Wednesday, May 31, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Scenes 24-25

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Suicide Squad, scene 24 (the first fight with the Eyes of the Adversary) and scene 25 (the aftermath of that first fight).

  • Katana's scars and kintsugi
  • Katana trained by Batman?
  • Eyes of the Adversary
  • Deadshot as the leader of Task Force X
  • Everyone's slo-mo moment
  • Deadshot doesn't cut and run
  • Diablo is not the fire bloke anymore
  • Are people still people? Can people change?
  • Flag still values duty over humanity

@JLUPodcast @raveryn @NBego

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, we analyze scene-by-scene the Warner Brothers films that are part of the Justice League Universe, often referred to as the DCEU. In this episode, we are going to cover a bit of Suicide Squad before all of our attention shifts to Wonder Woman for a few weeks. This Suicide Squad analysis was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco who is @raveryn on twitter, and our new contributor Nick Begovich who is @NBego. Right now we are focusing on Scene 24, which is the first fight with the eyes of the adversary, and Scene 25, which is the aftermath of that fight when they realize the eyes of the adversary used to be people.

Before getting into that analysis, we wanted to look back for a minute. Last episode we talked a bit about Katana, but there are a few more things that we want to add. And we have a conjecture from Nick that we want to share to see what you think about it. So first of all, we mentioned last episode a few details about Katana’s costume but we didn’t mention her physical appearance, which includes quite a few scars. This reminded us of Bruce’s scarred back in Batman v Superman which represented the damage that he had been through. Similarly for Katana, the scars imply a history of violence and many of the scars are very likely from sword strokes (as opposed to stabs or knife wounds). The most interesting one is the scar across her left eye. There is a corresponding slash on her mask, which has been repaired using kintsugi. Kintsugi is a Japanese art form, so that itself is a nice connection to the character of Katana. But another thing that makes it a cool aspect of Katana’s costume is that kintsugi involves repairing pottery with gold- or silver-infused lacquer; the goal being to honor the damage and incorporate it into the object. Rather than throwing out the damaged pottery, or covering it over so that the damage is invisible, the damage is made beautiful and it is incorporated into the object as a part of its history. This is emblematic of the Katana character who carries her own scars and has incorporated them into her costume rather than trying to hide them. The idea of kintsugi also connects to the message of Suicide Squad overall -- that people, even if they are damaged or seem broken, can still be repaired and they still have beauty, and to repair them does not mean erasing their damage or ignoring it, it means accepting and incorporating their troubled past. Accepting their past deeds and learning to live with them, owning it, as Harley says in the bar scene, is one of the main themes of the film.

The symbolism of kintsugi also came up in Man of Steel and was covered by the Man of Steel Answers podcast. We will put a link to that episode in the show notes.

So anyway, these scars say a lot about Katana and her journey to this point in her life. Nick pointed out that these crimefighters with their nasty scars and fragile bodies draw a contrast with Superman and his perfect body. In the DCEU overall, there’s a clear contrast between the super-powered meta-humans like Superman and Wonder Woman who can go into extreme battle and come out unscathed, whereas mortals like Bruce Wayne and Katana and the Joker are left with their battle scars. Because of Superman’s physical invulnerability, that’s why it worked well in MoS to have Superman’s struggle be not about physical wounds but about difficult choices, and in BvS Superman’s struggle was about dealing with the world’s reaction to him and balancing his place in the world with his desire to protect those he loves. Then, in Suicide Squad, which literally has mortality in the title, we see mortal characters like Harley and Diablo dealing with the prospect of their deaths. Harley grapples with living or dying for the Joker, and Diablo sacrifices himself as a way to atone for the destruction of his family.

But back to Katana, the other thing we wanted to share about her is a conjecture that our new writer, Nick Begovich, has about her backstory. Nick is pretty convinced that this version of Katana was trained by Batman. Yes, she probably learned her fighting skills elsewhere before coming to Batman, but knowing how to handle a sword and surviving an extreme military engagement armed with only a sword are two completely different things. Aside from folks like Harley and Boomerang, there must only be a few people in the Justice League Universe who are capable of the kind of paragon-level feats that "normal" humans like Batman are capable of, beyond even Olympic athletes and top-tier soldiers. Nick even thinks there is a kind of Ayn Randian undercurrent to these movies where some human beings are just "better": brave, experienced, highly-trained soldiers die left and right, but Katana cuts her way through a hundred armed zombies with an enchanted sword. Magic weaponry or no, that's an impossible feat that is straight out of the comics. And in this movie universe, there are non-powered people who can do this like Katana and Batman and others.

