Friday, December 9, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Scenes 14-16

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Suicide Squad, the scenes where Griggs meets the Joker, Enchantress finds her brother, and Incubus comes to life in the subway station.

  • Griggs in a vulnerable position for a change
  • The Joker in the kitchen
  • Washington Monument
  • Flag and Enchantress's relationship
  • Enchantress and Incubus
  • The pacing and execution of Enchantress's motivation
  • Incubus in the subway and gods in the novelization
  • Reacting to the Honest Trailer for Suicide Squad
Thanks to Alessandra Maniscalco

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club Subreddit

@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 from Warner Brothers studios. Recently, we’ve been focusing on Suicide Squad because of the recent digital release and the upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release on December 13th. I expect pretty solid home media sales for it, just like Man of Steel and BvS have overperformed on the home media end, and Suicide Squad also has a certified platinum soundtrack. So the Justice League Universe continues to be a booming business.

Anyway, in this episode we are going to share some analysis of scenes 14 through 16 of Suicide Squad -- these are the scenes right after Waller has inspected her task force at Belle Reve and after Joker has learned that Harley Quinn is being kept there. The scenes are Griggs at the casino, Enchantress finding her brother’s urn, and then Incubus taking over the man’s body in the Subway station.

So we just left Joker in his knife circle finding out where Harley Quinn is located, and I really like that Joker laugh, by the way. Now scene 14 picks up on that Joker thread and the camera tracks in on some people walking into the casino, the camera movement matching the speed and flow of the camera pulling up above Joker. We see Griggs off duty at a casino and he’s wearing a Tiger t-shirt, which I personally like to think of as a nod to the character Bronze Tiger from the classic Suicide Squad comics. Griggs is having some bad luck at the tables, which seems like a bit of karma after how he treated the inmates. Overall, I think the main character beat for this scene is that we see Griggs in a vulnerable position, which contrasts with how powerful he is and how confident he acts at Belle Reve. Here is is vulnerable as he loses money and asks to ask for more, which he doesn’t get, and he is completely put in his place in a moment when the Joker arrives. Griggs also gets tazed or something like that when he gets pulled away from the table, which is him getting a bit of a taste of his own medicine after he had ordered the shock on Harley.

They take him back to the kitchen and it’s a cool setting with the raw meat and the cleaver. This sets the stage for Joker’s entry. We also have some of Joker’s henchmen referring to how brutal the Joker can be, which also preps us for his entry. One of them says they had to stop Joker from burning down Griggs’ house with his kids in it. This not only shows how dangerous the Joker is, but it’s a connection to the Diablo story that we’ll hear later.

With regard to Ike Barinholtz’s acting as Griggs, they always have actors start at an emotional place that contrasts with where they are about to go. For example, if an actor is going to have to get really sad, they will start the scene or even the shot with them smiling or laughing, so that the sadness really comes through when it shifts. This is good acting technique because if the actor started sad or even neutral, they would have to go really really sad to make the emotion stand out as a change, and that is hard to do and can come across as over-acting because of having to go so far to register a difference. You can see this acting technique all over the place in movies and TV shows, but there’s a good example of it here because Griggs is sitting in the room and is cracking jokes and acting very comfortable and loose with his body language, but then the Joker walks in behind him and as soon as his hand grabs Griggs’ shoulder, it cues the shift. Griggs closes down and gets scared, as he should, with the Joker there. He has heard the warnings from the handlers and has probably also heard lots of rumors and stories about the Joker. For us, the audience, we have already seen a similar situation back with Monster T instead of Griggs and so we know that there is real danger here.

The Joker has a few more of his many quotable lines --- “Blah, blah blah, all of that chit chat’s gonna get you hurt.” I especially like the blah blah’s because Leto’s performance really makes use of the red lips. And then there’s a Joker growl, which is unnerving and because it’s unnerving, maybe it turned off some people to this version of the Joker, but to me it was part of the point that he is unnerving, and it contributed to me not being able to take my eyes off of him in every scene.

Then the Joker silently has Griggs kiss his ring, emphasizing his power over Griggs just as Griggs has power over the Belle Reve inmates. After the kiss, the Joker breaks the tension by letting through his more jokey side and a big Joker smile. He snuggles up to Griggs and gives another quick Joker laugh. The scene ends with him stating, “You’re gonna be my friend.” This isn’t a question -- he has just exerted his power over Griggs and he is telling Griggs that he’s going to help the Joker, which of course we know means that he’s going to help get Harley back. We just don’t know yet how the Joker plans to do that.

