Monday, November 14, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Scenes 11-13

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Waller's visit to Belle Reve, Deadshot's shooting range demonstration, Flag's criticisms of Task Force X, and Joker's knife circle.

  • Box office update
  • Harley Quinn to Waller: "Are you the devil?"
  • Killer Croc internalizing his monsterness
  • El Diablo foreshadowing death
  • Deadshot's shooting range and list of demands
  • Flag pitches a team of soldiers instead of the Squad
  • No one believes the Waller stories
  • Joker's knife circle
  • Ayer's choice of roster for the Squad
  • Trade Paperback Giveaway and the Number 23
Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco
Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast
@JLUPodcast on twitter

<Transcript of the episode>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, Alessandro Maniscalco and I share our analysis of the DC Films that make up the Justice League Universe.

Sorry, yet again, for the delay. It’s completely my fault just with work being very busy this semester, and I had a 4-day conference last weekend. But next semester should be back to normal. Anyway, in this episode, we are going to continue our analysis of Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer. And first, we can give an update on its incredible box office performance. Back in February, I made box office predictions for all the comic-book movies this year and I gave what I thought was a very optimistic prediction for Suicide Squad - I said it would pull in $700 Million worldwide. Then in August when I saw the bad reviews coming out, I thought there was no way it would hit $700 Million. But not only did it hit $700 Million, but it is now sitting at more than $745 Million worldwide, $325 Million domestic on a budget of $175 Million. That’s amazing, especially considering it doesn’t even include a China release. And they have also timed things out nicely where the blu-ray and DVD release will happen in December so they should get a big dose of holiday sales, too.

And the digital release of Suicide Squad is happening this week. So our next few episodes are going to be focused on Suicide Squad as we are all able to dig back into it in detail. In our last Suicide Squad episode, we covered the military briefing with Enchantress. And now we will take a look at Waller’s visit to Belle Reve, because she just received the approval to form her task force.

The scene opens with Waller and Flag flying in and Griggs welcomes them, saying “Welcome to Belle Reve, special security barracks.” He pays primary attention to Flag, but Flag tells him that Waller is really the person in charge. This is one of several instances where we see the sexism that Amanda Waller has to face in her line of work, and of course there were probably many more instances of sexism that happened as she was rising to this position of power. This is also a set-up for the scene later when Deadshot lists his demands and is keenly aware of Waller being the one in charge.

Another reason I like this opening interaction is that Griggs actually does start kissing up to her, without missing a beat. Overall I really thought Griggs brought good energy and humor to the Belle Reve scenes and I am wondering if he might be used a bit more in the back half of the movie when we see the extended cut.

Waller gets straight to business and wants to see her Task Force X recruits. She goes first to Harley’s special caged cell. We’ve already been introduced to her and seen some of her interactions in this setting, so that familiarity allows us to focus now on her staredown with Waller. There is a great three-dimensional use of space here as Waller is walking and looking down from the catwalk.

Harley asks, “Are you the devil?” We don’t know if Harley is asking this in jest or in earnest, but Waller answers it pretty seriously. “Maybe.” Waller knows that she has done bad things in the past and will do bad things in the future. Part of her power and the reason she has gotten to her current position is because she has developed comfort with moral gray areas or even immoral acts, but she does them because she has to or because she has convinced herself that it’s necessary. And this willingness to justify and carry out evil might be what makes someone the devil… maybe. Or it could also be because of her position over the members of the Suicide Squad, about to tempt them into morally questionable acts. If Waller is sort of like the devil, then this scene is about the squad members considering making their own deals with the devil.

It’s interesting to note that although Waller has done bad things, she isn’t viewed by the general public as a monster and those in power haven’t locked her in a cage. But throughout the movie, the Squad will come to see the humanity and goodness in each other while Waller’s evil nature is revealed.

