DCU v DCAU: Why DC’s Animated Films Should Be The Blueprint- Part 2: ‘SUICIDE SQUAD’
With the advent of the “Age of Heroes” in the world of movies and film, this series attempts to explore the benefits that the live-action DCU can reap by looking at the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) for guidance. Not with the intention of making exact replicas of its animated counterparts, but utilizing them as blueprints that contain all the raw material that will allow our favorite heroes and heroines to shine. What did an animated movie achieve? Where did the live-action fall short? Why does it matter? Questions like these are some of which I attempt to explore and discuss. In Part 1, I stated that the DCAU‘s foray into Green Lantern nailed it. In this edition, I will argue how DCEU‘s Suicide Squad could have been something special.
PART 2 – “Suicide Squad Could Have Been Something Special”
Suicide Squad (2016, DCEU) and Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014, DCAU)
When Suicide Squad was announced I was somewhat enthused. The fact that characters like Harley Quinn, Deadshot and a new Joker would be introduced was exciting. But as the character stills for the Joker, Harley Quinn, among the others were released, the anxiety started building. Then Will Smith was cast as Deadshot and I couldn’t help but scratch my head. I was officially concerned. Not because Will Smith was a bad actor in any regard, I just didn’t see him in the role. Then the trailers came out. “Houston, we have a problem!” was my immediate reaction. By then, I started trolling the film. I had convinced myself, like many others, that this movie was going to be terrible and even went as far as to convince my friends of this. That being said, as soon as the movie premiered, I went to see it like any real fan would. Surprise!…I hated it.
Now, flash-forward to 2018. I am writing this series on how the DC animated universe can inform the efforts of the DCEU to develop movies that fans, young and old, can enjoy. I find myself dreading the idea of re-watching Suicide Squad, even if its for research purposes. Not knowing what to expect and with this “Latino Fuego” (trademark El Fanboy) that drives me to be as honest and sincere as I can with my reports, I take the plunge and watch the extended cut of Suicide Squad for the first time. I was expecting torture.
Boy, was I wrong…
Suicide Squad is actually a decent movie…or… at least the extended cut is.
In the last couple years, I have seen myself transitioning from a close-minded dreamer to a passionate fan that understands the need for what we love to evolve, so as to remain interesting and relevant. Part of me still desires carbon, page-to-screen, copies of my favorite heroes; but I have learned to enjoy, admire and awe at new iterations that don’t get lost within poor writing, direction and/or care. In this day and age, it is impossible to grab a story that was written several decades ago and adapt it without needing to make certain adjustments to make it accessible to the audience or just make it work.
The DCEU did certain things right with Suicide Squad and when it did, it shined; but these diamonds are found within a sea of flaws. The extended cut allowed me to enjoy the adaptation as a sincere attempt at a Suicide Squad movie by redeeming the Joker and Harley Quinn within the 11 minutes of additional footage. The reason I share these thoughts before starting our discussion is because I do not want my critiques or observations to be tossed aside as another debbie-downer; but as someone that can see the good, within the bad. No matter how bad. My two-cents on Suicide Squad can be resumed by the following statement: Suicide Squad is a decent comic book movie that suffered from imposed connective tissue, a poor choice of villain and stakes, studio meddling and a misguided use of great characters. That being said, shall we proceed?
Imposed Connective Tissue
Those that know of Task Force X or the Suicide Squad, know that they are a government sanctioned, top-secret, black-ops team composed of imprisoned villains and anti-heroes formed by Argus Director, Amanda Waller (A.K.A The Wall). They are used for missions regarding U.S. national security or as Waller’s personal squad for off-the-books operations. These baddies are coerced by Waller, who implants a nanite explosive directly to the base of their necks and threatens them with this ultimatum: follow orders or die. As a reward, “squad members” get years shaved of their prison sentences. But with many of them serving multiple life sentences, none of them see freedom any time soon; hence their continued participation, willingly or forced, in Waller‘s Suicide Squad.
David Ayer (the director) does a great job in sharing with the audience how this team comes together and what their purpose is; but the selling point used by Waller to put the team together is weak to say the least.She is able to convince the Security Council that she answers to, but it fails to convince the audience or at least me. Waller states that with Superman dead, America (‘Merica!) needs to protect themselves from another Superman/Zod-like threat and her group of baddies is the necessary alternative. The Argus Director is able to convince the council by showing-off her ace, The Enchantress. She could be considered a threat to a Superman-like villain; but not the rest of the Squad by any means. They could be considered a threat to Batman and Robin or the Titans, but Superman would wipe the floor with them. Very easily. This decision doesn’t help us believe in the Squad. It simply serves as connective tissue, just like all the shots that remind us of Superman‘s death. Not that I have an issue with remembering the fall of the Man of Steel, it just does a disservice when you use his death to validate the characters that you are trying to introduce.