This line about friendship, with Joker ordering someone to be his friend, connects to the main topic in Suicide Squad of friendship. We have said before that a theme of this movie is that friendship is more powerful than leverage. In this case, Joker is saying that Griggs will be his friend, but of course this is not true friendship. The Joker is totally using Griggs to get Harley, his pet, back. And he is doing it with subtle and even not-so-subtle threats. So really the Joker is setting himself up on the leverage side of the theme rather than the friendship side, more akin to Waller rather than the Squad, and that’s why ultimately the Joker will fail in his quest… well, he fails until the coda of the film, anyway.

Enchantress goes into Waller’s apartment (31:55)

Then we cut to the next scene, where we get an establishing shot of the Patriot Suites hotel, with a row of American flags out front, and it’s raining, so we know it’s going to be a tense scene. The Washington monument is visible to the left, and it was also featured prominently in Batman v Superman, also with a hotel-based scene featuring male and female lead characters together.

June is sleeping and Flag is awake, looking out the window and chomping on a chicken leg for some reason. Their presence together reminds us about their relationship but I still have to say that I haven’t fully bought into their love at this point… and having a sleeping June, not interacting with Flag, isn’t going to push the relationship forward or show the deep connection. And even when June whispers “Enchantress,” we don’t get to see a warm and loving response out of concern from Flag for June, instead he pulls a gun and moves forward in tactical fashion because it’s already Enchantress there on the bed.

Now, as I’ve said before, I do like this smoky witch design. She displays her powers of being able to project lifelike visions into other people’s minds. In this case, it’s Flag seeing a deceased June on a hospital bed with a tube coming out of her mouth. So here we do get to see some genuine concern and emotion from Flag toward June, but it’s not a good chance for the audience to bond with June’s character. It’s also not real, but I guess it can raise questions for us of whether this is a possible future or just a false vision.

We cut back to the hotel room and Flag is trying to call Waller but Enchantress indicates to him to put down the phone. She then appears in Waller’s room and seems to be going for her heart, but it’s protected. Then she hears something calling to her and she whisks into the side room. I remember in my very first viewing that I didn’t like her little bob and weave move as she appeared inside the room and turned to the side to look at the files. I had no idea at that point that I was going to get a lot more of the bobs and weaves later… oh man. I know what they were probably going for was some sort of other-worldly movement and physicality for the character, and that makes sense because I agree that a witch can’t just walk around and grab things like a normal person, but I just personally don’t like the fluid, sway motion that they ended up going with.

Anyway, the important plot beat here is that she finds the urn containing her brother, which Waller also possessed but which wasn’t locked up as securely as the heart. Now that Enchantress has it, we have the first clear steps taken toward the main threat that will drive the plot of the movie. Structurally speaking, Suicide Squad is abnormal in this respect because Enchantress finding her brother occurs about 33 minutes into the movie, and normally the big initial thrust for the threat or conflict of a movie has happened already by about the 12 to 15 minute mark. So Suicide Squad delayed that kick-off of the threat, asking us to wait for it while the first half hour was spent establishing the Squad characters, the Belle Reve setting, Joker and Harley, and of course Amanda Waller and her fatal character flaw. And yes, from a certain point of view, Waller is the true villain of the movie rather than Enchantress, but Enchantress and Incubus are definitely the active threat that drives the main events of the movie.

It may have been a lot of the filmmakers to ask us to wait this long for the thrust of the plot, and this may be one of the reasons that critics’ opinions on the movie started heading South, but I personally don’t mind waiting for the threat to be launched. Unfortunately, what does compound the issue is that, when we do get to the threat, it is established pretty quickly and without much nuance. So that’s what I wish could’ve been a bit better. It actually is a bit better in the novelization, but let’s take a look at the next scene.

Incubus in the Subway (35:00)

After the Enchantress grabs her brother’s urn, we cut immediately to a man on the phone in a Subway bathroom. From the novelization, we know the man is Gerard Davis and he is disgusted by the subway restrooms, but he has to ride the subway while he tries to rise through the ranks at work. We also learn that he has a wife and two kids at home.

The Enchantress appears in the mirror and then grabs Gerard through the mirror and slams his head. I thought this was a really cool shot, and like the scene with Enchantress coming through the hands back in Scene 10, it’s some nice visuals and choreography with the smoky witch.

