Thursday, July 13, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Suicide Squad Scenes 31-34

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on Suicide Squad, scene 31 (the Waller twist), scene 32 (shootout with the Joker), scene 33 (Harley and Joker reunited), and scene 34 (Waller gets captured).

  • Twist - it's Waller!
  • Waller's excitement over Enchantress's army
  • The Joker arrives and Harley is rescued
  • Deadshot makes a choice - friends over leverage
  • The Joker and Harley reunited (briefly)
  • Waller gets another helo and gets captured

Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @NBego
Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. In this podcast, we share our scene-by-scene analysis of the Warner Brothers films that are part of the Justice League Universe, often referred to as the DCEU. In this episode, we cover Scenes 31 through 34 of Suicide Squad, written and directed by David Ayer. These scenes are when the squad finds out it was Waller they were rescuing, then the Joker rescuing Harley on the helo, and then Waller leaving on her own helo. This analysis was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco who is @raveryn on twitter, and Nick Begovich who is @NBego.

And we’re going to go a bit faster than usual through these scenes, because we need to pick up the pace a bit of Suicide Squad since Justice League is only 4 short months away. So let’s get right into Scene 31, which follows Harley’s flashback to her acid trip with the Joker. Because Diablo cleared the way, the squad and alpha team are able to proceed to their objective to retrieve the high-value target. When they get there to the door, Rick Flag tells everyone: “Wait here. We don’t want to give this dude a heart attack.” So this is a bit of a dig at the motley crew but it also involves him referring to the target as a male, whereas before he had tended to use gender-neutral terms.

He heads in and we get probably the main twist of the movie, which is that HVT1, the macguffin that they’ve been headed toward since the squad got their marching orders in Scene 21, orders from Amanda Waller, the head of Task Force X -- HVT1 actually turns out to be Waller herself. Now the first thing to ask about a twist is: Did you see it coming? And I can honestly say that, on my first viewing, the twist got me. I did not see it coming.

But the second thing to ask about a twist is even more important: What’s the big purpose or payoff of the twist? How does it change your understanding of what came before? How does it affect your outlook on what is going to happen next? The best movie twists or really twists in any kind of story always have satisfying answers to these questions. With respect to Suicide Squad, I think there are some answers here, but they’re not especially great.

What’s the big payoff of the twist? Well, I think it further solidifies Waller as the villain of the movie. She is not only using cruel forms of leverage to make the squad become living weapons that do her bidding, but she is also using that squad for a completely self-interested reason. She’s trying to save her own skin. Before the twist, we might’ve given some credit to Waller for being tough and doing what needed to be done in order to be ready to face meta-human threats that are beyond the capabilities of regular military forces. But after the twist, we see that it’s more like Waller’s own personal security force, her personal pawns -- not just a program that she’s overseeing for the greater good.

This is not only a revelation to us but also to the squad and so another aspect of this new information is that it might turn the squad even further against Waller, which means that they are more likely to bond with one another. We’ll see that play out in the bar scene and then again at the climax of the movie.

So this is a fairly decent answer to question number 2, even if I know some people were not totally satisfied with the payoff of the twist. And I admit, for me when I watched it in theater, I was surprised but then was kind of like “meh.” It seemed to only change things around the margins --- the squad already felt like Waller was lording over them, now they just find out that she was lording over them even more than they thought. They never really had their hearts in the mission anyway, so it’s not really a big change to find out they’re helping their captor. It would’ve been a bigger shift if they’d been really dedicated to a mission, like saving some people or some cause that they personally cared about, only to find out that that was a lie and it was really Waller they were saving.

In terms of how the twist changes things going forward, there’s no immediate change. The plan was to get HVT1 and then try to leave. Now that it’s Waller, that is still the plan. Get her out, then get out themselves. It’s only later, after Waller is shot down and taken to Enchantress that the mission shifts to being a collision course with Incubus and Enchantress. Now that is all in terms of the official mission. In terms of us as the movie audience, we of course always knew that a showdown with Incubus and Enchantress was going to happen. So even for us, that didn’t change -- we knew eventually that showdown was going to happen, and after the twist we still know it’s going to happen, and the twist didn’t actually propel us any closer to the showdown.

