- Condolences to the Snyder family
- "This is Katana"
- "Pretty lights" in Midway City
- Deadshot and Flag's rivalry
- Chinook crash
- Slipknot's moment
- Deadshot and Harley's budding friendship
- 3 Critiques of Suicide Squad (and remedies)
Suicide Squadcast, Man of Steel Answers
@JLUPodcast on Twitter
In the article from the Hollywood Reporter, Zack Snyder mentioned a great quote from Chuck Palahniuk that his daughter liked. The quote read: “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” So in that spirit of honoring people’s creative efforts, we are going to look forward to Wonder Woman and also look back at Suicide Squad. It’s exciting to think about, but Wonder Woman is just around the corner, and it is getting some great buzz and a lot of social media attention. I will actually be seeing Wonder Woman at the early screening tomorrow and we will be bringing you lots of Wonder Woman content starting very soon. But right now, we’re going to go just a bit further in Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer. In this episode, we’re going to cover what we’re calling Scenes 22 and 23, that is the Chinook ride into Midway City which includes the introduction of Katana, and also the first sequence of events inside Midway City which includes Slipknot’s demise.
Also, at the end of the episode, I am going to offer three specific criticisms of Suicide Squad that I’ve been thinking about for quite awhile now, and I think I can articulate them fairly clearly. And I will also mention some ways that those criticisms could’ve been addressed. Our listeners may not be used to us pointing out filmmaking or storytelling flaws, but that’s not because we don’t have a critical eye -- it’s because you’ve mostly heard us talking about Batman v Superman, and that movie is just so good and so expertly constructed. With Suicide Squad, on the other hand, we enjoy the movie and are happy to have it in the universe, but there are some flaws. If you listen to the end, you can see if you agree with us on that. Of course you’re free to disagree, and you’re also free to totally love the movie even despite our criticisms.
But first, let’s get into Scene 22. It starts with a nice shot from behind Katana where she is striding toward the Chinook, which is in the background. Then she jumps aboard and we have now been able to see her from behind and in front. In the Behind the Scenes art book, costume designer Kate Hawley said Katana’s look was inspired by Bosozoku, which is a Japanese subculture based around motorcycles and elaborate fashion sense. Katana’s arm says, “For him, I weep” and her thigh reads, “My sword sheds blood.” Her costume overall is quite comic accurate, including the iconic Japanese flag design on her mask, although that Japanese symbolism probably didn’t help the film’s case in terms of getting a Chinese release, because there are still national tensions between communist China and capitalist Japan, and the two countries have a very long and troubled history including but not limited to World War 2. Of course, Suicide Squad was not ever actually released in Chinese theaters, and I talked to my friend who lives in China and he said that movies where American soldiers are fighting the Japanese are welcomed in China but movies that feature Japanese protagonists have a hard time getting through.
But anyway, Suicide Squad has been teased quite a bit for the blatantly expository lines that Flag gives to introduce Katana (“This is Katana, she’s got my back…” and so forth). But it actually is the sort of the line that happens a lot in the comics, where characters often get on-the-nose introductions and you pack a lot of the crucial info into one panel. For example, in the current Suicide Squad comic book series, specifically issue 16 written by Rob Williams, it just had a very similar introduction for Manticore. A single panel reads, “Manticore was genetically altered by your warmongers. He has incredible strength, claws that can cut through anything and can project himself into the form of a spirit tiger. He was imprisoned for a long time and he is very angry.” This is just part of the genre.
Also, I saw a defense of this particular moment on YouTube by CinemaWins. They explained that this moment with Katana’s introduction was actually meant as the set-up for a Harley punchline. Flag is going on and on in too much detail about Katana because he is trying to impress or intimidate the squad so that they don’t try to backstab Flag. But after that big show, Harley just laughs it off and makes a joke about the stench of death. It shows that Harley is not at all impressed nor scared into submission. And the other squad members don’t seem intimidated by Katana and Flag either.
