and pigtails, I just wanted to see my Harley Quinn up there on the big screen. That's not quite what I got. Not that Margot Robbie was a bad Harley. I loved her. She did a fun job with what she had to work with. But what she had to work with was severely lacking. To be fair, the comics haven't been doing so great a job of dealing with Harley either lately. Her life since her introduction has had many ups and downs. While her sales figures indicate that she's very, very up, I still have ... concerns. Namely, the fact that the Harley that continues to be pushed in our faces is the objectified tits and ass first ditzy version. I have no issue with Harley being sexy or playing dumb. I do have issue when it's the writer and artist's constant go to weapon for a character whose arsenal holds far more than that. Sometimes in the Suicide Squad comics, we get to see the impish Harley, the devious planner, the violent psychopath, the fun-loving friend, and yes, the sexy ditz. It's clear in these pages that she uses any and all of these weapons to control the situation as she sees fit. Because ultimately, she is a brilliant psychiatrist who can analyze her opponents on that level--and can analyze herself and her own issues as well.

But the movie only gives us a limited, two-dimensional focus, all framed within a Joker story. Frankly, I could have done with far less Joker. Establish her origins in terms of how he affected her, sure, but there was no need to bind her to him right up to the finale. The film had a responsibility to show that her relationship with the Joker is an extremely unhealthy one, but it didn't do a good enough job. I understand that the leaked footage of Joker hitting Dr. Quinzel resulted in backlash--which I can agree with--but I am not a big fan of what we got instead in terms of the doctor patient relationship where we see a Dr. Quinzel that has already succumbed to the Joker's charms for no discernible reason, instead of one that showed no transition at all.
Suicide Squad Volume 1: Kicked in the Teeth (2012)
Batman: Mad Love (1994)
But Joker's abuse of Harley has always gone far deeper than physical violence. I like that the film also gave us a Joker that at least regretted not having her around because he needed her (for what?*), but that is dangerous ground for a society that romanticizes unhealthy relationships (50 Shades of Gray), promotes rape fantasies to young (female) audiences (Court of Thorn and Roses), and believes that The Hunger Games had a happy ending just because Katniss got married. This kind of harmful thinking needs to be rooted out, not perpetuated.

What the movie is missing is a Harley -- a Dr. Harleen Quinzel who clearly recognizes that she is in a bad relationship, even as she keeps pining for her abuser. I thought I was going to get that moment on the stairs where she asks Deadshot if he's ever been in love. It was the perfect opportunity to give us this--
Injustice: Gods Among Us Volume 1 (2013)
--even as she continues with her plans to return to her Puddin's waiting arms.

There's a reason why Harley is a popular and divisive character--even before this movie. Many reasons. She is extremely relatable in many ways--particularly relating to her status as an abuse victim. Some might hate her as the victim who keeps going back, because it's very difficult for some to empathize with such a situation--or because it's very ease to hate oneself for doing the very same thing.
Gotham City Sirens Vol.1: Union (2009)
Some might love her because she's the victim who can and finally does fight back.
Harley Quinn #25 (2016)
Harley's story is inextricably linked to the Joker but she doesn't need to be defined by it as she is in the Suicide Squad movie. I know. It's been done before in Birds of Prey:

You can have a Harley that is sexy/uses sex, is a brilliant and powerful crime lord in her own right, and is unpredictable and not to be underestimated--unless she tricks you into doing so because she uses her brain as much as her gymnastic brawl to kick serious ass--even if she does still harbour that unhealthy obsession with the Joker.

Speaking of the Joker. I really need Jared Leto to sit the fuck down. He is not allowed in the Joker Club. Please revoke his membership.

Okay okay. Aside from the alleged craziness that happened during filming, Leto's Joker showed potential, but that was overshadowed by what appeared to be a too obvious need to eclipse Heath Ledger. I got glimpses of Brian Azzarello's Joker that I really liked. “I’m not crazy anymore, just mad,” says that Joker as he reclaims his territory from rival gangs. Azzarello's Joker is still a psychopath, but he is, perhaps, a more mature one. A more subdued one. Perhaps not the kind of Joker a mainstream audience can understand though because Hollywood thinks movie audiences -- particularly summer movie audiences -- are stupid. *But it's a Joker that would have brought something new and interesting, not just to the character, but to the relationship between him and Harley that they seemed to be trying to convey in Suicide Squad. In Joker, Harley never speaks, but her importance to the Joker is clear, going well beyond ditzy play thing and victim. She is a partner that understands; the only person to whom he can reveal weakness.
Joker (2008)
It's still a sick, twisted relationship, but one with, ironically, more balance. Perhaps this is what the film was trying to give us, what with the alleged deleted scenes lying on the cutting room floor. And perhaps we will still see that relationship, now that Hollywood knows they have a winner with Harley Quinn.