Now, let’s not forget the appearance of Batman in those Harley, Joker and Deadshot flashback scenes. Were Joker, Harley and Deadshot in Gotham? Yes. Are these villains part of Batman’s rogues gallery? Yes. Did we need flashbacks with Batman in them? The flashbacks aid the story greatly, but Batman wasn’t necessary. The best flashbacks in this movie don’t even include him. Though Ben Affleck’s Batman is one of the best characters in the DCU right now, to have his performance serve solely as connective tissue is a waste. More on this later. The movie finds the need to prove to the audience, forcefully might I add, that it’s connected to DCU.
You know that they are trying too hard when part of its opening sequences is making sure that we know that Superman and Batman are part of the same world. Instead of it feeling organic, it feels forced. A story shouldn’t exist because you are creating a world; it should instead flow from the world you are creating. You can tell when someone is trying to expand for the sake of expanding, it simply doesn’t work. In the film’s defense, the movie does make a point to state that Waller has been trying to greenlight this task force for years. In my opinion, it would have worked better to form the Squad, regardless of the existence Batman and Superman. It would have been a lot more interesting. I wonder if there is a cut of the movie were the only Batman Easter egg is the post-credit scene cameo at the end. That would have been better. For me at least.
There is a Villain and stakes issue and A Hint of Studio Meddling
Roll Call: Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Rick Flag, Katana, El Diablo and Killer Croc, accompanied by a handful of soldiers and navy SEALS. And what are they up against? An inter-dimensional witch and her hungry Destroyer-looking brother. The witch can also create out of any person around her. But she has a weakness. The Enchantress can be fooled and is punk’d by a mad psychiatrist. The Suicide Squad is an awesome concept and its members are very interesting to say the least, but they are not the Justice League. In other words, you can’t expect them to face a JL-leveled villain and simply win. Now, the issue isn’t just that The Enchantress and Incubus were villains beyond their weight-class, its that they were also magic-based villains.
The Enchantress and Incubus would have worked perfectly as an antagonist for Justice League Dark; but the production team wanted to go the world-ending, fantastical CGI route and it fell on its head. You care more about your heroes (anti-heroes in this case) when they face darker versions of themselves or characters within the same playing field. These are grounded characters and should face grounded threats. Some might argue that El Diablo was a magical match to Incubus and to that I say: “You are absolutely right; but The Enchantress could have easily defeated the Squad at any time. The only reason she didn’t is because the Squad wins in third act, according to the script. El Diablo’s transformation also feels a little Deus-ex for my taste.”
But if we are going to be fair to the story, the Suicide Squad’s mission is not to defeat The Enchantress; but to rescue Amanda Waller. Still, for the mission’s sake (and the movies’s for that matter), they face The Enchantress and win. This would have been a challenge for the Justice League; but the Suicide Squad is sneaky and lands on top in the end. It is possible to write a great story where this is a plausible and great ending. Sadly, this movie wasn’t the case. According to a report by Polygon even the film’s director, David Ayer, shared on Twitter some of his biggest regrets about the film, and mentions that one of them is his choice of villain for the spot of primary antagonist. Ayer goes on to tweet that if he had a “time machine”, he would have chosen The Joker as the movie’s big bad and he would have written a more grounded story.
Those that follow news reports surrounding the development of this film know of many of the challenges that Ayer and his production crew faced during the filming of Suicide Squad. From an impromptu script written in just six weeks, a rushed production, editing conflicts, the studio pressuring its director and his crew to meet a daunting deadline; those were only a few of some of the many obstacles this movie faced. In a article about all this behind-the-scenes drama, The Hollywood Reporter comments of how Ayer struggled to find time to be able to resolve “conflicting ideas”. Some of these being about whether his vision and tone for the film would make the final cut or would it be the studios, which was receiving the best test screenings . We will never know if Ayer, given a decent amount of time during pre-production, would have arrive at the conclusion that he in reality arrived to a bit to late. I would dare to wonder, given all the Justice League drama that unfolded last year if we even saw Ayer’s cut. I guess will never know.
Misguided Use of Certain Characters – A Look at the DCAU’s interpretation
The two films in question are Suicide Squad (DCEU) and Batman: Assault on Arkham (DCAU). Both movies possess seemingly identical traits. DC‘s Suicide Squad and its members are its main focus, with Harley Quinn and Floyd Lawton/DeadShot as the film’s leads. The Batman, Joker and Amanda Waller play a role in the story. They both have picturesque roll calls for each Suicide Squad member. The differences lie in the story and how it manages these characters; because at their core one could argue that they are the same movie. Unlike Green Lantern (discussed in Part 1 of the series), where its live-action counterpart didn’t really show us what a Green Lantern really is, both movies take their time in showing the audience why and the what about the Suicide Squad. They both even use a squad member as a redshirt to show that Waller means business (they both try to escape to have their heads blown off!). Nevertheless, the only adaptation that successfully tells a great Suicide Squad story and utilizes every character at their disposal masterfully is the animated version.
