Monday, January 30, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Scenes 17-19

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Suicide Squad, Scene 17 (Activate Task Force X), Scene 18 (Van Criss Labs), and Scene 19 (Enchantress Bolts).

  • Analysis of Academy-Award Nominated Suicide Squad
  • Down-to-Earth Mission or Non-Human Entity?
  • Connections to "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath
  • Neck bomb injections
  • Griggs and Harley set-up (no pay-off)
  • Panda Man and the Van Criss Break-In
  • Parallels between the Joker and the Wall
  • Flag and June not really in love?

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 produced by Warner Brothers studios. In this particular episode, we are going to quickly cover a few scenes in the Academy-Award nominated film Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer with makeup and hairstyling by Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, and Christopher Nelson. Many people are surprised that Suicide Squad got a nomination, and even we as fans of the Justice League Universe have been somewhat critical of aspects of the film, but if you just think about the category of makeup and hairstyling in isolation from other flaws in the movie, I think it actually does make sense as an Oscar nominee. Killer Croc was amazing, and Diablo, Harley, the Joker, and even the smoky-witch version of Enchantress, they were all visually striking and done with lots of care for the backstories of the character. For example, in the Behind the Scenes, they talk a lot about all the thought that went into each tattoo on Diablo, Harley and the Joker. So I don’t know if they’ll win, but I think it’s a well-deserved nomination, and even if you don’t think it’s well deserved, you might as well just be happy for their recognition because it doesn’t harm you at all. Looking ahead to the actual award ceremony at the end of February, they probably won’t win, but remember, they also have a chance at a Grammy on February 12th!

Anyway, in our last Suicide Squad episode we saw Enchantress and Incubus reunited and we saw Incubus building his power in the Subway station. In this episode, we’re going to go through three scenes --- the official activation of Task Force X, the Joker’s break-in at Van Criss labs, and the scene where Flag and Enchantress try to make their original move into Midway City.

In preparation for this episode, I watched the first half hour of the movie again, and I noticed a few small things that I thought I’d mention. First of all, I said it before, but I’ll say it again, Viola Davis was great as Amanda Waller. I keep noticing the brilliance of her performance, even when she’s not delivery lines, just her face and her reactions are great. I also noticed a few things about June Moon and Enchantress. One thing that I think was a mistake was that they showed the archaeologist June Moon falling into the cave where she found Enchantress. But the fact that she fell in makes it seem like it was just an accident that she found the cave. This, in turn, makes it seem pretty silly and out of character for a professional archaeologist to just grab the Enchantress statue and break it open. I think it would’ve been better to do it more like the novelization where, instead of showing her fall, give some sort of quick shot that shows she is being led or lured to the cave. This makes her a victim of Enchantress’s powers from the beginning rather than it just being a mistake.

I also noticed later in the Pentagon briefing room that Enchantress was doing a bit more subtle planning than I realized. When June turns into Enchantress, she takes a quick glance at her own file on the table and sees that her brother is being kept in his statue and that Waller has it. She also looks carefully at Waller’s case with her heart in it. Initially, I just thought Enchantress was acknowledging the threat and control that Waller has over her, but now I kind of see it as Enchantress thoroughly gathering information about her situation and taking stock of what she’s going to need to do to get free. In this sense, it’s already clear that Waller is misjudging her -- Waller thinks that just because she has the heart, she can control Enchantress. But really, Enchantress can use every single moment that she’s in control of June to plot her escape, and Waller can’t stop her from doing that, obviously. The tenuousness of Waller’s control will become clear right away during Enchantress’s first real mission, which we’ll get to at the end of this episode.

But first, let’s look at Scene 17, back at the Pentagon where they get the news about Incubus at the Midway City subway station. The chairman is there, as are the same two men from Waller’s initial scene at the steakhouse. The threat is called in as a “non-human entity,” which leads to them activating Task Force X, which had previously been approved in concept but not actually activated for a mission until now. There is no pause or debate about whether to activate the task force, because this might be like one of those stereotypical military situations where they have a new piece of technology or a new capability and they can’t wait for an excuse to try it out. But it is also important that the threat is non-human, because Waller made it explicitly part of her pitch that they needed the Suicide Squad to fight the next war, to stay ahead of the curve with regard to meta-human capabilities. So I know some people who watched Suicide Squad said that they had hoped for a more down-to-Earth mission, like a covert breakout in enemy territory or an assault on a terrorist installation or something like that, and even David Ayer recently expressed a desire to have started with a more down-to-Earth plot rather than the mysticism of Enchantress. But I think there is value in having the Enchantress and Incubus threat because it fits with Waller’s justification about the Squad being necessary in a world that has Superman, Doomsday, and Diablo. She’s right that these new meta-humans are powerful, and it makes sense that the military would want to have some of that power under their own control so that they could go toe to toe, fight fire with fire, if necessary.

