Suicide Squad

On Sunday I saw Suicide Squad at a second run movie theater. Now there’s a lot that I could say about Suicide Squad because I think it’s critical drubbing was both completely understandable and slightly unfair. Its opening act was as incompetent as advertised in every review but its second and third acts were passable, so I think it just pissed critics off at the get-go and then never won them back. That means that their hostility was justified but also a little hyperbolic; the movie wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as embarrassing as it was made out to be. On average it was… “watchable”.

However, I’m bringing this up not because I want to debate the merits of SS as a film but rather because I want to make a tangential point: Suicide Squad is a perfect example of why comic books aren’t taken very seriously as a storytelling medium.

Consider the following scenario: there is a supernatural monster threatening to zombify an entire city. You are a bad-ass in charge of a covert security agency and you have has just been given a blank check to craft a team of your choosing to fight the monster. Who do you pick?

Well, let’s start with a hyper-competent assassin. That makes sense because this is a military exercise.

I can also understand why you would pick a guy who can create huge fireballs on command. The fact that he’s a former gang member who is obviously suffering from PTSD is a little disconcerting but he’s also very powerful and this is a crisis so by all means, hustle him onto your team’s helicopter.

But what’s up with the guy who has crocodile scales? The battle is being fought in an office building, not a swamp, and his chubby hands probably have too much webbing for him to be able to hold a gun effectively. Are you seriously selecting a guy who is maybe good at punching ( - but maybe not because he probably wasn’t trained in martial arts when he was growing up in a fucking Louisiana sewer - ) over other guys who are good with weapons and who were DEFINITELY trained in hand to hand combat? Why? As far as you know your foe can shoot lightning (or phaser bolts or some other bright colored horseshit) out of their fingertips so you should probably give that slot to someone who is good at long range attacks over the guy who just looks sort of cool.

Yeah, these people all look like they belong in the same movie together

Yeah, these people all look like they belong in the same movie together

And what were you thinking vis a vis the psychotic woman who has no powers at all (not even crocodile scales), who uses a baseball bat instead of a gun and who refuses to wear body armor when she goes into battle? And whose presence is going to immediately summon the Joker to the scene, thus instantly making a chaotic situation even more out of control? How could she possibly help your mission in any way? As far as I can tell she’s actively going to undermine your objective at every step given that your goal is “monster stopping” and she's mostly good at “providing PG-13 T&A”.

And I’m not even going to get into Captain Boomerang, who is barely a character and who is also named Captain Fucking Boomerang. (You probably couldn’t guess this but he uses boomerangs when he commits his crimes!)

Look, there are parts of Suicide Squad that are competently done... but those parts are overshadowed by the fact I was consistently unable to get over its basic "fire-dude + crocodile + hot psycho team up" premise. This movie always felt like it was two hundred million dollar version of a kid crafting a “story” about a dinosaur who rides a dump truck into battle against a fifty foot tall Barbie Doll just because he happened to find all three of those toys in his sandbox at the same time.

If you want to know what a good unlikely-crew-has-to-accomplish-an-impossible mission movie looks like go back and rewatch Oceans Eleven, which follows a much more logical (and thus mature) plot structure. It introduces two sympathetic main characters in the begining, then those characters hatch a scheme, then they go about recruiting the people they need to pull off specific parts of their scheme. Then bam, in the third act they execute their plot and everyone except the bad guy goes home happy. That works a lot better than what happens here, where they just rounded up random characters that happened to be available / reasonably cool looking and then threw them against a generic foe with vague apocalyptic powers without having a narrative justification for anything.

I don’t want to oversell my claim here – I know that the format of “words + pictures” is theoretically infinite and I also know that there are well written comic books published all the time. Nonetheless, it’s hard to deny that the comics medium is basically dominated by superhero stories and that superhero stories are almost inherently juvenile. Suicide Squad took more heat than your average meta-human smash-em-up but the truth is that it’s weaknesses are fairly endemic in its genre because comic books emphasize fan service over logical consistency, which means that they regularly end up telling "sandbox stories" instead of actual, you know, stories. I totally understand why a bank robber would hire an acrobat and a hacker to break into a casino’s vault – and even if I didn't Ocean's 11 went to great lengths to show me why he would - but what sane person looks at a guy who is good with arrows, a Norse God and a tank-throwing shape shifter and says "oh yeah, this is a natural combination?" 

These sort of crossover stories never make any sense because there’s never any parity between the characters who are coming from vastly different corners of the world; there's never any sort of consistent limit on just how powerful each superhuman is allowed to be, which makes a fight between the (very human) Batman and the (almost omnipotent) Superman feel lopsided and inherently illogical. The one thing that all of the characters consistently have in common is that they look sort of cool, providing that you're into star spangled soldiers, ripped Australians with hammers and expensive CGI green rage monsters. (Or in this case SWAT team cops, boomerang holding Austrailians, and half-dressed twenty something women.) And that fulfills the image half of the comic book equation reasonably well enough - but alas I'm still waiting for the words part to catch up.

Winner: Draw

Suicide Squad on IMDB