Enchantress then releases her brother, Incubus, into this human host. I don’t think they ever show him saying “Incubus” to transition… he’s just automatically Incubus and stays that way for the rest of the movie. In the scene, the siblings then have some subtitled dialogue to catch each other up to speed. Enchantress says she has freed him and she says they’re in the same world as before, it’s just much later now. He asks, “What happened?” This question seems to be asking how it is they lost their power and came to be trapped, first in urns and now in human bodies. Enchantress explains that the humans turned against them. Instead of being worshiped as gods, humankind now worships machines. And then to quote the next line from Enchantress, “So I will build a machine that will destroy them all.”

Okay, so this is what I was referring to when I said they motivate the main threat pretty quick and dirty. This one line about building a machine to destroy humanity is basically Enchantress’s whole motivation in a nutshell. I can sort of see how she wants to make this grand, ironic statement of killing them with that which they worship, with that which they have exalted in place of her. You love machines, now watch as a machine kills you. But her reasoning is pretty flawed, because really she is the one that would be killing them, and so why should they go back to worshipping her if she is killing them along with the machines?

But maybe she doesn’t need to have sound logic. Maybe she’s just vengeful and murderous because she’s evil. That’s fine. But I would still say that the filmmaking wasn’t great here to set up the motivation for Enchantress because I don’t think human’s love of machines was really established in the first half hour of the movie. Yes, there are various machines in the first part of the movie -- guns, tablets, earpieces, televisions, and so forth -- but they are not thematically emphasized even though they could’ve been. The thematic emphasis has been on friendship, love and connection between people, and people’s manipulations of one another… not on people’s love of machines. So it just strikes me as a bit of a thematic swing and a miss.

I should say, however, that the novelization sets up Enchantress and Incubus a bit better in the beginning and, on page 91, it gives more dialogue between Enchantress and Incubus here in the bathroom scene. This scene, according to the novelization, which I suspect was based on an earlier version of the script that was longer than the final theatrical version of the film, establishes the state of God in the Justice League Universe. God is real but he has left and is no longer watching out for Earth. So it’s sort of a deistic universe.

That leads to interesting questions about when exactly God left with respect to Atlanteans and Amazons, and at what point did humans turn against the “old gods” and start worshipping machines? It also brings to mind some specific machines, the Motherboxes which come from the “new gods”.  Based on the teaser trailer for Justice League, Motherboxes were introduced to the world during the Middle Ages at the latest. We also might find out some more about these things in the Wonder Woman movie, because her character’s roots in Greek mythology connects to a world of gods that are no longer worshipped.

Anyway, Enchantress finishes her conversation with Incubus by telling him to gather strength and feed on humans until she returns. So that explains his next few scenes. And she then whispers enchantress and returns back to the hotel as June Moon. Flag is still there with his pistol and he keeps it pointed at her until he confirms that it’s really June back. Then he puts the gun aside and they hug. In the extended cut they have some additional lines, but basically Flag just says that Enchantress went somewhere and then June gets her important lines, saying “If you have to choose between her or me, stop her. Promise me you’ll stop her, even if it kills me.” So that’s some pretty obvious foreshadowing, and I appreciate foreshadowing but it’s not quite as subtle as the foreshadowing in, say, Batman v Superman. And the downside of foreshadowing that is too obvious, is it takes away the tension later on when the moment that was foreshadowed finally arrives. In this case, there’s the moment at the very end when Flag is trying to get June back and he’s threatening Enchantress, and because this foreshadowing was so obvious, we know already that he’s going to kill Enchantress, just like June asked. I guess there’s still a bit of a twist, because June ends up still being alive, but the decisive moment for Flag has already been indicated to us by this foreshadowing. At least for me in my viewing experience, the payoff of the foreshadowing was not as effective here in Suicide Squad as it was in BvS when, at the end Superman died. I did not know Superman was going to die until it was actually happening, but then when I looked back I saw quite a bit of foreshadowing for it.

Now, even though, in my opinion, some of these things related to Enchantress are not perfect in Suicide Squad, I do want to say that there are many other elements of the film that I liked, in fact, most of the other elements of the film I liked. So I may seem to have some negativity here, but it’s just because these were a couple of the Enchantress-centric scenes and, to me, Enchantress and her storyline didn’t work as well as I would’ve hoped.

But one thing that I think made sense as a driving force for David Ayer to include Enchantress is because of his idea about having bad versus evil and bad versus evil being more interesting than good versus bad. How did this idea of bad versus evil play out in the film? Well, the most obvious way to see it is that the Squad is composed of bad people, but Enchantress is evil. And Deadshot even says this out loud by the end of the movie -- he calls the Squad the bad guys, but he calls out Enchantress as “evil.” In this scene in the subway bathroom, we see Enchantress’s motivation stated explicitly, and it’s a very simplistic motivation --- to destroy humanity because they have stopped worshipping her. So perhaps we can draw from this the idea that evil is a very simple and inarguable, whereas being “bad” is very complex and involves moral gray areas. Or that evil is something that gods can be, but humans can only really be bad, not evil.