So overall. The twist worked on me and many others in terms of us not seeing it coming. And it has some payoff in terms of Waller as the villain, but it’s not up there with classic movie twists. The other thing I like to do with twists is go back through the movie and see if the filmmakers went overboard in trying to unfairly throw us off the scent, or if they had everything be pretty consistent but just subtle enough that people didn’t see it coming. And I think David Ayer and his team were pretty reasonable in their execution of the twist. They didn’t stretch the truth or mislead us too far to confuse us; the clues were all there and everything is all consistent with the actual truth that it was Waller -- we just wrongly assumed that Waller’s headquarters were associated with the Pentagon where we had seen her earlier, or some other safe location outside Midway City. But actually, it all makes sense that she had actually gone with Flag and Enchantress to Midway City to try to take out Incubus and so her headquarters were there and had been there ever since.

Anyway, the twist was a fairly major plot point, so if you have your own thoughts or reactions to it, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Going forward in Scene 31, Waller voices her pleasure with her pet project, Task Force X. She tells Flag, who had been a doubter, that they wouldn’t have made it without the squad. Then, building on her pride in her creation of Task Force X, she shows true excitement in what she’s seeing from Enchantress. She has seen that Enchantress is able to instantly create these Eyes of the Adversary from common civilians. So this shows where Waller’s heart lies --- she’s not grieving the thousands of lost lives in Midway City, nor is she empathizing with the ordeal that Flag and his team just went through to get to her. No, she’s excited about a morbid power that she just found out Enchantress has and she wants to turn that power toward her own purposes. It’s not enough to take criminals and force them into her service; now Waller is thinking about doing the same with civilians. And she wouldn’t just be taking the freedom of people who are perceived as monsters, she would literally be destroying people and turning them into monsters.

And then, if you still aren’t getting the message that Waller is a level of evil well beyond the squad members, she pulls a handgun and shoots all of the agents who had been diligently working for her up until that moment. Even though they didn’t have nanite explosives inserted in their necks, and even though they weren’t criminals, they were still just as dispensable to Waller.

She uses the excuse that the agents didn’t have clearance for the information or the events of MidWay City, but in reality we find out from the mid-credit scene at the end of the movie that really she’s looking out for herself to prevent people from finding out what happened. It was Waller’s fault, after all, that Enchantress and Incubus got loose in the first place.

Deadshot, uninvited, has followed Flag in and he sees Waller’s coldblooded-ness. He doesn’t react too strongly because he’s a “bad guy” acquainted with murder, but he does make a characteristic sarcastic comment: “And I’m the bad guy?” This plays into David Ayer’s main premise about bad versus evil, and how throughout the movie we find the humanity of the squad members, and this contrasts with the evil of Enchantress and now it looks like probably Waller too. Yes, the squad is a team of villains, but who’s the real villain?

Flag’s response is a bit different: “I’m not judging. I buried a lot of mistakes, too.” So this is kind of a conciliatory move on Flag’s part, but he does subtly send the message that Waller made a mistake. You only say you’re not judging when you know it’s something that someone could be judged for. And Flag says he made mistakes “too,” which implies that what Waller just did was a mistake itself.

But they don’t really protest much and Waller gets to leave and it will all probably just get chalked up to the mess of the Midway City crisis overall. So this looks like it will just go down as another unbelievable rumor about Amanda Waller.

The other things we’ll mention quickly in there with Waller was that Flag said he’ll accept the consequences of what happened with Enchantress, and Waller said, “I am your consequence.” And there was also a brief moment that continued the rivalry between Deadshot and Flag. With Deadshot seeing that Flag wasn’t on a mission of goodwill to save someone like Nelson Mandela, he feels he has a bit of the higher ground over Flag and tells Flag that he wouldn’t last a day on the street. Deadshot says that at least he has laid all his cards on the table -- he’s not misleading and dishonest like Flag has been. This is why it will be meaningful when Flag finally joins them and opens up with the truth in the bar scene. That is the moment that Flag levels with everyone and they truly become a team.

So continuing on in the scene, Waller comes out to face the rest of the squad, and they all react with surprise, not having suspected that it was going to be her. So this is kind of like a double beat because we just had the surprise of it being Waller, and now we see more reaction shots of the surprise of it being Waller. This repetition, rather than building things up to one single moment of payoff, is kind of like the critique we gave earlier on about the multiple introductions to characters. These flaws, if you see them that way --- of course it’s just a matter of opinion --- but the repetition could’ve been avoided if there was a more consistent dedication to one point-of-view. Then you would be sure to only have one revelatory moment for the twist -- the moment when your POV character finds out. That’s where it would all pay off and it would be the only moment that the audience reacts to it, because we would be right there with Flag. We talked a lot about this point-of-view issue at the end of our episode on scenes 22 and 23, so we’ll move on.

