Thursday, June 29, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Scenes 26-27

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Scene 26 (Enchantress converting the Bravo team into Eyes of the Adversary) and Scene 27 (approaching the Ostrander building) of Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer.

  • The squad still follows Flag's orders
  • Checking in on Bravo team
  • Enchantress's kiss and the Eyes of the Adversary
  • Harley's smash and grab
  • Deadshot's reminder of his daughter
  • John F. Ostrander Federal Building
  • Awkward editing
  • Amanda Waller as the unknown objective
  • DCEU thoughts about gods and saving humanity

Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @NBego

<Transcript below>
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 what we are calling Scenes 26 and 27 of Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer. These are some fairly minor scenes -- it’s the check-in on Bravo team and Harley’s smash and grab before they approach the Ostrander building. This Suicide Squad analysis was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco who is @raveryn on twitter, and Nick Begovich who is @NBego.

Alright, so let’s get into Scene 26. This follows right up on the first fight with the Eyes of the Adversary, so Deadshot has just stepped up to prove Flag wrong about him cutting-and-running and Deadshot has also begun to cement his role as the leader of the squad. The last scene also means that the Navy SEALs and the squad now know for sure that they’re facing a supernatural threat rather than a terrorist incident, which was the cover story.

Even though there seems to be a bit of skepticism now of the mission and of Flag’s trustworthiness, the Alpha team is still going to follow orders. So Flag tells them to push on toward the objective and they comply. And Task Force X follows.

Flag reports in to Waller that they’ve lost contact with Bravo team, and he asks if Waller has a visual on them. Having these constant reports to Waller and getting to briefly see her command center reminds us that she is the unquestioned boss of the mission --- this is her concept that is being put the test, even though at this point it does not seem like it is her life on the line. This also shows that Waller is like the central nervous system of the team, and this is fitting for her character because she always has to be in control and able to manipulate and maneuver everyone else. What we don’t know yet, though, is that when Flag is referring to the “objective,” he is actually talking about her.

One of the agents with Waller says they don’t have contact with the Bravo team. Then she calls for Go-7 to get sensors on the coordinates of Bravo team, presumably in an effort to find out their current status. Waller tells Flag that Bravo team was engaged with the hostiles at the same time that Alpha team was, but Waller says “we lost them.” So this gives us some further information about what was happening elsewhere as we were watching the first fight with the Eyes of the Adversary. The fact that Alpha and the Suicide Squad are still intact whereas Bravo is lost indicates to us the value of the Squad because Flag’s team did make it through with their help. Waller’s line about Bravo also provides a smooth transition into the next setting because as she’s speaking, we cut over to the station with the big energy beam and ring of debris and then we see the fate of the Bravo Team. They’re being escorted by Eyes of the Adversary up toward Enchantress and her machine. Incubus crosses his arms and stands to the side. As before, this is giving us opportunities to see both the layout of the station and Enchantress and Incubus together, which will be the setting for the final battle of the movie.

The men go all the way up to Enchantress and she has some of her flowing dance moves, then she spins around and kisses the Navy Seal from Bravo team. This was another moment with Enchantress where, for me personally, I just didn’t really like her design and movements. And I’m also not really sure why she has to do those movements in front of her “machine” energy beam, because her gesticulating doesn’t actually appear to be affecting it in any way. But one positive thing is that it’s kind of cool to see a smoke effect around the guy as she works her magic -- the smoke is reminiscent of Enchantress’s earlier form.

This magical kiss turns the Navy SEAL into the newest Eye of the Adversary. For Alessandro, it reminds him of a Mudokon from the video game Oddworld. And for both of us, we aren’t exactly sure why they chose to go with a kiss as the method for transformation. Back in the subway when Enchantress took over the man in the bathroom so that he could be a host for Incubus, she released Incubus so that the man basically inhaled him. So maybe this is also an inhalation sort of thing and that’s why it involves mouth-to-mouth contact. But to us, even more important than the practical explanation for the kiss would be the thematic relevance. What is it about Enchantress’s story or the themes of the movie or maybe some visual motif that makes a kiss the best choice for the transformation? Nothing immediately comes to mind, but in looking back through our themes that we’ve identified thus far, I guess the closest possible connection would be to the theme that Love can be the basis of human connection. What we mean by this theme is not that everyone has to love each other to have human connection, but that if one recognizes that the other has love, that can be enough. It’s kind of like recognizing the humanity in the other, which prevents you from disregarding their life or their pain.