The other main thing with Katana, though, is her flashback scene. She is shown avenging her late husband. We don’t see her kill his murderer but rather it’s someone associated with the murder. In her subtitles, we get a line that connects to the main theme of the movie: Katana says “Criminals deserve no mercy.” This whole movie is exploring the question of whether criminals or people who have done bad things deserve a second chance, and whether they’re still worthy of love, and whether they’re still distinct from someone truly evil. So Katana is starting the movie on one side of this debate, saying that criminals deserve no mercy, but as we will see throughout the movie, the filmmakers are actually trying to say that yes, at least some of them do deserve mercy. Scene 22 here shows that Katana needs to learn this lesson, and so do we, the audience. Thinking ahead to the end of the movie, I’m not sure that she really learns it as a character, but I think we do.
There’s also an irony here in the flashback, because we have the Suicide Squad formed now and they are supposed to be the bad guys in contrast to the good guys who are on Flag’s side. Katana, who is basically Flag’s personal body guard, is supposed to be one of the people on the good side, but she almost seems to be more of a killer than the squad members are. She not only sliced through people in her flashback but she was also quick to suggest killing the squad when she was on the helicopter. So although we saw Deadshot kill someone for money, and Diablo killed some people through anger, here we see Katana killing people pretty readily because they are criminals. And maybe we’re supposed to think that’s okay because they were criminals and they deserved it. Killing criminals means Katana can be on the good side, but Deadshot killing a informant means he’s on the bad side. If we really want to take a serious look at morality, though, then we have to actually challenge this simplistic separation of good from bad. For example, just because someone has committed a crime doesn’t mean they deserve the death penalty.
Before moving forward in the chinook, just a few more tidbits about Katana. The character’s name is typically Tatsu Yamashiro, and here in Suicide Squad she is played by Karen Fukuhara. She has been a member of the Suicide Squad in the comics, as well, for quite awhile now. But back in 2012 or so, she was in the Birds of Prey. And originally she was associated more with the Outsiders. She did have her own book for a little while in 2013. She was created in 1983 by Mike Barr and Jim Aparo.
Alright, so the scene pushes on and we get another popular song used as a soundtrack. This time it’s Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” Is this song a bit overused in movies and in popular culture overall? Yeah, probably, but let’s look to see if there’s a really good reason for choosing it here. The main things that come to our mind are that they are literally heading up into the sky and the song talks about the sky, but they are also heading out to the start of their suicide mission. So the team realizes there is a good chance they will die, and the song also talks about what happens once you’re dead. Going up to the spirit in the sky connects with religion and the concept of the afterlife. Notably, however, it touches on mysticism and the dogma of a collective soul and becoming one with God. Mystics are known to practice the occult which study, among other things, magic. Enchantress herself is a spirit and uses magic. The song connects the “heroes” and the “villain” in this way.
There’s also just the simple fact that Spirit in the Sky is from the Vietnam War era and that war has been most closely associated with helicopters.
On the helicopter, we get several good establishing shots of the empty city and the burning destruction. We also see the Joker moving forward in a black SUV and him texting with Harley on the phone that Griggs snuck to her. He says that he’s coming for her, and Deadshot notices, which will factor in later when they’re talking about trying to break free from Waller’s control, and it also connects to the moment later when Waller asks Deadshot to shoot Harley. This message from the Joker during a moment of rest for the Squad is also an efficient way to keep the B plot alive before the A plot ramps up its action.
Now Harley, having received the text, is particularly excited in addition to her normal energetic and playful self. She looks out the window like a kid on her first flight and she notices the big machine where Enchantress is shooting the beam up into the sky, which we talked about last episode, and Harley says, “Pretty lights.” This is one of many instances where she makes light of what should be a serious moment or something that is dangerous or deadly. I won’t even be able to remember all of them, but she laughed when Slipknot sucker punched the female agent, she smiled with her mallet when she said that a lot of people are going to die, she just made a joke with Katana about the stench of death, and earlier with the Joker she was laughing and having a good time even though Monster had just been murdered and they were having a run-in with Batman. So the pretty lights line adds to the pretty consistent and intriguing character that’s been established for Harley. Also, in terms of the plot, seeing the calamity from a distance allows us to gain perspective on the level of destruction. And Harley’s noting of the “pretty lights” also accentuates the magical element of the threat.