Next up is Croc. Flag is there to see him and Croc comes up to the cell door, growling and coming out of the shadows. He says to Flag, “Ain’t you scared?” This confirms Waller’s introduction to Croc, which establishes the beginning of his character arc. He has been treated like a monster and so became a monster, and here with Flag, Croc just assumes that people should be afraid of him as if he is a monster. Yes, Croc looks like a freak, and has done some terrible things in the past, but he hasn’t done anything to Flag personally, yet Croc still expects Flag’s initial reaction to be one of repulsion or fear.

Flag, to his credit, does not show fear or disgust. He just asks Croc, “Why’d they put you down here?” He is actually opening up a little line of communication with Croc and is subtly suggesting that maybe Croc doesn’t deserve to be treated worse than other criminals. Croc responds, “I asked.” So Croc wants the solitude and the sewery environment. He probably hasn’t been able to have much social interaction, so he prefers the solitude. And he has internalized the world’s treatment of him, which is kind of sad when you think about it, but it’s also something that happens a lot in real life --- people treat someone who has committed a crime as a criminal, as if that crime is the thing that now defines them. Or people pick on others for one reason or another, maybe calling them fat, stupid, or ugly, and the really sad part is when those people getting picked on actually start to believe the words of the bullies. This idea applies to a few of the Suicide Squad members, I think, and the story and their mission together gives them a way to break out from this mindset, at least with one another on the squad.

And by the way, I thought the makeup job and the eyelids were really good on Croc in this movie. His growls and voice sounded really good in theaters, too -- I hope they translate okay to home media systems.

Next is El Diablo, and speaking of bullies and insults, Griggs approaches Diablo and calls out, “Esse,” “Hola, amigo,” and “Put that burrito down.” He seems to have completely stereotyped Santana. We get the first of a couple scenes with tablet computers showing footage through a doorway or window, and this time it’s Waller confronting Diablo with his fire attack in prison. Diablo says that it isn’t him, even though it is clearly him on the video. But Diablo clarifies that that guy is gone. “He’s dead.” This is a foreshadowing of Diablo’s ultimate fate at the end of the movie. It also shows that Diablo is rejecting his past, and he is clinging to his human side rather than the demonic powers that are part of himself -- and denying himself and denying his past is something that he’s going to have to get over before the end of the movie. The bar scene will help with that story element quite a bit.

Flag talks to him and tries to entice him by describing his possible freedom, but he misses the mark when he says that maybe Diablo could get out and have a woman. As we learn later, Diablo already had a love and that is exactly what is causing his grief and guilt, so he is not looking to get out to meet a new woman. Diablo declines the offer, because he already knows that Waller and Flag are here to try to use his powers for their own ends. Diablo says he’s a man, not a weapon. This sets up his particular character arc, and we get yet another foreshadowing because he says he’s going to “die in peace before he raises his fist again.” Yes, Diablo is going to die in peace, but ironically, it is through raising his fists that he gains his peace. He gets to save a foster family as a way to redeem himself for killing his real family.

Some people have said that Diablo calling the squad his family wasn’t really earned at the end of the movie. These critics says that they didn’t have a deep family bond yet just through the events of this movie. On one level, I can see where this criticism is coming from. This movie gave us some hints of the bonds forming, but it didn’t fully establish a full family relationship amongst the team… or at least not with Diablo specifically because Deadshot and Harley were the main characters. But on another level, I think it still works for Diablo’s character arc because this is someone with a good heart who has done a few really bad things. He is trying to find a way to redeem himself, and so here’s an opportunity to use his powers to save some people. Are they really like a family to him? No, but do they provide him with a chance to feel like he is redeeming himself? Yes. So he sees that opportunity, and in the intensity of the moment, he perhaps makes a bit more of it than it is, but good for him, I say.

Now, we don’t see Boomerang here but we started this sequence with Harley and so we end it with the other main character, Deadshot. By putting him at the end, we can have an extended scene with him and Flag and Waller. They bring Deadshot in to a shooting range and then take off his handcuffs. I love the comedic timing and performance when Deadshot immediately points the gun at Griggs. This is followed up by the line about clearing his browser history, which got a bif laugh when I saw this opening night -- I’m guessing a lot of people identify with that sentiment. There was also a quick connection back to the first scene with Deadshot, because here Deadshot says, “What’s for dinner?” So we think maybe Deadshot is about to make good on that earlier threat.