So if the movie overall has a message about love being a basis for human connection, then how does that fit with the filmmakers choosing to have Enchantress create her army with kisses? I’m still not sure it fits. But if we stretch for it… maybe Enchantress’s kisses represent the empty gestures of love; she is not actually recognizing their humanity, she is stripping away their humanity. So maybe it’s a contrast with more genuine forms of love, showing that a kiss alone is very superficial.

Anyway, there’s our attempt at trying to connect it in. We doubt that this is actually how the filmmakers thought about it, and it remains kind of an odd choice, though it does make the scene a bit more memorable -- I’ll give it that. Then, to make sure there’s no confusion for the audience, Enchantress announces, “Now you belong to my army.” This was probably already very clear to everyone, and there are a few other times in the movie where the dialogue is almost trying too hard to make sure everyone is following what’s happening, like at the end when Flag explicitly says that they can end the threat now that Enchantress’s heart is out.

The next shot is another straight-on shot where we can see the Eyes of the Adversary. We already saw them in detail in Scene 24 for the street fight scene, so this is not a reveal for us, but the new information from Scene 26 here is explaining how they came to be transformed from people into the Eyes. And the fact that Enchantress is able to create her own army of formidable beings out of random civilians will be important later, because we eventually see that Waller is very interested in this capability. It parallels Waller’s own goals -- Waller is striving to turn criminals into a formidable fighting force that will do her bidding, because this would open up new potential beyond the typical military options, and Enchantress is turning regular civilians into her own fighting force that will do her bidding, which seems like it is even better than Waller’s plan. But in the end, we’ll see that Task Force X, not the Eyes of the Adversary, is victorious.

Scene 27: Harley smashes glass, approaching the building

Okay, we go into Scene 27 with a smash cut right from the Eyes of the Adversary to Harley Quinn breaking the window of a storefront display. It quickly cuts to Rick Flag raising his rifle, as if there’s a threat, but then we see Harley bend over and grab a purse. This bit doesn’t really do anything for the plot -- the purse doesn’t become important later, that I can remember -- but it is a character moment for Harley, showing her impulsiveness and general carefree spirit, and this moment was also used quite a bit in the marketing. And the fact that it’s a fashionable store and a purse, which is primarily known as a woman’s accessory, emphasizes Harley’s position as the only woman in the squad.

However, for me, even though the line “We’re bad guys, it’s what we do” is pretty quotable and was delivered well by Margot Robbie, I don’t think it’s a really great illustration of what it means for the Suicide Squad to be composed of bad guys. We’ve already seen backstories of the squad members where they did things much much worse than stealing a purse, like assassinations, backstabbing, and burning a family alive -- so to me, this moment is kind of like, “What? We’re troublesome punks, hehe.” Instead of the more profound, “We are damaged people who have committed atrocious acts.”

But with that being said, this moment does work in terms of the Harley character specifically and it sets up Flag’s reaction, which continues the vexxing kind of back-and-forth between those two characters. Flag says, “Seriously?  The hell is wrong with you people?” And Alessandro noticed here that Flag doesn’t say “WHAT the hell is wrong with you people?” So his words are technically saying that “Hell” is what is wrong with them -- as in, they’ve been through hell and it has made them who they are. And note that this isn’t a sudden reaction by Flag to just Harley stealing a purse. In the last scene Captain Boomerang was swiping the $3,000 watch which Flag had confronted him about. So this act by Harley is another act piling onto his already fueled frustration, and his confusion as to why they are so focused on taking things of value in a time of crisis when their lives are on the line. This speaks to the squad’s calloused emotional states.  What’s also interesting is that in this line Flag has changed to calling them “people”. We’ve noted before that he has called them assets, scum, and a-holes. But this is his first reference to them after their fight together in Scene 24, and it’s also the first time he uses a more respectful term -- even though, yes, he’s voicing frustration with them.