Given this indication of magic, Deadshot wants to probe for information and he asks Flag what happened in Midway City. Flag gives a nonsense answer about terrorism and dirty bombs, calling it usual but everyone is getting the sense that it’s not usual. This leads to a continuation of the rivalry that’s been building between Deadshot and Flag. This time, they go after each other’s professions, with the soldier versus serial killer distinction. Even though Flag has seen Deadshot’s amazing shooting skills, he is now going to make it about integrity and bravery, not skills. Flag explicitly predicts that Deadshot will cut and run, which is set up for the later scene when Deadshot not only stays in the fight but steps to the front to take out the Eyes of the Adversary. So I get what they were going for here with Flag trying to put Deadshot in his place, and I overall really like the interactions between these two characters. But I also think this cut and run set-up is a bit clunky, because actually right after Flag predicts that Deadshot will cut and run when the shooting starts, we literally see the shooting start as bullets fly toward and then hit the helicopter. So if Flag is right, then this right here should be the moment when Deadshot cuts and runs. But this is never even brought up -- the Chinook gets shot up and then crashes, and Deadshot just climbs out of the wreckage nonchalantly and then continues forward. There’s no moment of acknowledging that the shooting has started and Flag was wrong. Instead, I think we are basically supposed to NOT think of this as the shooting starting and we are supposed to just wait until the later scene where the team meets the Eyes of the Adversary. That is supposed to function as the moment when the shooting starts and Deadshot proves Flag wrong.
But going back to the Deadshot-Flag interaction, Deadshot also tries to draw an equivalence between himself and Flag, between what criminals go through and what soldiers go through. This question of equivalence connects again to a theme of good and evil. Can some people who fight and kill be good and redeemable while others are not? Does it just matter whether you’re wearing a uniform or whether it’s state sponsored? What if it’s someone like Amanda Waller who is commanding you as a soldier but she has nefarious purposes, are you still morally clean if you follow her orders? Deadshot doesn’t bring all of this up, but he does talk about him and Flag having shared experiences. He says, “You know the dark places too.” Deadshot is trying to put them on the same level, trying to reduce the perceived gap between the good guys and the bad guys. They aren’t so different, from a certain point of view. Deadshot is also justifying and diminishing his evil deeds by trying to appeal to Flag’s guilt. But Flag can absolve himself of any wrongdoing by justifying it as following orders on behalf of the government. In this interaction, it eventually seems to bear out that Deadshot is right, not Flag -- because Flag does know the dark places and he does end up basically putting himself on the level of the Squad, and Flag is wrong because when Deadshot does have the opportunity to “cut and run,” he doesn’t.
So that aspect of the interaction is good. But I do have one more small nitpick. At one point, Deadshot says, “I’m a hitman, not a fireman. I don’t save people.” And then Flag says, “Anything for a dollar.” I don’t think these lines flow very well because Deadshot just said a couple things he won’t do -- he’s not a fireman and he doesn’t save people. And yet Flag comes back at him by accusing him of doing anything for a dollar. No, he won’t do anything for a dollar -- he just said he won’t save people or do fireman duties. Yes, he kills for money but he has just laid out what he does do and what he doesn’t do, so I don’t think it worked that well for Flag to say that he basically sells out for anything. Now, although I think the flow between these lines is a bit off, I do still admit that they are realistic because Flag has probably been thinking for awhile about how Deadshot is a hired killer and he thinks of Deadshot as someone who sells out his morality. So he has maybe been sitting on that line about “anything for a dollar” and then just brings it out here because he has the chance, not because it perfectly responds to what Deadshot had said.