Alright, so Boomerang actually proposes killing Waller and Flag right there and trying to get away. That didn’t work out well for Slipknot, so no one is eager to take him up on the idea. And Waller pulls out her killer app to show that she still has them under her thumb. In response to this show of toughness, Killer Croc says that he likes her. After everything we just saw and talked about, this shows some bad taste on the part of Croc.

Scene 32: Joker on the helo

Alright, Scene 32 opens with a wide shot of a helo arriving with the burning buildings visible in the background, the same ones that were in the background in the last scene. So we can tell that it’s arriving at the Ostrander building. Flag had told his men to clear the roof for the helo’s arrival, so this is exactly what we would expect to see.

One of the SEALs (GQ, played by Scott Eastwood) is trying to communicate with the helo and not having any luck. He refers to the helo as “Savior one-zero.” The team starts to look at each other, getting the sense that something is wrong. Harley has a different sort of look, like she’s figuring out what is probably going on. And then Flag figures it out, “Our bird’s been jacked.” And he tells his men to open fire on the helo.

The helo is slowly rotating around, and right then it swings around enough that Johnny Frost opens fire with a mounted gun, and then we see the Joker shooting wildly with an automatic rifle, and he laughs while he’s doing it. The Joker has also brought the nanite technician from Van Criss labs.

And this is a good moment to stop and acknowledge how formidable this Joker really is. He broke out of Arkham, he eluded the Batman, he broke into Van Criss, and now he hijacked a helicopter from Navy SEALs in the middle of an active combat zone! Those are some impressive accomplishments, and it shows why he has probably been able to give Batman so much trouble over the years. We know he killed the Robin, and yes, Batman did catch him and lock him up, presumably for that crime… but he is clearly a top-level villain threat, even though he’s just a side character in this particular movie. Hopefully we get to see more of him in a future DCEU movie, such as The Batman, which looks like it’s getting rewritten possibly away from Deathstroke as the main villain, maybe -- but the Joker could also show up in Gotham City Sirens if Leto and Ayer wanted to work together again, or maybe Batgirl, Nightwing, or Suicide Squad 2.

So the Joker and Frost are shooting like crazy and everyone ducks for cover. Deadshot and Harley end up right next to each other, which is good, because Deadshot is the one who has already noticed that Harley had something going on covertly with the Joker. I don’t really like the line about the hickey, but I do like the Joker telling the Van Criss professor to “pick up the pace.” Maybe it’s because I’m a professor, or maybe it’s the alliteration, but I like this line and Leto’s delivery and I think it could be added to his list of quotable quotes from the movie.

They successfully deactivate Harley’s nanite bomb and the Joker texts her, “Now.” So she knows she’s clear to make a break for it. Deadshot tells her no, but she gets up and strides forward. She knows that they won’t shoot her and she also knows her nanite’s deactivated, so she goes forward to finally be reunited with the Joker. He says, “Come on, baby,” and drops a rope for her. The music swells and her gymnastic skills pay off yet again as she jumps and grabs onto the rope and then does some gymnast poses.

Waller is infuriated by someone escaping from her clutches, something going out of her control, and she orders Deadshot to shoot Harley down. Deadshot says she hasn’t done anything to him, but Waller uses her leverage -- she says she’ll grant Deadshot freedom and reunite him with his daughter. So Deadshot says she’s dead and goes to the edge of the building to line up his shot. We can see from the others, especially Boomerang, that they don’t actually want Deadshot to kill her. This is an important shift, because at the beginning they probably wouldn’t have cared much one way or the other.

Through Deadshot’s scope we see Harley on the rope. He has his sights set right on her and then he fires. When the shot rings out, we are actually looking at Deadshot from the side. Then a moment afterward, we see Harley spin and fall down a bit on the rope, and her body goes limp but she’s still hanging on. Then, after a beat where we see the concerned squad members, she pops back up and kicks her heels in the air, smiling back at the team as she makes her getaway. I really like this moment and I think they executed it effectively. They filmed it from the perspective of Deadshot’s scope, and I like how much personality Margot Robbie was able to deliver even just in the single moment of her popping back up. You can even hear her laugh in the distance.

Deadshot turns back toward Waller, and with a half smile says, “I missed.” As he walks past, Boomerang mutters under his breath, “Good one, mate.” Deadshot missing of course connects back to his cheerleading tryouts when he made it very clear that he doesn’t miss. And having the reputation of not missing is a big part of the character in the comics, too. So the implication, of course, is that he threw the shot on purpose. He made the choice that Harley’s life, even though she’s kind of psychotic and has done bad things, is still more important than his freedom or a reunion with his daughter.

