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Suicide Squad

Entry updated 20 June 2020. Tagged: Film.

Film (2016). Warner Bros Pictures presents an Atlas Entertainment production in association with Ratpac-Dune Entertainment. Written and directed by David Ayer, based on characters first created by Ross Andru and Robert Kanigher in The Brave and the Bold #25 (September 1959) and later revived by DC Comics in Legends #3 (January 1987) written by John Ostrander and thereafter in 66 monthly issues of Suicide Squad (May 1987-June 1992) and again since in the publisher's "DC Rebirth" of its monthly Comics titles (May 2016). Cast includes Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbale, Adam Beach, Jai Courtney, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Jay Hernandez, Joel Kinnaman, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie and Will Smith. Colour. 123 minutes in its theatrical release.

Military intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Davis) assembles a team of Antiheroes from Villains incarcerated at the Belle Reve Prison in the third instalment of the DC Extended Universe.

"We got lucky when Superman shared our values," says Commander Waller as she assembles her "Task Force X" of metahuman criminals at the beginning of Suicide Squad: "The next Superman may not."

The death of Superman at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – an idea adapted from the DC Comics "The Death and Return of Superman" storyline that began in the wake of the character's (apparent) demise in Superman #75 (January 1993) – was, it would seem, intended to signify a lack of leadership or military capacity on the part of the country the man from Krypton had sworn to protect. "Getting people to act against their own self-interest for the United States is what I do for a living," Waller says when questioned about the advisability of assembling a team of neurologically-atypical criminals with Superpowers. "In a world of flying-men and Monsters this the only way to protect our country."

"I'm a man, okay? I ain't no Weapon," insists Chato Santana, or "El Diablo" as the pyrokinetic Los Angeles gang member is generally known. Assassin-for-hire "Deadshot" (Smith) soon persuades Diablo to employ his napalm-like Psi Powers on behalf of the nation whose system of Crime and Punishment so often informs the themes and character-arcs of its Superhero narratives, from the genesis of Batman in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) to the successful forays into on-demand Television on the part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Daredevil (2015-2018) and Luke Cage (2016-current). One might argue that the entire genre is about turning oneself into the means by which Cities and communities are defended or destroyed, and that by combining the journey of the Hero from Greek Mythology with the trope of the Mysterious Stranger in Le Comte de Monte-Christo (1844-1845 18vols; trans Emma Hardy as The Count of Monte Cristo 1846 3vols) Alexandre Dumas laid the genre's most important cornerstone: the confluence of a secret Identity with a thirst for revenge.

Too many protagonists are striving for too much retribution here: the mélange of montage, flashback and thirty-second bursts from well-known pop songs begins with the opening credit sequence and never lets up. "Wish I had a time machine," said writer and director David Ayer in a post over social media as the mixed response to Suicide Squad came in: "I'd make the Joker the villain and engineer a more grounded story." Ayer's script was rushed through development to meet Warner Bros' production schedule of ten DC films stretching into 2020 according to sources that spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in August 2016, and Warner Bros executives brought in a procession of editors to contrive a lighter tone to Ayers' dark concoction following the negative critical response to the relentless pounding of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).

Among the rounds of who in the Suicide Squad is exploiting/bullying/betraying whom, Waller-recruit "Enchantress" (Delevingne) turns on her military keepers in revenge for humanity's ingratitude for holding her captive – but any member of "Task Force X" might easily have served as the catalyst for Suicide Squad's lurid depiction of psychopathology and one-upmanship. Attempts to humanize the protagonists through their relationships extend only to the lovers and daughters motifs typical of Women in SF; "Harley Quinn" (Robbie) communicates some pathos to her relationship with former patient at Arkham Asylum "The Joker" (Leto) but this is for the most part drowned out by the gunships and fast-cutting mayhem. The shadow of Shichinin no Samurai ["The Seven Samurai"] (1954) by Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) looms large over enterprises such as this, and indeed over any number of War films derived from The Dirty Dozen (1967) [for the theme of the Dirty Dozen see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] – Waller refers to both World War Two and to the possibility of World War Three when justifying her actions to her military superiors – but Kurosawa knew well how to humanize his characters, even when they were the ones doing the killing, and how to counterpoint militaristic fury with beauty or silence. Lesser heroes such as "Slipknot" (Beach), "Killer Croc" (Akinnuoye-Agbale) and "Boomerang" (Courtney) – yes, his power is that he has a boomerang – occupy too much screen time and behave no differently from their peers. Suicide Squad describes a paradigm in which it is always a question of who holds you captive and of how much violence they can persuade you to do on their behalf.

The novelization is Suicide Squad (2016) by Marv Wolfman. The next film in the DC Extended Universe is Wonder Woman (2017), which situates its Immortal superhero in opposition to the warlike impulses of humanity. [MD]


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