Alright, so we already mentioned it earlier, but the next thing in Scene 22 is the Chinook crash. It would be a bit boring and out of character for the Suicide Squad for them to just land smoothly and then get out and start walking, so it makes sense that they put in this crash to enliven things a bit. But Alessandro and I both felt that it was not as exciting or suspenseful as it should’ve been. Upon second viewing, I realized it’s because the filmmakers did not give us any reaction shots of the people on board emoting a sense of fear or terror as it was happening. It was just shots of the helicopter going down and shots of the back of people’s heads, or commotion with no facial expressions visible. After the crash, we clearly see Waller being relieved that the Squad is safe, but her reaction did not resonate with me because I never truly felt the danger in the first place, so I couldn’t share the sense of relief with her.
Also the tension may have been short-circuited because we, the audience, knew the characters were all going to survive since they hadn’t even started their mission yet. Even Slipknot gets to survive this crash. As they say in the scene, the “assetts are undamaged.” Note that this positions the squad members as possessions or resources, not people. Flag and the authorities at this point are still claiming a higher moral ground than the squad.
Slipknot’s Moment (50:30)
Now we go into Scene 23, which is on the streets of Midway City. The main thing here is going to be Slipknot’s moment in the spotlight. This part is basically taken straight out of John Ostrander’s run in the comic books, which we know David Ayer was reading as he wrote the script for Suicide Squad because he posted some pictures of his research with various graphic novels. Back in 1989, Suicide Squad #9 by Ostrander, it was very similar. It was also Captain Boomerang who convinced Slipknot to try to escape. And when Slipknot did try it, he got exploded. In the comic, it was more explicit that Boomerang was just using Slipknot to test whether the explosive threat was a bluff or not, and after Slipknot dies Boomerang says, “Better you’n me.” In the film, Boomerang may also be using Slipknot to test the nanite explosives, but it’s less explicit. He does go after a soldier and then throw a boomerang at Katana, but maybe his heart wasn’t in it. It doesn’t seem like he would’ve been able to make it far, so he was probably doing just enough so that Slipknot would try to escape and that’s how Boomerang could test to see whether the nanites were real and whether Flag was actually willing to use them.
In terms of setting up this moment with Slipknot, I really like Boomerang’s lines and the delivery that Jai Courtney had. “Mind games” was a funny way to start the conversation, given how it ends for Slipknot. And I also really like how Boomerang says, “Smart,” at the end of the conversation, because we can tell that it’s really not smart at all for either of them.
Now, some people have complained about Slipknot’s death here because they said it was too obvious that it was coming. Slipknot did not get a dossier introduction like the other characters and he didn’t get any development in the first half hour of the movie, so it was glaringly obvious that he was going to die. They also pointed out that he was missing from all the later scenes that showed up in the trailers, so going in we already knew he wasn’t going to make it far in the movie. Although all of this stuff is factually correct -- it was very easy to tell that he was going to get killed off very early in the Midway City action -- I personally tend to agree with what David Ayer said about it. He said that every minute of screen time is vitally important in a blockbuster film and that he didn’t want to waste several minutes early on establishing Slipknot in a sort of fake out to the audience so that he is treated just like all the other characters who will make it through to the end of the movie. He said that Slipknot’s death is important to visually show the audience how the nanite explosives work and that they are a real threat to the squad, but Slipknot’s death didn’t have to be a big emotional moment. It was more practical. So that’s why he decided to just make it very abrupt and as we expected -- there’s Slipknot and, oh yeah, he’s already dead. It’s even kind of funny how abrupt and blatant it is, but of course death should not be funny, even when it’s someone we don’t know and even when it’s someone who is a criminal or who sucker punched a woman. So the fact that we might be insensitive to Slipknot’s death actually kind of feeds into the themes of the movie that we as a society tend to think of criminals or bad people as expendable. But they aren’t. Death is a tragedy, even when you don’t know the person. We’ve mentioned before the theme that, It's hard to see someone as evil once you know their backstory. Thinking about Slipknot, we might also add that it’s hard to make light of someone’s death once you know their backstory. In this case, we can make light of it because we don’t know his backstory, and the contrast will come from other characters where we do get to know their backstory, and that should cause us to reflect on our reactions here and realize that we were kind of ignorant and too crass with Slipknot’s death.