My next beef is with Amanda Waller. I don't know the character that well from the comics, but I know well enough of her to know that her reputation as a badass is well deserved. She's had some questionable live action appearances with tragically wasteful results in the recent past, but there was never any doubt that the indomitable Viola Davis could give us The Wall that will stare down and eat The Bat for breakfast.
As with Margot Robbie and Will Smith, Viola Davis owned her character but was ultimately bound by the stupidity of the script. Consider this simple logic: Waller demanded the creation of a squad of deadly convicts to counter a potential evil meta-human--the next Superman. Then, through her own negligence and arrogance, she facilitates the creation of that very threat. I don't expect Waller to be perfect. I expect her arrogance to cause problems. I expect her contingency plans for her contingency plans to sometimes not work out, forcing her to improvise. What I do not expect, is utter incompetence that involves leaving a deadly artifact on her apartment shelf, trusting in loooove to keep the powerful immortal witch in check. Waller's entire concept of entrusting Enchantress' obedience to Rick Flagg's romance with June Moon would not have impressed Professor Annalise Keating one bit. And then she had to practically beg Bruce Wayne to cover her ass? P L E A S E.

Plus, that weird romance really left Flagg with nothing useful to do except threaten to push a kill switch (that the bad guys could have stolen at any time), which is unfortunate, since the original Flagg competently ran field ops with the team for a long time in the original comics. The ideal solution would have been to dump the Flagg/Moon/Enchantress threesome and let The Wall loose. Because not only is she a badass behind the scenes controlling the situation from a command centre, she can handle herself just fine in the field, too.
Justice League
And finally, Enchantress. What a waste. But since apocalyptic showdowns are the new black for comic book movies, we had to have that big bad Waller feared and subsequently created. Only, that's not what a squad of low level meta-humans (some of whom aren't actually meta-humans) can handle. What's Deadshot's going to do against people who can deflect bullets? How will Boomerang's jocularity save the world? I don't like the Joker's over-presence, but had the movie stayed focused on that, then using a team of psycho-criminals to go after psycho-criminals would have made sense. Instead, they faced the end of the world and Enchantress' had to be dialed back in order for this rag tag team to beat her.
After these major complaints, there are the minor ones involving the poorly used Katana, the suddenly friendship is magic! squad bonding, everything about Slipknot, and the obvious attempt to make Boomerang into a subpar Deadpool-like comic relief, complete with stuffed unicorn. As with so many comic book movies these days, there probably was a good movie (or two) left on the cutting room floor, but we shouldn't have to put our hopes on director's cuts to see them.

I also grow tired of the battle between DC and Marvel that causes much of this issue and feeds into their gross marketing campaigns that pit fans against each other, even as the Big 2 pit their own characters against each other in pointless combat. While I did enjoy Captain America: Civil War, It definitely wasn't the Bucky and Cap adventure it was meant to be because the exec types had to stick their two million cents in there in response to Batman v Superman (which wasn't actually about Batman versus Superman).

Simply put, I love comics. I want to share my comics so that everyone loves comics too. I don't give a shit if you prefer DC while I prefer Marvel. I just want to see my faves treated with the respect they deserve by people who aren't necessarily fans of the characters or even comics (though some appreciation for the source material would be nice), but at least can understand what those characters and stories mean to old fans and what they can mean to new ones.
Still, I remain cautiously optimistic for the future. I can't wait for the long overdue Wonder Woman movie, I love what Jason Momoa's Aquaman potentially represents, and Black Panther killed it in Civil War, paving the way for his solo film to give us even more awesome. And through these new films and shows, diversity is slowly becoming reality, though there's still a ways to go to help the ignorant understand why representation matters.

Anyway, despite all its flaws, Suicide Squad was still a fun movie. I'm aware that my deeper criticisms obviously stem from the fact that I know too much about the source material and therefore expected too much (even though I tried to keep my expectations low, as is the standard practice for comic book movies now). It's a Hollywood summer blockbuster that I shouldn't be picking apart because it's meant to be mindless fun. But I guess that's half the problem--the fact that some people still see comics as low brow trashy reads filled with flashy costumes and ridiculous abilities and boobs. Oh there definitely is that, but there's also so much more in these modern myths.
I'd love it if someone could stick all the ignorant execs who keep trying to tell us what we want in a little tiny room and throw away the key. Then we'll get the comic book movies that we deserve. And you know what? Those movies will probably make just as much money, without the critical mess.


This is my mindspill. Mostly about comics, books, video games, movies of the science fiction and fantasy leanings. Sometimes recipes and parenting stuff will sneak in, along with a real world rant or two.

I also write about geek culture at Women Write About Comics, and I review genre fiction at The BiblioSanctum.




2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Reading Challenge
Wendy has read 9 books toward her goal of 100 books.



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