Now, our contributor Nick has thought quite a bit about Deadshot’s shooting ability. He thinks that maybe Deadshot is just too good to be a normal human. Maybe he has some special powers. Nick is not the first person to think about this possibility. The Doc on Man of Steel Answers brought up the fact that Deadshot’s accuracy is so good, it’s basically a meta-human power. ( But the film never gives any explicit indication that Floyd is a meta-human. But going into speculation, just for fun, maybe he has a sort of telekinesis where he can manipulate bullets’ trajectories during flight and hone them in on very specific spots. This could be how he gets a shot grouping only one bullet wide with an automatic rifle, which would normally be impossible. In this case, maybe all of his extremely advanced and expensive gear is a smokescreen because he doesn't want people to know his secret. And while we're on the topic of speculations about powers, Nick also thinks maybe Captain Boomerang has a similar gift, but is less diligent about hiding it. Boomerangs in real life don’t actually act like his do. But back to Scene 32 specifically, Nick suggests that Deadshot does fire directly at Harley, but uses his powers to push the bullet away from her as it flies, allowing him to make a few points: (1) I am your single best gun, so I'm not afraid to disobey you because I know you’ll still need me; (2) I don't believe you when you say you're going to reunite me with my daughter, and (3) I will not kill my friends for you.

Harley and Deadshot have become friends over several conversations and also fighting alongside one another and consulting with each other on decisions about the squad. Harley even explicitly called Deadshot her friend when he mentioned that her friend, the Joker, would help remove their nanites. They have even had a brief conversation about the love in their lives. So Deadshot is honoring that friendship and giving her the chance to get away. Harley, on the other hand, didn’t actually try to help her friends. She said earlier, “You’re my friend too,” but she didn’t try to take them with her. And some of it was out of her hands, because it was the Joker who was in charge of deactivating the nanites, and he had no way of knowing that Harley would want him to deactivate the others, too.

So Harley has set out apart from the squad, temporarily at least, but the remaining squad members show that they’ve started to form a bit of a bond. That bond will become even clearer in the bar scene in a few minutes. And already, their bond here contrasts sharply with Waller. Waller was trying to use her main tool -- leverage -- but it doesn’t work because the squad doesn’t trust her and she has no personal connection to them. This moment connects with David Ayer’s main premise about bad versus evil. Deadshot is bad; he’s killed many people before, but he’s not evil. He won’t kill Harley now, just for his own benefit. Waller is the one who’s evil. This moment also connects strongly to the theme that friendship is more powerful than leverage. Deadshot and the squad, having formed a friendship with Harley, wins the day over Waller’s desperate use of leverage.

Although Waller still has a card up her sleeve, because she calls ahead for the military to shoot down the helo.

Harley on the Helo (1:14:40)

And that pushes us forward into Scene 33, which is the Joker and Harley’s reunion on the helo. Harley climbs up the rope and the Joker pulls her aboard. She calls him, “Puddin’”, the classic pet name that she uses for him. And they share a kiss. She comments on his tux, noticing that he got dressed up for her. He says that he’d do anything for her, which does seem to be the truth because the whole movie thus far we’ve seen him go to extreme measures to get her back, including his manipulation of Griggs, his break-in at Van Criss, and this hijacking of a military aircraft. And bear in mind that before the acid bath, Harley was saying to the Joker that she’d do anything for him. And now the Joker is turning that around, saying that he’d do anything for her.

Then the Joker says that he has grape soda on ice and a bear skin rug waiting for them back home. Again, this is a pretty quotable line, but it also reveals a bit about the relationship. First of all, it’s likely that these are things that Harley enjoys and so it shows some thoughtfulness on the Joker’s part that he has things ready, just how she would like. Second, it also shows that the two kind of get off on the violence and mayhem. Most people would ask about the ordeal that each one had been through getting to this point, and with all the hecticness they would just want to get somewhere safe and then decompress or rest. But not these two -- they are basically ready to go, if you know what I mean. And a third thing about this line is that the reference to grape soda is probably a connection to the Mad Love comic, where Harley was shown drinking grape soda as she waited for Batman to wake up.

But their moment together doesn’t last long, as Waller’s orders are carried out and the helo is hit with a missile. Joker says the bird is baked and then he looks down to an approaching roof. “Okay, honey. It’s me and you.” Now, I’ve talked about a ton of Joker’s lines that I loved, but this was the one line delivery from Leto that I didn’t like. The “okay, honey” just sounded wrong, like an Elvis impersonation or something.