By the way, there is a Latin phrase on the clothes around Harley’s purse. They say, “si vis pacem para bellum” which translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war.” This sentiment fits pretty well with Waller’s idea of preparing for World War 3 in order to prevent World War 3. It also connects somewhat to the squad members themselves -- if they eventually want to reach peace within themselves, they have to be prepared to accept the bad things that they’ve done -- to own that sh--, so to speak. Diablo, especially, does seem to desire peace, and he tries to achieve that by completely withdrawing and refusing to use his powers, but what he will find at the conclusion of his character arc is that he eventually gains peace by actually engaging in the war, by being willing and prepared to sacrifice himself.

Another thing with this graffiti-style text on the shirts is that it reminds us of Watchmen, and in the spirit of Watchmen, we are also about to see a big yellow smiley face in the next storefront window.

We see Deadshot looking somberly at a girl’s winter outfit that reminds him of his daughter Zoe. The last time he was with her, they were christmas shopping. This moment with Deadshot also reminds us of his main character arc, of missing his daughter and trying to balance his desire to make her proud of him and also being able to accept himself the things he has done. His love for Zoe also gives him a strong survival instinct and a drive to successfully complete this mission, so he can be reunited with her.

Because this Deadshot moment is juxtaposed with Harley’s moment just before, it gives us two things to think about -- 1, maybe Deadshot is tempted to pull a Harley and bash the window to grab the outfit. But of course he’s not crazy like Harley and as a pragmatist he knows it doesn’t make sense given their situation, with a lot of the mission still remaining.  And 2, how does this moment with Deadshot represent “what bad guys do”? Harley was indicating that smashing and stealing are things that bad guys naturally do. But then we see Deadshot, another bad guy, quietly missing his daughter. And we’re reminded that he seems to be a caring father who uses his ill-gotten money to buy her some nice things. These are also things that bad guys do.

But anyway, Deadshot has to step away in a somber mood, and this probably explains his assertiveness at the end of the Scene, going into Scene 28. But before we get there, we see a skyscraper in the distance with an interesting kind of orange glow around it. In a few moments we also get a clear shot of the building nameplate -- the John F. Ostrander Federal Building. This is a reference to legendary Suicide Squad comics writer, John Ostrander, who created the modern version of the squad, starting in 1987. And his first couple volumes -- Trial by Fire and especially The Nightshade Odyssey -- were definitely some of the influences on David Ayer when he wrote the screenplay. Ostrander, by the way, also wrote again on the book in 2007 and did a special issue of Suicide Squad just a few months ago. It was pretty good.

Flag tells his men to take a knee.  This gives them a chance to rest and discuss strategy. I don’t really like the framing on these shots or the editing as they’re talking --- it starts out okay because the men are looking forward at something and then we get a shot from their point-of-view seeing the building in the distance. So this is what they’re looking at, but then before that shot of the building in the distance really settles in, Deadshot all of a sudden leans in awkwardly in the foreground. Then they cut from the shot from the back to a shot straight from the front. Flag refers to the building, and so they cut back to the shot of the building. But again, they don’t let it linger, they quickly cut back to the shot from the front. They should’ve just had one solid shot of the building, instead of two incomplete jarring shots. And this cutting from back to front multiple times, to me, doesn’t flow very well -- I feel like I’m jumping around awkwardly, instead of the more typical shots from off left and off right, both from the front of the characters. I know they wanted to show the building, because that’s where they’re heading, but I think it would’ve been better achieved by just showing the building in a good establishing shot, one time, and then cutting between medium or close-up coverage of the speakers at different angles.

Anyway, in terms of the exposition here, Flag explains that their “body” is at the top of the building.  We still don’t know who it is.  He makes sure not to specify gender using terms like “body” “them” etc.  We also learn that the person is in hiding in a safe room described as a “vault”.  Then he says that helos will pick them up on the roof.  He concludes by saying, “It’s Miller Time,” which we suppose he uses to mean it’s time for action, but it’s kind of awkward because it’s a phrase from a beer company’s corporate marketing and a phrase that’s kind of outdated, and “Miller Time” usually means to relax after a hard day’s work. But he could be using it in the “party” context because “Miller Time” can also mean it’s time to party.  That suggests that he enjoys the fighting because he is equating it to partying, or maybe he’s addicted to the rush, but that hasn’t seemed to be a part of his characterization before now. Anyway, it’s a bit of an odd line, but David Ayer is a military guy himself, so I guess we’ll just have to trust him that this is a plausible sort of thing that a soldier might say before moving forward.