Another thing that David Ayer alluded to was that, even if they had tried to trick us into thinking that Slipknot was just as important as the other members of the squad and they had tried to make it a real surprise that he died early, it is very likely that they would have failed. Audiences are very smart these days and with comic book movies they do lots of research and picking apart of the trailers, so if the filmmakers had tried to be deceptive with Slipknot rather than just very obvious with how they were using him, the audience probably would’ve resented it and criticized the scene for being a failed surprise.
So overall, we’re okay with the way Slipknot’s death was handled, although it is too bad from a diversity perspective that the Native American character didn’t get more development. But it is a nice homage to the classic run in the comic books. And this scene also gave us some nice moments with Boomerang, culminating in him asking if Katana has a boyfriend. The aftermath of Slipknot’s death also had some quick interactions that continued developing some character traits and interactions. Harley, like usual, makes a joke about a violent situation, with her “killer app” line. Deadshot again has an issue with people threatening him, and we see the tension continue to rise between him and Flag.
Scene 23 also has some nice establishing shots of the city, and we can see the “pretty lights” of Enchantress’s machine in the distance, so we know they have a ways to go before they reach their target. Even though they have to get HVT1 first, and we don’t know where that is, we do know that this mission is ultimately going to lead to a showdown with Incubus and Enchantress.
The final piece of Scene 23 is Deadshot’s quiet dialogue with Harley. It’s their plan to possibly escape, which is interesting to see right after Boomerang and Slipknot’s horrible plan. Deadshot and Harley clearly have more brains than Boomerang and Slipknot, so at this point in the movie we might be wondering whether, in the future, we’re going to see a more strategic attempt at an escape. And Deadshot, coming right off a few recent exchanges with Flag, now says pretty determinedly that he is going to kill Flag. He also says he could take out several of the other soldiers and then he’d need Harley’s help to make a full escape. It’s not really that Deadshot has a true admiration for Harley yet; his invitation to her is more of a pragmatic move because he thinks the Joker can help them deactivate the nanite explosives. He refers to the Joker as her friend, implying that he is not her friend. Responding to this and to the fact that Deadshot’s proposal is basically just a pragmatic one, Harley says, “you’re my friend, too.” This explicitly connects with the friendship theme of this movie, which we’ve mentioned before. The way we’ve phrased the theme is like this: friendship is more powerful than leverage. This is one of the most explicit themes in the movie, because literally the first scene establishes that Lloyd doesn’t have any friends. Here Harley and Deadshot are starting to talk about who their friends are. At the climax, Harley tells Enchantress that she shouldn’t have messed with her friends. And in the epilogue, Waller says that Bruce believes in friendship, but she believes in leverage. This shows that Waller doesn’t learn the lesson, but the squad members do.
One subtle thing to note about Harley’s line. She doesn’t actually answer Deadshot directly with regard to whether the Joker will help them out. She evades answering the question, probably because she knows she can’t make the Joker do anything. Maybe Joker will remove her nanite explosive but leave the others to die. This lack of influence from Harley onto Joker was emphasized in the original cut of the the film and you can see it somewhat more in the extended cut because of Joker and Harley’s abusive relationship. But here in Scene 23, we now have Deadshot and Harley, two of the major characters who are walking forward in the A plot, now talking about the Joker, who is the main character of the B plot. So this is planting a seed for the audience that the two plots will come crashing together at some point later in the film. And of course that does actually happen when we get to the Joker helicopter scene and Harley dangling from the rope.
End of Episode:
So that’s our scene-by-scene analysis for this episode. We’re going to try to have one more Suicide Squad episode before June 2nd and that episode will focus on the first fight with the Eyes of the Adversary. We are also going to have a lead-in episode for Wonder Woman where we talk about some of the themes that we will be looking for and some of the questions that we have going into the movie. We will also have an exciting announcement in that pre-Wonder Woman episode where we will reveal our new analysis team. So please look for that episode.