I also like that the appeal to meta-humans as a rationale for the Suicide Squad gives nice connective tissue to Man of Steel and BvS in the cinematic universe. And once you make the meta-humans a big part of the rationale, and a big part of Waller’s character arc, then I think it’s logical to have a meta-level threat, not just a down to Earth one. So I stand by my earlier comments that I think the idea of Enchantress in this movie is a pretty good one, I just don’t think it thematically or choreographically worked out as good as possible.

Another thing to note in Scene 17 is that the chairman refers to Task Force X as Waller’s “circus.” So they are putting the accountability on Waller, even though they are giving the green light, and this line also shows that they are kind of looking down their noses at the Squad, just like they did at the restaurant, which sets up an expectation that the Squad will fail, an expectation that we can happily watch throughout the rest of the movie as the Squad defies expectations.

On the phone, he says “Pull ‘em,” and this sends us back into Belle Reve as we see teams of guards grabbing the Squad members for transportation. Harley bites and climbs and stabs a guard, which is a small pay off to the earlier scene when Griggs was warning everyone about how dangerous she is. We see Deadshot going back into his boxing pose, just like the opening scene, and then we see them flush out Diablo and inject him with a sedative or something like that before he can get up. Killer Croc bursts up out of the water and grabs a guard before the others can tranquilize him. Griggs asks whether that was “the new guy” who got grabbed and probably killed by Croc. All of these quick moments, and especially Croc’s, explicitly remind us that these are criminals who are locked up for a reason. They are violent, and often senselessly so, at this point in the movie, and it confirms the baseline against which we can see a contrast by the end.

The song during this sequence is “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. As usual, it seems that Ayer and whoever helped him pick the soundtrack had some fun making connections to the lyrics. In this case, we have the following lines which seem pretty appropriate:
People think I'm insane because I am frowning all the time...
Think I'll lose my mind if I don't find something to pacify
Can you help me, occupy my brain?...
Happiness I cannot feel and love to me is so unreal...
I tell you to enjoy life I wish I could but it's too late

And if you listen carefully, after the pacify line, Ozzy is singing “occupy my brain” right when they are putting the nanite explosive into Harley.

Speaking of the explosives, this is an important plot point in the scene and also a common part of the Suicide Squad history in the comics. It is Waller’s most popular way to keep the squad in line. The filmmakers make sure the audience registers what is happen by even briefly showing us an ultrasound image of the explosive in Harley’s neck. We also see clearly the Van Criss logo on the injection cases. That will connect us to the next scene.

The filmmakers also use the injection sequence as another opportunity to highlight the personalities of the two co-leads, Harley and Deadshot. With Harley, she puts on a bit of an innocent act and asks, “Who are you? I don’t know you?” And with Deadshot, he stays extremely confident even when strapped in a chair, and he makes threats even when he’s in no position to carry them out. “Anyone who touches me is dead.” He also has another misogynistic moment with the “deaf ho.”

We then go outside, with barbed wire on the left side of the screen and the Belle Reve logo from the opening sequence on the right. We are leaving Belle Reve, which has been a very cool setting for the first 35-to-40 minutes of the film, and to which we will return at the end. We see Harley being wheeled as she says, “Weeee,” and Deadshot is behind her, followed by Diablo on a stretcher and Croc in his stand-up contraption. We don’t really get Captain Boomerang here, but the next story beat is that Griggs comes over to Harley and gives her the phone and the message from Joker, or “Mr. J” as he says. Griggs ask Harley to put in a good word for him, but Harley smiles and says, “You’re so screwed.” Now, this was kind of a loose thread in our opinions because it seems like the type of moment that is a set-up for something later, but nothing ever actually happens later in the movie -- Joker never does anything to Griggs and he doesn’t really get his comeuppance in the way that Harley seems to be implying. Maybe there was an additional Griggs scene for later in the movie that was cut for time --- for example, at the very end when the Joker breaks in to save Harley, maybe there was an additional moment there where the Joker uses Griggs and then disposes of him but it could’ve been cut out. I’m not sure. But as the movie was released, this scene here, with Griggs worried and asking, “What do you mean by that?” never really pays off.

The phone from the Joker and Harley’s ominous threat, however, does transition us nicely to the next scene where we see what the Joker is up to.

Van Criss Labs Break-In (38:10)

We cut to an exterior shot of Van Criss Laboratories, which is a division of Wayne Corp. It looks as though the Gotham City skyline is in the distance. This lab developed the neck bomb technology, but we should say that it doesn’t mean Bruce Wayne personally knew about it or approved of their use. Wayne Corp is probably a huge company, and even if Bruce is a fairly hands-on boss, we cannot assume that he would know everything that is happening at every single subsidiary. Now, by the end of the movie, it may be a different story, because after the break-in here in Scene 18, I’m sure Bruce investigated the lab and traced things back to Task Force X. That might even be how he ended up having his eventual meeting with Amanda Waller. But we can’t assume that Bruce knew about the bombs beforehand.

A van pulls up from Panda Purveyors, and this is where we get the awesome Panda Man from Joker’s crew. He initiates the break-in by tricking the guard into taking an explosive basket -- a pretty unique movie moment here, rather than just smash cutting to the Joker already shooting up inside the building, kind of like what happened back when the Joker was breaking out of Arkham.