So here’s Nick’s line of reasoning: we know there were probably at least two Robins, most likely Dick Grayson and then probably Jason Todd, the one whose suit was in BvS. So Batman has trained youngsters to fight crime. Nick has calculated that Batman in this universe got his start at age 21, and Katana is around 25. We know Batman can communicate ideas effectively, which likely indicates a history of training others. Note how a few words whispered to that combatant in the underground MMA match completely turned the fight around. Who's to say that if you are young and have been wronged and are willing to violently right that wrong-- and you can make it all the way to Gotham City, find The Bat-Man, and prove yourself-- who's to say that he won't train you to fight crime and gain the closure he was never able to find as a boy? Not to mention Katana's affiliation with Batman's Outsiders in the comics. So Nick submits the idea that Batman trained Katana and might even be using her to directly monitor the situation in Midway City. He admits that this wasn’t explicitly suggested by the filmmakers but he likes the idea enough that he wanted to put it forward. And it’s likely that we will have more and more dots to connect as these movies keep rolling out, especially Suicide Squad 2 and Gotham City Sirens, plus Batgirl would all give us more information about Gotham City and Batman’s history and influence.

Alright, let’s head into Scene 24, which features the SEALs and the Squad cautiously coming up to and then fighting a group of what turns out to be Eyes of the Adversary. The Eyes of the Adversary are the name of Enchantress’s henchman, who we will find out in just a few minutes can be made from anyone. Their design, with a face full of eyeballs, actually came to director David Ayer in a dream. I think they are a bit scarier and more unique in their conception than they actually were in execution, because in close ups they don’t really look like a monster full of eyeballs, they look more like a person with a pulsating bag over his head. But they are unique and they serve a very important function in the movie, giving the squad a steady flow of bad guys that they can kill without remorse. And this ability to kill the Eyes of the Adversary guilt free actually speaks to the theme of the movie about redemption --- the movie sends the message that the squad members, and criminals in general, are not disposable; they are redeemable as long as they still have love or the potential for human connection. And with the Eyes of the Adversary, this point is emphasized because we see that there is a point at which people are irredeemable. People can be fully gone, like if you’re totally transformed into a freaky monster, into something beyond even Killer Croc, and the fact that irredeemability is out beyond the Suicide Squad implies that the squad is still redeemable.

But before we actually get a good close-up of the Eyes of the Adversary, the movie does a bit of build up. We see some of the supernatural wreckage caused by Incubus. And by the way, on the left side of the screen, Doc from Man of Steel Answers noticed ( a Dunkin Donuts with graffiti on the front window. Those spray paint markings are actually a military search and rescue marker that details, clockwise from the top, when a search took place, what hazards are present, how many bodies were found, and who performed the search. In this case, the search was performed on “6-2”, which actually gives us a date for the film, June 2nd. There are no hazards, twenty bodies were found, and while I couldn't tell you what any of these letters mean, “ME TF3” performed the search.

The build up continues as GQ Edwards says they have people ahead, but we don’t actually see what he sees yet. Flag and the squad then head over to Edwards, and as Edwards is getting into position, we can just barely see some human shapes in the background. They remain out of focus as Flag arrives, and then we just see their heat signatures as Amanda Waller looks on. Flag just calls them “hostiles,” so we still don’t quite know what to expect. And neither do the SEALs or Task Force X. This lack of knowledge connects back to Scene 21 when we already saw Flag not being very forthright with those under his command. Flag and Waller are basically the only ones with a decent understanding of what’s going on.

Also notice that Edwards called them “people” whereas Flag called them “hostiles.” This continues the pattern of dehumanization that is part of the first part of Flag’s character arc. He called the Task Force scum, then he called them assets, and now he is calling these possible threats hostiles instead of people. In the next scene, Deadshot will confront Flag with this idea explicitly when he asks if that is a person, to which Flag says, “It was. Now it’s not.” And the pattern of dehumanization is something that this film comments on -- it makes the point that we need to humanize everyone, even criminals and so-called “bad guys.”

Next, Waller says to Flag, “We’re not here to fight them. You know that doesn’t work.” So this again builds up the threat, and it also implies that the Squad is not there for its fighting ability. As we covered before, they are most likely there to prove that they are a useful tool in Waller’s arsenal -- that criminals can be controlled and thus used for military purposes. And their usefulness may even be as simple as acting as “human shields” to ensure Flag and Waller survive. They are disposable heroes who seem to have a higher penchant for survival given their powers and their histories. In the case of Midway City, Waller has seen enough people die to realize a frontal attack is futile. And yet this is another time when Waller is proven wrong because Deadshot and the team will soon show that they can take out the hostiles.