This scene also has a nice build up because Griggs first alludes to “what this man can do,” and Flag repeats the idea the Deadshot never misses a shot. piquing our interest about Deadshot’s full capabilities. And then, of course, the main point of the scene is that we get to see the full skill of Deadshot and the fact that he is versatile with several different weapons -- as Doc said on Man of Steel Answers, he is so accurate that it is basically a super power.

After his performance, Deadshot immediately goes into business mode, negotiating for his services. He wants custody of his daughter, he gets a dig in at his ex-wife’s boyfriend, Darnell, and there’s some good chemistry in this scene between Deadshot and Flag, and also some good humor about white-peopling the college grades. At the end, Flag says that Deadshot isn’t in position to make demands, but Deadshot knows that he is in a strong bargaining position, and he puts down Flag, saying, “No, errand boy. I’m talking to your boss,” indicating Waller. He ends with another little bit of sexism, “That’s my price, sweetie.”

Overall, this scene accomplished several things in a short amount of time -- we got some humor, some light action, we got to know Deadshot’s personality as bold, confident, with high levels of awareness, and we saw him start his interactions with Flag that will continue throughout the movie, sizing each other up. We also saw that Deadshot does not seem to be inherently evil -- he doesn’t kill Griggs, for example, or the others around him, which he probably could have, (and Waller actually seemed less concerned about murder than Deadshot was). Also to Deadshot’s credit, he makes demands more for his daughter than for himself. It does seem to be true that he has killed more for business than for any sort of personal pleasure or gratification in it. So that’s still bad, of course, but it’s not evil -- it’s not irredeemable.

Flag Dissents (28:25)

Having met the members of Task Force X a couple times over now, the next scene gives us Rick Flag’s closed-door reaction to the squad. He starts by calling them criminals and psychotic freaks. He says it makes no sense and that he could assemble a much better team of trained soldiers. If you listen to the Man of Steel Answers episode on Suicide Squad, he gives a good explanation of how it’s pretty ridiculous that critics of this movie tried to say that it was an illogical premise to have a squad of criminals because soldiers would be better able to complete any of the Squad’s potential missions. But this critique is silly because they literally bring up and then address this point in the movie itself. Flag takes the same position as these critics and says to Waller’s face that soldiers would be preferable. And this idea was also at play when Waller had to make her pitch to the security council.

The point is not, “Can we get soldiers to do these missions and be better behaved than the Squad?” The point is that Waller recognizes a whole new arena of warfare with meta-humans and she wants to be ahead of the enemy on this front -- and it’s also about tapping into new resources beyond the soldiers that already exist. Getting soldiers to do missions is nothing new, but having soldiers and also having new conscriptions in the form of criminals and especially meta-human criminals is something very new, and it’s something Waller wants to test out.

Waller makes both of these points. She calls it World War 3, alluding to the new frontier of a meta-human arms race, and she says that desperate times call for some unusual team-ups, such as the U.S. military and the mafia in the past.

Flag tries to play hard ball with Waller, saying that he might make a call to some of his friends in authority. But Waller isn’t phased. She reminds Flag that she has June Moon and so she has leverage over Flag. Her rationale for the Squad didn’t win Flag over, and rather than trying to convince him by reason, she just relies on her bread and butter - personal leverage and manipulation. This sets up the times later in the movie when Flag will side with and feel connection more with the Squad than Waller.

Seeing her ruthlessness, Flag says, “They warned me about you. My dumb ass didn’t believe the stories.” Waller waits a beat, and then says, “Nobody does.” Great lines and great deliveries! Again, we are getting some great setup of Waller as an intriguing character and perhaps as the true villain of the movie. We wonder what those stories about Waller are, and we wonder what she’s going to do over the course of this movie and if she will be creating some new stories that people won’t be able to believe either.