And now to close down this episode, I wanted to run down three specific flaws that I’ve identified with Suicide Squad and I will also briefly describe some proposed improvements that would address those flaws. I’ve heard many many people talk about Suicide Squad and say things like “It’s definitely not perfect” or “It was okay but it had a lot of problems.” And some people have said it even more harshly than that. But the main thing is that their critiques are very vague. They don’t point to any specifics. Even the professional movie reviewers are often guilty of being extremely vague. So I wanted to try to give a few specific criticisms and to provide evidence for why I think they are flaws. These aren’t all the flaws I see in the movie, but they are three of them.
The first is the inclusion of explicit set-ups that don’t have payoffs. The second is the supposed twist where we see Enchantress bolting from underneath the train station. And the third is the lack of a coherent point of view for the movie as a whole.
We’ve also mentioned in several past episodes the flaw of Enchantress’s threat not really aligning with the major themes of the movie, so I won’t mention that one here. But I will go through those first three in order. First, the explicit set-ups without payoffs. This refers to moments that seem they like a clearly priming the audience for something that will come later in the movie, but then the movie ends and nothing ever happened. The biggest one, which we’ve mentioned before, is Griggs being worried about the Joker, and Harley even says to him, “You are so screwed,” but Griggs never gets his comeuppance. He never gets any big run-in with the Joker. In fact, we didn’t see much of Griggs at all in the back half of the movie because all the action moved out of Belle Reve, but there was a perfect opportunity to payoff this set-up. At the very end, when Joker comes in to break out Harley, they just needed to include one quick shot of Joker dispatching Griggs or at least scaring the bejeezus out of Griggs. That would’ve been enough of a payoff.
Another set-up that didn’t really pay off was Deadshot consistently taking issue with people threatening him. That was obviously a chip on his shoulder in the first part of the movie but it never came around explicitly later. He had nice character growth, and he had a good arc between him and Flag, but the specific issue of him being threatened never paid off and it was never explicitly resolved for him as a character. And actually, this one also connects with Griggs, because Deadshot makes some explicit threats to Griggs at the beginning, but then there’s no big resolution for those two characters.
Now, there are of course many set-ups that do pay off, such as the Harley revolver and the teases about Diablo’s fire powers, but there are also some other set-ups that don’t pay off. So it was enough of an issue for me to definitely list it as a drawback for the movie.
The second thing is the so-called reveal of Enchantress bolting. In my viewing, this was just a mishandled moment. In the earlier scene, Scene 19, we see Flag and June Moon down underneath the station with the explosive and then we see June change into Enchantress. Then we hear Flag reporting to Waller than Enchantress bolted. Then we see Enchantress with Incubus. To me, there was no question about what happened and as an audience member I didn’t feel like I missed anything. So it was a bit weird later on when we see this scene again with just a few extra moments of Enchantress actually bolting on screen instead of off screen. It almost seemed like that later scene was supposed to be like, “A ha, now I see what happened. It all makes sense.” But for me, it all made sense the first time, so there was nothing to “a ha” about. And it didn’t give me some sort of new interpretation or new insight onto other events of the film that happened in the meantime. It didn’t change anything for me but it was presented in a way where I think it was supposed to change something somehow, so I felt like I wasn’t on the same page with the filmmakers, which is not a good sign.
As for how to fix this, I think I would just rewrite the second part so that it doesn’t feel like a plot twist reveal. I would not try to make this a twist at all. I would just keep it as Enchantress bolting in the first place, which is a great moment because it is Waller losing control of a being that she thought she had under her thumb, and it is the first indication that Waller’s belief in leverage and manipulation is actually misplaced. And then, in terms of twists I would’ve not even tried for a twist on this Enchantress bolting moment and would’ve instead focused more on the twist of Waller being HVT1. Now, I actually have some small qualms with that twist, too, but it’s more of a minor thing and I’ll just wait until we get there in the scene-by-scene analysis.