When the SEALs split up, Boomerang once again proposes making a move. Although now that the threat in their necks is more apparent, he’s a bit more cautious -- he talks about the “odds” as in the probability of taking out Flag before he can use the detonation app. And Boomerang is also more cautious in that he checks with some others before he does anything. Harley seems keen on the idea, but the both of them look toward Deadshot as the de facto leader and they wait for his go-ahead before they will do anything. And this is one of the most important parts of this entire sequence -- they aren’t just acting individually but are starting to form some implicit bonds and a hierarchy of a team, and notably it is Deadshot at the head of the team. This is important and we’ll mention it again later in the scene.

With them looking to him, Deadshot does not give the go-ahead to take out Flag and try to escape. Instead, he has noticed the odd behavior of the regiment and wants to investigate before making any decisions. He activates his trademark eye scope and sees a creature that doesn’t look quite human. This our first good look at the Eyes of the Adversary, which we mentioned earlier. It’s also a good glimpse into Deadshot’s eye scope tech, and you can tell that it registers range, slope, wind speed and direction, as well as the direction Deadshot is facing. Definitely some useful tech, and also something that probably exists in the real world.

As Deadshot gets closer with his attention on the Eyes, Katana prepares herself too, but not for the Eyes, probably for a betrayal by Deadshot. That betrayal doesn’t come. And neither does the cutting-and-running that Flag expects from Deadshot. Instead, the Eyes notice them and immediately swarm at them. We, the audience, know that we’re in for some action -- the first fight involving Task Force X -- and to mark the occasion, Boomerang cracks open a beer and tries to slink out of the way. Meanwhile, Killer Croc and Harley prepare for battle. And Harley gives a quick, “Huh,” probably because she’s surprised that Deadshot seems to be sticking it out rather than taking the opportunity to escape, like he had just mentioned to her a few minutes earlier when he was upset about Flag’s threats.

First Fight Scene, Street (54:30)

So we’ve got the first fight scene between the squad and the Eyes of the Adversary. The SEALs’ bullets fly and the shells drop, emphasizing the amount of firepower thrown at the creatures.  But they still manage to get through to them. This sets up a contrast between the SEALs versus what Deadshot is able to do at the end of the scene. And the SEALs are no slouches -- they are some of the fiercest warriors in all of human history, armed with the best tech and weaponry that is available to modern combat forces. They are even above the Army Rangers from Man of Steel, yet the SEALs are basically impotent against a force like Incubus or Kryptonians. Even Batman was forced to “tactically retreat”-- as you might say-- from Doomsday. It says a lot about our (anti)heroes in Suicide Squad that most of them survive, even though every SEAL dies by the end. And Flag survives too, of course, but he’s not a SEAL. We think he’s probably with the Army’s Delta Force. But anyway, the point is that we should be fairly impressed with what Task Force X is capable of.

And to emphasize each member of Task Force X, this fight scene basically gives all of them a moment in the spotlight. In fact, other than Diablo who is shown retreating and not engaging in the fight, everyone else gets a brief slow-motion moment that emphasizes their skills, very much like a comic book panel featuring each character. Katana gets a slow motion slice, Harley gets a slo-mo duck, Boomerang gets a slo-mo move where his pinky flies out of his jacket, Killer Croc gets a slo-mo takedown that is sort of inspired by a crocodile death roll, and Deadshot, interestingly enough, has a slo-mo shot but he’s not shooting or fighting at all in that moment. He is actually turning to look at Flag being carried away by the Eyes. Why emphasize this particular moment for Deadshot, him looking at Flag? Well, because Deadshot is now in a leadership role and so this decision point of what to do about Flag -- whether to save him or let him be carried off -- is now more important for Deadshot’s character than just his fighting. All the squad members can fight, and we see their fighting featured, but now we also have to look at the dilemma Deadshot is facing and see what he’s going to decide to do. Harley is happy to see Flag dragged away, saying “good riddance,” but she’s kind of short sighted and Deadshot makes his decision and tells Harley that they need to save Flag. Deadshot says, “He dies, we die,” and this phrasing of “we” also reinforces the idea that the squad is forming into a team. They gradually thinking less about their individual needs and more about what’s good for the team. Harley acquiesces to Deadshot and bats away the Eyes carrying Flag while others help shoot at them.