We can think about that a little bit more and see how it plays out, but to wrap up the scene in the subway, we see the now Incubus-possessed Gerard walking in the subway and he chokes and collapses. I give the actor or stuntman some credit for a good, realistic fall --- almost as good as Jor-El’s fall in the beginning of Man of Steel. A police officer and a physician try to help out, but Incubus bursts out and stabs through them. He then grabs and absorbs some other people as he kind of crabwalks and rolls down onto the tracks. This part was pretty effectively filmed in a creepy way, like a horror movie, and I think the music added a nice touch here. Incubus then reaches out and seems to gain some power from the electrified tracks in addition to the people he is absorbing. We see the patterns on his skin and he grows as he stands up and then busts through the oncoming subway train.

Now this has set up a clear job for Waller’s newly approved Task Force X.

End of Episode:

That’s our analysis, and if you don’t yet have the digital copy of Suicide Squad, you can grab it this week on blu-ray or DVD. Just this past week, the people at Screen Junkies released their honest trailer for Suicide Squad. ( I like a lot of the honest trailers and I definitely don’t mind them poking fun at the DC Films. We have to be able to laugh about it, even if it’s something we really enjoy --- and both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad have been some of the most successful movies of the year, so they should be able to take the hits just like anything else.

The honest trailer brings up several main points about the movie that could be viewed as critiques. For example, Flag gives a bit too much direct exposition, the design of the Eyes of the Adversary leaving a bit to be desired, Enchantress’s waviness being awkward, June Moon being a pretty bad archaeologist, the sky beam being a bit cliche, and helicopters taking a few too many hits. I actually agree with those points, even if I don’t think it ruins the movie nor did it prevent me from enjoying it. And with regard to June as an archaeologist, the novelization makes it clearer that she was being drawn to the urn by Enchantress and was given the urge to open it, so she wasn’t thinking clearly as a normal archaeologist would be.

However, there were also some things that I disagreed with. Early on they say that Waller needs her team of bad guys to save the world from one of the members of her team of bad guys, and they say it like this is some silly contradiction in the writing of the film. But I think this is actually one of the main points of the script, not a mistake in the script. It’s totally on purpose that the filmmakers had Waller lose control of the team and then try to cover her own mistake. She was playing with fire but was too overconfident in her leverage to recognize the risks she was exposing herself and others to.

Similarly, they say that Diablo has some amazing powers but won’t use them, as if that’s an oversight or mistake. In fact, that was a conscience decision and was central to Diablo’s character arc, which I thought was a good arc.

I also disagreed with them saying that the Joker was lame or that he could be cut out of the movie. As I’ve said before and will say again, I really liked this interpretation of the Joker and thought it worked with the style of the movie overall. I also think that he was important to the movie as he was the connection and the centerpoint of love for Harley’s character, and Harley was clearly one of the co-leads of the film. Without the Joker, you aren’t able to have Harley’s character arc fit in to the overall themes of the movie.

I also disagreed with their final quip at the end about the satellites. Just because there’s another satellite with a camera on it doesn’t mean that that satellite can replace the capabilities of the satellite that got destroyed.

Anyway, it was funny and I like their parody character cards at the end. Well done to them.

Now, the last thing I want to say here is that I have a quick correction to my Extended Cut reaction, last episode: I had said in that initial reaction that I thought Dr. Quinzel’s therapy treatment had caused the Joker to forget some memories, but Alejandro (@digitalmutation on Twitter) corrected me by pointing out that maybe the treatment is what caused Joker to remember the memories, not forget them. Alejandro also pointed out that the Joker did not want those memories from before he was the Joker, because the memories contradict his vision of himself as purely an idea. I had said that I didn’t like the inclusion of those past memories because it messes up the purity of the Joker, but actually the Joker didn’t want those memories either and that’s why he was so upset about it. So thanks @digitalmutation for helping clarify that new scene.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there Mr. Sam, I was waiting for this Episode and I really enjoyed it! It encouraged me to actually look for and get a copy of the novelization myself.

    However, in an unrelated topic, do you mind if I once again ask you your opinion about something? What do you think of this article?:

    I have read that Arc and both sequels, and while I did liked them, I did felt that such Arcs where hardly memorable, and haven’t thought of re-reading them either. But I thought I would ask you what did you think of such Arc and its impact in the Superman Mythos as well, since I always enjoy to read your thoughts regarding something.