Tuesday, September 20, 2016

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Enchantress Security Briefing

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Suicide Squad, the scene when Waller introduces the National Security Council to Enchantress.

  • Transition from the Dossier Introduction
  • Oversimplifying good and bad
  • The "next war"
  • The Squad as "monsters" (according to whom?)
  • Enchantress's display of powers
  • ARGUS and Justice League Dark

Thanks to Alessandro Maniscalco

Man of Steel Answers, Suicide Squadcast, DCU_Club subreddit

<Transcript of the episode>
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, Alessandro Maniscalco and I share our analysis of the DC Films from Warner Brothers. We just released our Man of Steel commentary and next up will be the big Batman-Superman fight from Batman v Superman, but right now we’re going to cover the next scene in Suicide Squad -- namely, the Enchantress briefing with members of the security council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to the novelization, this meeting takes place in the Situation Room in the White House but the president was not in attendance. The main person at the table is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and it’s really him that Waller needs to convince. If she does that, everyone else will follow along.

So recall in the previous scenes that Amanda Waller introduced us to the team. She finished with the line: “In a world of flying men and monsters, this is the only way to protect our country.” That led to a great transition into the new scene because she just talked about protecting our country in the new era and now we go to the old guard, the National Security Council who are charged with protecting our country. Furthermore, we the audience just met the team, and it’s a controversial bunch -- now we get to see how the military bigwigs will react to them.

We also just saw Waller boasting about her skills of persuasion and now we get to see her in action -- can she live up to her claim that she gets people to do what she wants them to do? It’s an effective framing of the scene for the audience. And the real question is not will she convince them to approve the squad, because we know she will, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie -- the question is how will she convince them?

Now, right off the bat, I should say there is one complaint I have about this scene. It’s a line that was in one of the trailers but not in the final cut of the movie. In the trailer, Tolliver says, “Gentlemen. Ladies.” And there’s a great reaction shot from Viola Davis as Waller. I just loved that moment and all the layers it had about a powerful woman occupying a male-dominated space. I was sad to see it missing from the final cut. And I know other people have other moments from the trailers that they were sad to see absent from the movie, but this was really the only one that was a big loss for me.

Instead, the film version of Scene 10 starts with National Security Advisor Tolliver making an explicit reference to Superman. “What if Superman had decided to fly down, rip off the roof of the White House and grab the President of the United States right out of the oval office? Who would’ve stopped him?” This positions Suicide Squad as another great extension of the world launched by Man of Steel. In Man of Steel we saw Clark’s initial experiences on Earth and humanity’s initial reactions to alien life. In BvS we saw some very personal responses to Superman’s existence in terms of Bruce and Lex, as well as the public sentiments that came along with that. And now in Suicide Squad we’re seeing the military leader’s response to the existence of meta-humans. The U.S. military had been the top dog for decades but now they have seen beings with powers beyond even their military capabilities. What will their response be?

Now, as Man of Steel Answers pointed out in his episode on Amanda Waller, Tolliver is just using the idea of stopping Superman as a hypothetical reason to consider recruiting or weaponizing super villains. He is not saying that the sole purpose of the eventual Suicide Squad will be to actually take out Superman. Of course Harley and Boomerang and even Deadshot would not be sufficient to take out a Kryptonian. Something of that level doesn’t need to be their first mission, even though Enchantress and Diablo could arguably have a shot against Superman. The broader point is that it’s a new era -- an era of meta-humans -- and the military does not take kindly to being outgunned. How are they going to keep up in this new sort of arms race?

One might ask -- Isn’t Batman sufficient? He proved he could take out Superman once, maybe he could do it again. That wouldn’t be a satisfactory answer for this group because Batman doesn’t answer directly to the National Security Council or the Joint Chiefs. It’s also pretty risky to put so much responsibility on one man, even if it is Batman. And we also learn by the end of the movie that Waller and the government don’t exactly approve of Batman, although they use him for their own ends sometimes, such as in capturing Deadshot.

Tolliver continues by saying that they have contingency plans for other kinds of threats but not if the next Superman becomes a terrorist. He’s implying that meta-humans -- they know about Wonder Woman and also have files on others -- are a new threat in the world, even if they haven’t acted out yet. This suggests that the government has meta-human research, which is confirmed later.

Another thing to notice with this opening salvo about Superman is that they don’t mention Zod, who actually was a terrorist Kryptonian who came to Earth. In that situation, Superman was around to stop him but now that Superman is gone, the government has to look for other forms of defense… specifically ones that will be under their control.

