As much as I love jumping on the DC movie bandwagon of hate (hatewagon?) every time they release a new trainwreck, I need to just come out and say I liked Suicide Squad. Let me be clear: this is not a good film, nor is it one I would ever watch again – though, if I could get my hands on the original Ayer cut, I would not hesitate to give it another go. It’s a patchwork of trailers devoid of character motivations or plot, an editing disaster set to completely inappropriate music, including one cringeworthy scene set to a song that was already used to far better effect in Guardians of the Galaxy (fun tip: if you’re trying to mirror the film success of a competing property, don’t steal a song from one of its most famous scenes unless you know your scene is better). Still, I had fun and enjoyed my time in the theater.
I’d seen BvS:DoJ-UE;LOL/ODB before I watched Suicide Squad; I didn’t update my previous review because, unfortunately, my original comments stand. But after that disaster, I think people wanted to hate this one. It’s a shame the film gave them so much material to work with. If this was a silly one-off, unconnected to the DC Murderverse’s attempts to catch up with Marvel’s colossal empire, I don’t think anyone would have cared this much. So instead of fanning the flames of this garbage fire, I want to talk about a by-product of the film and my suspicions about the rumored re-edit. Specifically, what happened with Jared Leto’s Joker.
I’m not a comics purist. Movies are a wholly different medium, and different stories need different things to survive. Source material should provide inspiration, rather than be construed as gospel. For example, I’m not automatically against the idea of Batman killing people, if it’s justified in the plot and a logical outgrowth of the character’s development during the course of the story. But without that grounding, to suddenly see him dragging a car full of corpses which he then flings into another car full of soon-to-be corpses is jarring and offputting. And the same goes for the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn. In the past, it’s been depicted as a tale of madness inflicted through alternating seduction and abuse. Again, I’m not automatically against a new take on it, but it needs to be earned and properly set up. Instead, Suicide Squad presents it as a twisted love story and attempts to camouflage the Joker’s underlying cruelty, which is not just jarring, but disingenuous.
Let’s back up a second and start with a simple question: Does the Joker come off as the romantic type? A monogamous, one-woman kind of guy who’s just looking for that special lady to settle down with? At all? Even before Leto’s performance, have past portrayals of the character or any of the PR build-up to the film ever led you to believe that the Joker ends his days resting his weary head on Harley’s chest, whispering that she completes him? I’m going to take a huge leap here and assume your answer is an emphatic no. Their relationship is destructive and disturbing. Harley is a toy, an experiment, just something else to hurt in a new way. It’s clear even if you limit your knowledge of the Joker to the information in Suicide Squad alone: things like empathy, romanticism, or consideration are not in his vocabulary. He is evil, vile, the scum of the earth. He is everything a villain strives to be and can never truly match in terms of dedication to the destruction.
And I can’t think of a more unappealing relationship for test screening audiences.
Maybe it’s in my head and just wild theories fueled by previous knowledge of the source material, but it’s almost as if someone carefully excised every scene in which the Joker shows his true colors, and then re-edited what was left to look like “Twisted Love”. Look at the coverage of the recut: everyone confirms that the Joker’s scenes were extensively cut. Why do that to such a popular character, during reshoots no less, unless he was what made the film so off-putting to begin with? In one scene, the Joker stages an aerial rescue for Harley, but an explosion knocks her from the helicopter. Once safe, she reacts by angrily throwing away a piece of jewelry he gave her. Not really a logical progression. But what if the scene originally showed the Joker pushing his girlfriend? Wouldn’t Harley’s behavior make a lot more sense?
The thing is, the Joker is a reminder of what evil really is and what it can do. And Suicide Squad didn’t want to show that. Any villainy the “heroes” are guilty of is portrayed as sympathetic and endearing. Deadshot is presented as a sharpshooting assassin, but also a loving father. El Diablo is presented as a well-intentioned family man who tragically lost control of his powers, rather than the monster who burned his wife and children alive. Even Harley’s role in killing Robin is a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment. But there’s no way to sidestep the fact that the Joker is an unrelenting, chaotic force of evil, and to have one of our “heroes” succumb to him would feel too sadistic and heartbreaking to bear. Especially given the unexpected character moment in which we see what Harley truly longs for: a normal life as a wife and mother.
There’s this line Harley has in near the end of the movie that I think WB and DC should adhere to moving forward: “Own that shit.” You are who you are. Embrace it. Don’t “boardroom” these movies to death. Suicide Squad was about villains who put the human in meta-human. Humans stumble and fall and do horrible things. But what makes the Squad heroic is who they are in contrast to truly evil characters like the Joker and Enchantress. They are people trying to do better in spite of their flaws and bad impulses. So don’t remind me through dialog that they’re bad guys. Show me that they are, and then show me what they’re doing (if anything) to change that. Let me breathe with them and learn that beneath the ugliness, there is something worthwhile. That’s what will make them heroes. That’s what this film could have been, and what we missed out on.
Or maybe I’m wrong, and the material got cut because it was no good. Who knows?
… One last thing. I’m done, but I wanted to throw this out there:
I had one thing I wanted this film to do. While the Squad prowled the city, I wanted to see one of the Gothamites look into the shadows for a few extra seconds, or look up to see if anything’s about to swoop down on them. I wanted to feel Batman’s presence, even when he wasn’t there. I wanted to feel the fear that all these rogues should feel after having already tangled with him and lost. In spite of Batfleck’s cameo, it’s actually surprising how absent he was.