Joker comes out of the back of the van, wearing a purple jacket, some necklaces, and no shirt. He has Johnny Frost and some other goons with him, including a guy in a Batman mask. There is a sound effect scream in this scene that I think might be a Wilhelm scream, but it’s not as clearcut as other Wilhelm screams. If this isn’t it, I’m not sure if there is one in Suicide Squad -- but if you heard one somewhere, please let us know.

Joker and Frost go right for a head scientist or lab tech, who is behind bulletproof glass. But Joker was prepared for that possibility because he already had his wife kidnapped and on camera. He puts a tablet up to the glass, just like Waller did earlier with Diablo. So the similarity in tactics here invites us to compare the Joker and Waller as two people somewhat deranged and both willing to go pretty far to get what they want, although the Joker is much more obviously psychotic whereas Waller passes as pretty normal, successful even. A difference, too, is that the Joker has a live person on the video who he is threatening, whereas Waller just had a recording of a past event. But still, the similarity is hard to miss.

The scientist wants to save his wife and so let’s the Joker in. The Joker comes in and there’s a little pause where, like basically every scene with the Joker, we don’t quite know what he’s going to do -- he’s unpredictable and gleefully violent. In this case, he picks up one of the nanite explosive injectors and says, “This looks neat” as he lunges forward and injects it into the scientist. So this suggests that the Joker will now make the scientist do something under his command, but we don’t know what that will be yet.

Enchantress Bolts (39:10)

The violence continues in Scene 19 as we cut back to Midway City and see Incubus still going through a subway station and easily dispatching of several soldiers with his long tentacle arms. He slams through brick pillars like they’re basically nothing.

We then cut underneath as Flag looks up at the sound of the commotion. This upward look and then Flag saying, “He’s right above us,” gives us a clear sense of positioning, which is important not just in this scene, but also at the end when the explosive comes back into play.

June Moon is with Flag, but she is doubtful about what they have to do while Flag is intensely resolute. He grabs her right by the face and says, “Just get it done,” which doesn’t seem like the kind of behavior or tone of voice you’d have with your true love. But he’s probably pretty stressed and he knows there is death and destruction happening right above them, so he’s keenly aware of the stakes.

Overall, I have criticized Flag and June’s love as not really being executed in a way where I believed it or felt it. But Planet G from YouTube pointed out another interpretation: maybe Flag and June were not truly in love but were just both lonely and so they clung to one another and are were protective of one another, and maybe they mislabeled it even in their own minds as love. So that’s a possible interpretation, and one that maybe works better with how the movie played out.

Just as June is about to call on Enchantress, we cut out to Waller’s command room where she is on the comm with Flag. Flag announces that “she bolted,” and Waller is pretty upset and immediately turns and starts stabbing the heart. Enchantress appears, with holes in her heart, right in the train terminal with Incubus. Now, much later in the movie, they have a scene where they show us the full story of what happened here, but Alessandro and I both felt that was a bit weird, because it already seems totally clear what happened -- June turned into Enchantress, Enchantress bolted, Waller stabbed the heart, and Enchantress was saved by her brother before she died from the heart stabbing. That covers all of the important information, so we the audience have nothing new, really, that needs to be revealed to us later. Yes, the Squad didn’t know the full story about how Enchantress was sent in there by Waller, but it’s just a bit awkward later because it seems like it was supposed to be new information for us, too, not just the Squad.

In terms of what people in the movie do and do not know at this point in Scene 19, neither Waller nor Flag explicitly knows that it is Enchantress’s brother who is attacking Midway City. If they had known that, they probably wouldn't have tried to use Enchantress. It is perhaps a little bit odd that Waller didn’t notice the Incubus statue from her apartment was either missing or broken, but it is not impossible for Waller to have overlooked that detail.

But I guess you could blame Waller for not being more careful or more attentive to Incubus when he was in her safekeeping. People have also given Waller a hard time for losing control of Enchantress and not taking the proper precautions, but as MOSAIC explained, Waller’s hubris and losing control is kind of the whole point. Waller is not a hero in this movie and so she’s supposed to be flawed, not perfect. And in terms of realism, Waller did have the precaution of Enchantress’s heart and so she thought she could stop Enchantress if she ever needed to --- Waller had no way of knowing that Enchantress’s brother would be able to save her even with a stabbed heart.

End of Episode:

So that’s our analysis of Scenes 17, 18, and 19 of Suicide Squad. We are probably going to go back to some BvS analysis after this, but we’ll definitely keep making our way through Suicide Squad as we can. It is, after all, a movie that our listener Joe Green from YouTube described as a war of gangsters versus the government, represented by the Joker versus Waller, of meta-humans versus gods, and of Bruce Wayne versus everyone. It’s a movie about power, says Joe Green.

Thanks for listening, and as always, we thank our inspirations, Man of Steel Answers and the Suicide Squadcast.

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