The last flaw that I want to talk about here is probably the most substantial one, and I’ve thought about it quite a bit recently. It’s the observation that Suicide Squad lacks a coherent point of view. By point of view I mean the perspective that the audience is encouraged to take through filmmaking design. For example, in a car chase the audience can either take the point of view of one of the drivers, by having camera shots from the front of the car and close-ups of the driver to see how he’s feeling in the moment, or you can a point of view as a spectator, which would be like with shots from a tracking vehicle that is driving next to or behind the main car or it could be shots from a stationary position off the side as the car screeches by. The experience of that car chase is different depending on which point of view the filmmakers establish. For emotional scenes or dramatic scenes, it’s probably even more important. We can see a couple’s break-up, for example, from the point of view of the one getting dumped or from the point of view of the one doing the dumping, or it could be from the point of view of someone watching as this couple in front of them has a blow up fight and you feel kind of like a voyeur or a people watcher.
Point of view is also a big thing in writing. Novels, for instance, are sometimes from the first person point of view but even with third person narratives, the point of view is very often like a narrator who is perched on the shoulder of one particular character, rather than just randomly floating around all over the place. Some novels always have the third person point of view perched right alongside the same character for the whole book, but what seems to be the most typical for novels is to have a third person perspective that perches alongside different characters in each chapter. So maybe you get to see the perspective of three different characters, but for each individual chapter, you basically tag along with just one of them.
The main idea, though, is that the authors or the filmmakers should be strategic and purposeful with where they place the point of view. It shouldn’t just be scattered all over the place or random. Part of the storytelling is not only deciding how a scene or how the plot is going to play out, but deciding what is the best emotional vantage point for the audience to experience it playing out. And in Suicide Squad, the point of view shifts around a lot, and it doesn’t always seem purposeful, and often it’s just a sort of generic third person point of view that doesn’t bring us inside the emotion of what’s going on as well as it could have if we were taking the point of view of a particular character.
So first, let me try to quickly convince you that the point of view shifts around a lot. In the opening, it’s Griggs’ point of view as he’s visiting the different inmates. But then it switches to Waller’s as she shares her plans and she describes how she has come to know the Squad members. Then we go to Deadshot’s point of view, and because Deadshot and Harley are co-leads, we’d expect it to be Harley’s point of view next, and it is Harley’s point of view as she looks on at the Joker in Arkham, but then it’s not from Harley’s point of view in the club scene, it’s from Monster T’s. Later on there are Joker scenes that are from Griggs’ point of view and from the Joker’s point of view. We get a military intelligence point of view as they monitor Midway City and we also get Enchantress’s point of view in some scenes, and then through the main squad stuff it’s mostly Deadshot and Harley’s point of view. But just in that quick rundown, that’s at least eight different perspectives that we occupy, at least five of them in the first few scenes.
So okay, you get the idea. The point of view moves around a lot. But why is that a bad thing? Maybe that’s just how it is for a team-up movie. Well, I think it actually is a bit of a problem. I think it’s part of why the movie loses momentum at parts. A few shifts in point of view are good because you can have an A-story and a B-story rising in action together and you can cut between them to enhance the tension and excitement in both. But when you shift point of view all the time, and when you go back to a story thread but now it’s from a different perspective, the audience can lose that thread a bit or at least you’re at risk of fumbling it. Also, in Suicide Squad specifically, I think the lack of coherence in points-of-view is what led to the common critique that there were too many introductions and the plot did not really get into gear until about 40 minutes in. If there was one main point of view, we would have one introduction of the Squad members -- it would be the moment that the point-of-view character met them, that would also be the one time where we the audience get to meet them. And after that, it wouldn’t be additional introductions, it would be additional scenes that just add to our knowledge and connection to the characters. And once we’ve met them, the plot could kick into gear rather than the squad having to be introduced to someone else before they can get going.
So point of view is a flaw, in my opinion, for Suicide Squad. Thankfully, it has been a clear strength in the other films in the Justice League Universe. I haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, but director Patty Jenkins has talked about Wonder Woman having a clear point of view all the way through the film, and that point of view is Diana’s. We see the Amazon training through her experiences getting trained, we learn about Amazonian culture as her mother is explaining it to her, we see through her eyes the arrival of man and man’s violence, and then we travel into man’s world and early 20th Century Europe, but we don’t see it through our eyes or the eyes of history, we see it through the eyes of Diana who is contrasting it with the beauty of the Themyscira. Jenkins said that even the action scenes all have a clear point of view based around Diana and that it brings an energy and a uniqueness to the action, and I expect that it will also draw the audience in very effectively to the action because we will know how to process it, both visually and emotionally.