Some people have criticized this moment because a few minutes ago, Deadshot was proposing to kill Flag, and now, he is ordering Harley to save Flag’s life so that they don’t all die. So people have said this is a contradiction. But this is why the leadership angle that we were just talking about with Deadshot is important to consider. Earlier, when Deadshot wanted to kill Flag, he was speaking in anger having just been threatened by Flag. And Deadshot was still in his old mindset like he was at the beginning of the film in Belle Reve. But a lot has happened since then, even though it was only a few minutes ago. First of all, Harley called him a friend. Second, he’s calmed down a bit from the confrontation with Flag. Third, Boomerang and Harley positioned Deadshot as the de facto leader of the team, so he has to think about others, not just himself and his quick temper. And fourth, Deadshot has become more focused on these strange Eyes of the Adversary. So for these reasons, it makes sense that Deadshot would change his mind about what they should do with Flag.

Speaking of Flag, we should mention that in this fight, he actually seems to struggle the most against the Eyes. So it was lucky for him that they don’t actually want to kill him but rather capture him. This fact, of course, will come up again later. And here, after Flag is rescued, Flag surprisingly shows gratitude to Harley who up to this point he has been treating as worthless. Harley tells him to shut up because she doesn’t want his gratitude.  She saved him to save herself and is kind of angry that she was forced to save him.

Finally, to end the fight, Deadshot single-handedly eliminates the remaining wave of Eyes. The music is really good here, with a subtle heroic tone, and the moment is well edited, emphasizing the fluidity and precision of Deadshot’s skills. This is classic Deadshot with his eye piece and comic-like pose doing what he does. This moment is not only the explicit payoff to the cut-and-run interaction from the Chinook, but it is also a payoff to the shooting range scene.

So this scene overall is very important for Deadshot’s character arc, and it is also important for Flag, too, because we get a clear shot of Flag after he’s been proven wrong about Deadshot. Deadshot says right to him, “That’s how I cut and run,” and so Flag has to accept the fact that he was wrong about Deadshot and that Deadshot is actually very vital to the team. And if Flag was wrong in this instance, maybe he needs to further rethink his ideas about the squad members.


The beginning of the fight was marked by Boomerang cracking open a beer, and the end of the fight is marked by him retrieving his pink unicorn. So these are some really enjoyable dynamics that Boomerang brings to the movie. And because the fight is over, we’re ready for a bit more humor as Harley continues to bash away at a dead Eye creature.

And looking across the fight scene and the fight aftermath, which we’re calling Scene 25, there is not only the importance of Deadshot and Flag’s character growth but another important aspect is Diablo. He retreated from the fight, and to make sure the audience takes note of this for later, we have Boomerang confronting Diablo about it. Not only is Diablo’s willful pacifism reinforced, but we are also reminded of his amazing powers. With a sweep of his hand, he can heat up the air in front of him and create a complex, multi-colored pattern with flame -- in this case, it’s kind of like the Diablo skull logo from the comics. But Boomerang just responds with teasing.

Boomerang calls Diablo the “fire bloke,” and Diablo responds, “I was, yeah.” This clearly implies that he was that monster, but he’s not any more. The idea is immediately echoed when Deadshot confronts Flag about the Eyes of the Adversary. Deadshot asks, “Is that a person?” And Flag says, “It was.” Just like Diablo had said, “I was.” So this connects to at least two themes -- first of all, is it possible for people to change and move beyond what they were in the past? Diablo wants to move beyond his violent past, and if he is able to, should society allow him to do that? Can we forgive him for his past sins? The second theme is about whether someone can lose their humanity. Can they become not a person anymore? “It was. Now it’s not.” A message of this movie seems to be that bad people can still maintain a connection to their humanity, but to do that they need to accept their past and maintain human connections and love. As Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje put it, even villains can have souls. But not everyone is guaranteed to keep their humanity -- the Eyes of the Adversary seem to have lost it, or at least we’re never show any glimpse of them still being redeemable. And Enchantress and possibly Waller also seem to be corrupted even further than the members of the Suicide Squad are.

But overall, this idea of what people were, what they are currently, and what they can be in the future is showing up quite a bit throughout the film, so we’ll continue to trace it going forward.

Scene 25 ends with Flag stating matter-of-factly that the Eyes aren’t people anymore and that they need to push on with their mission. So for him he is basically putting orders or his commitment to his duties above any concerns or questions about humanity. That will change for Flag later by the time we get to the bar scene.

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