Then Tolliver throws it over to Amanda Waller for her sales pitch. She says, “I want to build a team of some very bad people who I think can do some good.” She refers to the “next war” which foreshadows what she’ll say later to Rick Flag when he challenges the idea of the squad. Here, in making a punchy sales pitch, she has oversimplified the idea of good. Good for whom? Is what’s good for the U.S. security interests the same thing as what’s good in an abstract sense? She also oversimplified the idea of “bad people.” What does it mean for a person to be entirely bad and how is that related to someone who has maybe done some bad things in the past? This last point is an idea that carries through most of the film.

Waller meets immediate resistance. The chairman says the “monsters,” displayed behind Waller, will not be allowed back onto the street. Rather than challenging the chairman’s characterization of them as monsters, she instead clarifies that they won’t officially be operating in the name of the U.S. military. They can be thrown under the bus if needed. And again, as Man of Steel Answers pointed out, this doesn’t mean that they HAVE to throw them under the bus just that they COULD if they ever needed to.

But back to the idea of monsters. Waller lets it slide that the chairman referred to them as monsters. Maybe it’s because Waller agrees, or maybe it’s because she wisely knew that it wouldn’t be the way to win the argument. But for the audience, we can wonder what it is that makes them monsters. Is it perception from a certain point of view? Are they really monsters from all points of view? What we’ll see is that the squad members aren’t monsters to one another. It’s really Waller who ends up being more of the monster in the eyes of the squad.

In the next line, Waller reemphasizes the idea of the next war -- this seems to be her strongest tact for the sales pitch. The idea of a “next war” may also foreshadow the Justice League film. She wants to use her leverage to build a team of meta-humans and other skilled people so that they can match up with others. As Waller sees it, coercing a team together from those already captured is more feasible than recruiting a team above-board. This whole movie is basically her trying to prove that this coercive approach is the right one -- and of course we’ll see that it’s not. The team only becomes effective once they rely on friendship rather than coercion.

But to finish off her sales pitch, Waller has to convince them that the squad members -- the monsters -- can be controlled. Waller calls forward Dr. Moone, who was seated to the side next to Flag. First of all, the fact that Waller can beckon forward a doctor of archaeology this easily already shows some command on the part of Waller. Then we get the really unique visual moment with the fingers where Moone turns into Enchantress. I really liked the smoky design for Enchantress, too. Unfortunately, in the movie she won’t always be as cool as she was in this scene.

But Waller refers to the information in the file on Enchantress and says that she’s walked the Earth for a very long time and will likely be here when they’re long gone. This is some false foreshadowing because what actually happens is that Enchantress is the one dead by the end of the movie.

Waller sends Enchantress to Iran to get some classified information, and the “Go get it, girl” line was, to our ears, more about Waller treating Enchantress like her trained dog than it was about girl power. We also see in this scene that Waller uses the heart to control Enchantress. And another important thing we learn is how changing into Enchantress drains Dr. Moon and how she doesn’t want to do it again. Flag is there to comfort her after the exertion, and Waller tells Flag to get her out of there. So she has control over Flag just as much as she does over Enchantress.

But the main thing in the scene is the Chairman’s assessment of Waller’s plan. He is thoroughly impressed with the Iranian files, and he goes from calling Enchantress a “magic show” to seeing her potential as an asset. The world, therefore, is not only dealing with superpowered aliens but also mysticism and magic. And we know from the history of Superman’s character that he is just as vulnerable to magic as everyone else is, so it basically seems like a big weakness for Superman. We won’t see that play out in this movie, but it’s an issue that could come up in the future of the Justice League Universe.

To wrap up this scene, they also fit in a funny moment with the “don’t touch me” bit. And then they hit us with a bit of comic book information as they say that they want to establish Task Force X under the ARGUS program. ARGUS was introduced in the New 52 comics in 2011 and started as the Armed Revolutionaries Governing Under Secrecy before more recently being run by Amanda Waller as the Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans. Steve Trevor has also been involved running ARGUS, and on television a version of ARGUS has been a part of Arrow on the CW. And just mentioning it in this film opens up lots of potential future connections in the universe. Especially since there was a quick mention of it by Lex in Batman v Superman, and we know that Doug Liman has been hired to direct a possible Justice League Dark movie, maybe called Dark Universe. In the comics, ARGUS attempted to control Justice League Dark and that fed into the event known as the Trinity War.

But anyway, the scene has now taken us where we needed to go -- the squad has been approved and we’ve seen Waller flex her muscles, but also display her hubris. Next up she actually has to form the squad.

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