Scene 13: Joker’s knife circle (29:20)

The last thing we’ll cover in this episode is a quick scene away from Belle Reve. We see the Joker in mourning over his lost Harley, and Johnny Frost comes in to tell him that people are getting marked as terrorists and sent to Belle Reve in Louisiana. And that’s where Harley is.

Joker says to bring the car around, “We’re going for a drive.” He then lays down in what the filmmakers call the knife circle, although there’s a lot more to it than just knives. The camera pulls up in an amazing visual shot and the music swells with the Joker laugh mixed in. This is definitely one of the memorable images from the movie overall, and definitely of the Joker sub-plot. It is a very efficient way to clue us in to the Joker’s madness and his meticulousness. As I’ve said in our Batman v Superman analysis, every movie needs some really compelling visual images that will stick around forever in people’s memories and be associated with that particular movie. I think the knife circle is one such image for Suicide Squad.

For the knife circle scene, David Ayer said that he went in early to the set that day and dressed the room himself. He personally laid out all of those items, which included the knives, the piano keys, a bunch of laptops open around the outside, and also, creepily, a baby’s onesie. Ayer said that it was a bit crazy and disturbing to make the knife circle and he didn’t want others to have to do it.

End of Episode:

So that’s our analysis for this episode. We are definitely looking forward to the home release and the extra few minutes of footage.

To finish out this episode, we wanted to just say a bit about the composition of the Squad. In the Behind the Scenes book, producer Chuck Roven said Ayer started by selecting the characters he wanted for the movie. He picked and cleared those first before he wrote the full script. So that leads to us thinking about why these particular squad members were the ones Ayer chose. And it also opens the door for critiques or personal preferences, for example, if you think some other squad members would’ve worked better for the film. If you have thoughts on the squad members, please let us know at our Twitter handle -- @JLUPodcast, or by commenting on this episode.