Allow me to reiterate: I enjoyed the extended cut of DCU’s Suicide Squad and the fact that is was able to see a good interpretation of some characters on-screen for the first time. In spite of having issues with it, I still believe that the extended cut of Suicide Squad deserves the attention of every DC fan. The theatrical cut on the other hand should be ignored in my opinion and that is why all comments mentioned from this point on, in regards to the DCEU version of the movie, will be referring solely to the extended cut of the film. Now, let’s talk about the use of these characters since this us where the studio decided to play safe and failed; specially with its bigger characters. Out of all of the characters that receive the most attention, the best performances go to the Joker, Harley Quinn, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot and Amanda Waller. Every other member of the Squad is okay, but doesn’t really shine apart from some one-liners here and there; with the exception of El Diablo. It is obvious that the movie is driven by the star power of its leads (Margot Robbie, Will Smith and Jared Leto); but this focus was misguided when the movie’s center-piece is supposed to be the squad.
The movie uses the squad as an excuse to bring Harley and Deadshot to life and the Joker and Batman to validate them. Sad, but true. DCAU’s Batman: Assault on Arkham allows every character to shine and demonstrate that they have a purpose within the film’s plot. As I mentioned before, these two movies share innumerable similarities; but how they use their characters in favor of the story is not one of them. Deadshot and Harley Quinn are the leads; but each and every member of the squad has a distinguishable role. Captain Boomerang is constantly challenging Deadshot’s leadership and this sheds light to a tension that has existed between these characters in the past and is explored throughout the story. King Shark is the only one that can sneak the necessary gear into Arkham via the sewers. Killer Frost is has a special assignment from Waller. Black Spider creates a diversion and plays into a smart twist. And there’s more. The director also takes advantage of the movie’s locale, Gotham, and explores the criminal underworld as we encounter the likes of The Penguin and Riddler. But, where this adaptation takes it to another level is in how they use The Joker and Batman.
I was happy with Leto’s Joker. In Suicide Squad, we get to see him running his crew, dealing with Harley and fellow criminals; but we don’t really see him doing Jokeresque things. In BAOA, that is exactly what we see the most and it’s awesome. The biggest surprise, though, is the use of Batman. His name might be in the title; but the Bat only plays a supporting role that is very satisfying. Which brings me to my strongest point: if you believe in the characters that you are using or presenting, you don’t shy away from the opportunity of presenting them together with the big boys, but insist that they can hold their own when interacting with them. They don’t use them as a way of validating the newcomers, but as pedestals that allow them to stand out. The Joker and Batman show up, as strokes in a canvas, throughout the story and play a pivotal role in the film’s climax without casting a shadow on our leads. This is my issue with Batman’s cameo in Suicide Squad. It’s only there as connective tissue. Ben Affleck’s Batman is awesome and shouldn’t be wasted as a mere cameo. BAOA gives us a great example of the use of A-list characters in a supporting role that elevate the new players. This is why the animated version is superior in every way to the live-action and should serve as the go-to reference to what a great Suicide Squad movie looks like.
The Final Lap: Trusting in your characters pays off
Suicide Squad was a decent movie. I believe that to be the popular opinion of most fans that have seen both the theatrical and extended cut of the movie. Financially it broke even and it made a profit of almost $ 350 million dollars. Sadly, all the behind-the-scenes drama and certain creative decisions kept it from being the great summer, comic book movie it could have been. Part of the mistake that the DCEU has made is that it plays safe with its source material, specially in regards to B-list characters or lesser known properties. They are willing to explore new interpretations of Batman and Superman; but any other property will stumble. That is why they impose connective tissue and make it a point to use its bigger characters to validate the lesser ones. The regular movie-goer and the hardcore fan in their core share the same desire when they go to the theater: they want to see a movie with a captivating story with characters that that they can relate to. They are looking for a unique experience. In the hands of a capable writer, director and production team, any character and story can work. Look no further that Fox’s Deadpool.
It brings tears to my eyes that out of 7 squad members, only 4 of them really shine. The DCAU showed us in BAOA that they know how to write and direct a story with a good amount of characters without sacrificing the characters themselves or the story. I am hopeful that as the DCEU continues to move forward with its slate of movies, they are able to see what their own animated universe has done right and learn from the mistakes. As they learn how to believe in their characters more, may also enjoy the support and success that the DCAU already enjoys from fans around the world.
If you haven’t seen Suicide Squad, watch the extended cut of the film. It is a good movie. It you desire to watch the best film adaptation of the Suicide Squad, watch Batman: Assault on Arkham. Trust me, it does not disappoint.
What are your thoughts on the extended cut? Did you like Suicide Squad‘s rendition of The Joker and Batman? Am I the only one that has these crazy thoughts? Sound off! Please read, comment and share! I look forward to your thoughts.