Man of Steel blends three points of view very effectively -- first, it’s Jor-El’s as he witnesses the birth of his son and the destruction of his planet. Then the movie has us following Clark as he searches and then finds out about his origins. And we also see things from Lois’s perspective as she learns about Clark and then sees the entirety of what Superman has to go through by the end. Batman v Superman also incorporates a small number of points of view very effectively -- we get a lot of Bruce’s point of view on Superman, and we can see how his perspective is kind of biased and damaged for the first two-thirds of the movie, and we also get a lot of Clark’s point of view not only of Batman but also of Clark taking in the world’s divided reaction to Superman. By the end, we realize that both perspectives had been manipulated to an extent by Lex Luthor and we also see that BvS eventually brings the two perspectives together where both characters are clear-eyed and unified as they face down Doomsday, and then we finish by returning to Bruce’s perspective, but he is a changed man, redeemed in hope and purpose.
Suicide Squad, unfortunately, is not as coherent in its point of view. And it’s not that David Ayer is incapable of doing this. He’s a great writer, and the first big film that he wrote, Training Day, is like a master class in point of view. The whole movie is rooted in the perspective of Ethan Hawke’s character on his first day out with Denzel Washington’s character. The audience gets to follow along right with Ethan Hawke as he tries to figure out Denzel and gets swept forward through all the craziness that eventually rises up and up until the hectic climax. If you haven’t seen Training Day, it is really worth watching, and you can see how effective it is to put the audience right there with Ethan Hawke as he goes in over his head.
But with Suicide Squad, it’s just a bit all over the place with the point of view. It’s clear that Deadshot, Harley, and Waller are the main characters, but it’s not clear from what stance we are supposed to experience their stories. At times, we definitely get Deadshot’s perspective, but then for big swaths of the movie we’re more like a separated observer as Deadshot is going through scenes with the Squad. With Harley, there are only a few moments where I felt like I was seeing things from her perspective --- usually, it seemed like we were watching her along with the other Squad members or along with Flag and the soldiers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Suicide Squad had great characters and they were designed and performed really well, but it was not always clear from what stance we should be perceiving those characters.
So what’s the solution? It can’t be Waller, because she turns out to be the villain and the one with the most obvious fatal flaw, so we the audience don’t want to be identified with her. It maybe could be Deadshot or Harley, or a combination of both Deadshot and Harley, which is sort of what they did go for in the film, but like I said, they didn’t quite pull it off.
I think the best option would’ve been Rick Flag as the point-of-view character. He has his feet in both the official military side of things and the actual Task Force X mission, so he can bring the audience into all of those scenes, not just one or the other. He is an outsider to the squad, so he can look on them with disgust and intrigue that eventually turns into respect and a guarded admiration, just like the audience should. And he also has a personal connection to June Moon and Enchantress, which could make the audience care more about the stakes and the outcome of the main threat. If they had gone all in with Flag as the POV character, then I think that means they would’ve had to start differently and establish the Flag-Moon relationship at the beginning more thoroughly, with us in the scene with Rick, rather than us just peeking in on Flag and Moon from the perspective of Waller or a sort of fly-on-the-wall. If this relationship had been established better in the beginning, I think the danger to Flag in the middle, with the Eyes of the Adversary always coming after him, and then the climax with Enchantress at the end would’ve worked even better.
Now, the film did have Flag as the POV character at certain points, such as Scenes 11 and 12 where Flag and Waller come to Belle Reve, but the film did not go all in with Flag as the point of view. That’s why I say that Suicide Squad did not have a coherent point of view, rather than saying that it had no point of view. Of course it had a point of view, but I just don’t think it was as strategic of a choice as it could’ve been.