Right now, we’re just going to do a quick rundown of what each character brought to the movie, and so maybe this is what Ayer was thinking when he formed his roster:
  • Deadshot and Harley are clearly the leads. They give a nice male/female balance and yet we don’t have to deal with any cliche sexual tension because Harley is totally into the Joker and Deadshot’s only real love is his daughter. Both are motivated by these loves for people who are not on the Squad, and people they are hoping to eventually be reunited with. They contrast nicely in that Deadshot is a very mentally stable person whereas Harley is a bit psychotic and unpredictable. Deadshot treats violence dispassionately as business, whereas Harley seems to enjoy violence or do it almost like a game. Deadshot brings a nice dynamic to the military side of things because he has superior skills but not the soldier’s official designation of service, and Harley brings a nice contrast to Deadshot and the military both because she dresses and acts in ways that are totally different than military standards would dictate. I’m sure Ayer also went with Harley because of the character’s growing popularity and with Deadshot because he is a pretty common staple to the Squad.
  • Rick Flag was an obvious choice, even though he hasn’t always been on the squad. Prior to DC Rebirth, he was the leader in the classic Ostrander run. I think the interplay between Flag and Deadshot was a central part of Ayer’s original conception and it worked well in the film. I think it also made sense to have a military leader who had to be in the awkward position between Waller and the rest of the Squad, because that allows us as the audience to put ourselves in that middle position and judge Waller’s actions and conscience or lack thereof as compared to the Squad’s. This movie is also incredibly diverse in its character makeup and that seems to have been totally purposeful on the part of Ayer and the studio -- and the diversity, I think everyone can agree now, was a big asset in terms of the film’s success. But with regard to that diversity, Flag is there as the only American white male on the Squad, and him being in the position of power is sort of emblematic of “the man” in the dominant position over women and people of color.
  • Speaking of which, the modern interpretation of El Diablo was a good choice as a Latino character. And he represents a lot of the heart of the team. He brings a very personal and tragic story element, and he also grapples explicitly with not wanting to use his powers for violence, contrasting with Harley and Boomerang, for example, who are pretty willing to be violent. Diablo was also a good choice because he brings a much greater power level than the others, and this was necessary because of the power level of the threat.
  • Killer Croc brings a different kind of heart to the team -- a loveable monster of few words, who is also a cannibal. His silhouette is unique and so he adds bulk and texture to the physical lineup. His water capabilities are also a nice complement to the skills of the rest of the team, and the movie maybe could’ve had the water element of Croc pay off even more, but there was just enough of it to make it worthwhile. Croc also expands the Justice League Universe a bit because he’s the first deformed human to show up, along with Diablo and Enchantress as the first with mystical sorts of powers.
  • Captain Boomerang is obviously included as a solid dose of comic relief, and he also brings a straight-up criminal element to the team. He’s more of a burglar and a backstabber rather than a psychotic murderer, so it brings a nice mix. Boomerang is also a common member of the squad in the comics, so he’s a safe choice, and he also is quite a bit easier and less expensive to bring to life cinematically than others such as Black Manta or Bronze Tiger.
  • Slipknot is thrown in as the red shirt, so to speak. He is there to show that the threat to the squad members is real, and Ayer said that they didn’t want to waste any time trying to trick the audience into thinking he was anything more than this. I think that was a wise decision. And it was good to see a Native American character in the universe, so the one downside here is that it happened to be the Native American who went down first. But even without him, the team was pretty full so I think it was either we get a small dose of Slipknot or we wouldn’t have gotten him at all.
  • Katana is the last member of the Squad proper. She hops in right at the end and brings a bit more diversity as an obvious Asian character and as another woman on the team. She probably has even fewer lines that Croc, but they do work in a nice backstory for her. She adds a nice mix to the moral dimensions of the team because she has done some questionable things in the past but she is not a criminal or a villain like the others. She had a clear motive that is pretty understandable to most of us. She also shows clear loyalty and dedication in her responsibilities, and those are traits that we usually ascribe to heroes rather than villains, so she kind of walks that boundary between the two, probably falling more on the hero side than the villain side overall.
  • Waller, of course, goes without saying that Ayer was going to include her. But we also have, outside of the squad, Enchantress as the primary villain and the Joker as the B-story character. I think both of these were very good choices, but I think the execution of the Enchantress was a little bit off --- the Joker I really liked all the way through from interpretation to execution and everything else. He was necessary to fill in the Harley character, and I liked it that they kept him secondary to Harley rather than overtaking her, which could’ve happened if they weren’t careful because of the stature of the Joker as a character.  I also thought they used the Joker well as a way to throw wrinkles and rising action into the Squad’s primary mission. But as for Enchantress, I think the choice of villain was pretty good because the magical elements made it something obviously beyond the purview of standard military operations, and so it’s a logical chance for Waller to try out her disposable Task Force X, and it also provides a legitimate threat that would challenge even a team of villains and supervillains. Ayer also seemed to be inspired quite a bit by the Nightshade Odyssey storyline, which is in Volume 2 of the Ostrander run on Suicide Squad. That probably gave him the idea of having the Incubus and his sister and to have the sister be connected to June Moon. So that homage to the comics is appreciated, but I’m not sure Cara Delavigne was the best choice for actress and some of the design choices were not quite to my tastes. But more on that in later episodes.

Anyway, that was Ayer’s roster. Again, if you have thoughts on these choices or if you have thoughts on alternatives, let us know.

And one more thing for you guys and gals -- it seemed to me that the number 23 showed up a lot in Suicide Squad -- does it mean anything or am I just imagining things? Maybe with the digital edition coming out, people can help me figure this out. If you have any thoughts on the number 23 whatsoever, even if it’s just to say that you think it’s gibberish, tweet your thoughts to us at @JLUPodcast on twitter and you will be entered to win a free DC trade paperback. Barnes & Noble is doing a buy 2, get 1 free sale on graphic novels right now, so we’re going to take advantage of that deal from Barnes & Noble and give away one or two of them to our listeners.

So thanks for listening, and be sure to check out the Suicide Squadcast and Man of Steel Answers for more DC podcast entertainment.

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