The team then approaches the building and Flag checks in with his boss -- telling Waller that they’re about to enter the building. “Get that chopper ready.” I’ve heard from military people that “chopper” is not really a common phrase any more except in movies, so maybe Ayer is a bit more out of touch than I expected. It has been about 30 years since his military service. Now granted, he still knows way more about it than me, but Miller Time and chopper raise a few doubts in my mind. Anyway, in terms of the movie, at this point, we still don’t know that it’s actually Waller who is inside the building. So Flag is not only talking to Waller but he is talking about Waller when he says that they are about to extract the objective. And we do see Waller again, where it’s clear that she is able to monitor the heat signatures in real time. And then Deadshot steps forward, ready to take us into the building and the next scene.

End of Episode:

So that’s our analysis of Scenes 26 and 27 of Suicide Squad. They are mainly functional scenes, showing how the Eyes of the Adversary are made and then moving the squad forward toward the Ostrander building. Most movies have these sorts of functional scenes, with necessary movements to put characters in place for the next thing and also some exposition such as reminding us about the squad’s mission and laying out how it is supposed to work. Movies like Batman v Superman are pretty rare in the sense that basically every single scene has thematic weight and important multi-layered interpretations. And we should say that in these Suicide Squad scenes, there are the quick character moments for the two leads -- Harley and Deadshot. We see the former being impulsive and cheeky, and we see the latter thinking about his daughter.

Now, two things to close out the episode. First, having seen Wonder Woman and the Greek gods from Mount Olympus, that gives us some new perspective on the characters of Enchantress and Incubus in Suicide Squad. We are going to have thoughts about this in future scenes when they are featured more prominently, but we did see them briefly here in Scene 26. So we want to drop in a few quick thoughts from Doc at Man of Steel Answers. He released a long episode about Wonder Woman and part of what he addressed are the comparisons between the gods in both movies. Here is a quick excerpt, and we’ll put a link to the full episode in our show notes.

And finally, in several past episodes, we’ve brought up the overarching theme of the DCEU that humanity, even with its flaws, is still worth saving. Each movie thus far has spoken to this theme. And Casper Richter, one of our listeners on YouTube, took an interesting perspective on this theme. He thought about how the movies raise the question, 'is mankind worth saving?' and then he thought about how all the villains represent the answer 'no'. In particular, Casper had the following rundown: Is mankind worth saving?
Zod says no because humans are less evolved than other older, more powerful cosmic races that 'deserve' to exist more.
Luthor says no because humanity will always be corrupted by power, and humanity is too willing to submit to tyrants.
Enchantress says no because humanity doesn’t worship her anymore.
And Ares says no because mankind will always choose to give in to their lust for violence.

Casper says that Ares makes one of the clearer arguments in that because of him Diana realizes that although she can battle the evils of man, she cannot defeat the power of choice. And as long as people are able to choose between good and evil, there will always be evil in the world. Diana may have left feeling like Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again, and repeating this for all eternity. Casper also thinks that Ares is one of the more interesting villains because he was kind of right about mankind. Even after he was defeated, war was still a part of people. And Casper agrees with us that this might be what made Diana lose hope until Superman's sacrifice reminded her that good deeds are never paid back but that they are still worth doing. Casper was also reminded of Professor James Moriarty's speech in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: "You see ... hidden inside the unconscious is an insatiable desire for conflict. So you're not fighting me ... so much as you are the human condition. All I want to do is own the bullets and the bandages. War, On an industrial scale, is inevitable. They will do it themselves, within a few years. All i have to do ... is wait. Let's not waste anymore of each other's time ... we both know how this ends. "

Alright, so thanks, Casper, for those thoughts. And thanks to all of you for supporting this podcast. If you are looking to stay up to date on DCEU news, then we recommend the Suicide Squadcast with Tim and Scott. And we’ll be back shortly with some more Wonder Woman analysis.

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