Anyway, they don’t actually get to jump out together because another blast rocks the helo and Harley falls out by herself. The Joker cries out in agony at losing her again, and then Harley has a great stunt here where she rolls on the roof and then turns the roll right into a running stride toward the edge of the roof as she looks out at the helo. It crashes just out of sight behind a building. We didn’t see exactly what happened to the Joker, but we see Harley’s reaction and she’s devastated. She of course assumes that he was killed in the crash.

By the way, some people have talked about the unseen original cut of this movie, which was rumored to be a more serious take and to feature more of an abusive relationship between the Joker and Harley. It’s been mentioned that maybe in the original version, the Joker pushed Harley out after a brief argument or some sort of dissatisfaction. We’ll never know for sure, but if that is true, it would imply a whole different take on those two characters, probably downplaying entirely the Joker’s love for Harley. The only real remnant that I know of from that original version is maybe the very first Comic-Con trailer, which was more somber and serious before the later edits and the later trailers and the reshoots seemed to make it more punk rock and upbeat.

But anyway, that’s the last we’ll see of the Joker until the very end of the movie. And before we leave the Joker behind, we figured this was a good place to mention the music video for the song “Purple Lamborghini” by Skrillex and Rick Ross. Nick has a theory that the music video is actually meant to exist as a media artifact in the Justice League Universe itself. When Purple Lamborghini came out, Nick thought it was just another single for the movie. He liked the video, which features Jared Leto as the Joker, rolling around town with his new acquaintances, Rick Ross and Skrillex. However, when the movie came out, it completely changed the way Nick viewed the song. In the movie, “Purple Lamborghini” plays in the club where Joker kills Common's character, Monster T, meaning it's a song you can listen to in the world of these characters. It's a lot of fun to look at “Purple Lamborghini” as an artifact of this fictional world, like the Batman v. Superman travel guide or the additional prose sections in Watchmen or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If it seems unrealistic that popular rappers would release a love letter to a famous criminal like the Joker, consider Gucci Mane’s “El Chapo”, which is about the infamous drug lord. Looking at the song in this light, we can imagine the director of the music video deciding to shoot in Miami in part for Rick Ross, a famous Miami native, but also because Joker might not have any warrants there. We can imagine extras in the video being instructed to hold very still around Joker and not look him in the eye because he is extremely dangerous and wholly unpredictable. Skrillex has a lot of nerve to just run up behind Joker like he does later in the video! Nick thinks the song adds a lot to the world of the Justice League Universe, and from this perspective, we’re all glad to have it and it would be cool to get more in-universe content like that for future films.

Scene 34: Waller on a Helo (1:16:25)

Okay, Scene 34 is back to Amanda Waller. She tells everyone that “Joker and Harley Quinn are no more.” The team is all visibly saddened by the news, and Boomerang is worried that Deadshot will feel guilty about it, so he says, “You couldn’t save her.” All of this continues to show what we were talking about earlier -- that the squad has clearly formed some bonds because of the ordeal they’ve already been forced to go through together. We can also note here that Waller is actually entirely wrong in her announcement. Joker is still alive, Harley is still alive, and the relationship between Joker and Harley will continue as well. So apparently the “voice of god” can be quite mistaken.

We cut to another helo and Flag is helping Waller aboard. She calls back to the team, “Stand by, I’ll send another helo.” Luckily, we never see another one, because that would be the fourth one in Midway City, and the first three all end up crashing. So even if they do make sense in terms of crisis transportation in a city, that would be a lot of repetition for a movie and I’m glad the last one doesn’t end up coming.

This is another instance where Waller is watching out for herself above all else, which is a contrast to the fact that we just saw the squad starting to think about others before themselves. Their bond is also going to be strengthened by them all being left behind here, and then them all feeling the frustration of having to go and rescue Waller again. Feeling similar emotions and recognizing those similar emotions in each other is a powerful basis for friendship and connection. Up till now, they’ve felt frustration together, fear, exhilaration, and now sadness and soon frustration again.

Waller’s helo swoops down to the street level and it’s actually kind of a pretty series of shots here as it releases flares behind it. Those might have worked fairly well on the sort of missile that took out the Joker’s helo, but Waller’s ends up getting hit and pulled down by Incubus himself. Now, some people have criticized the fact that the helo went so low instead of flying up and away from the city. But I think you just have to assume that the pilots and the military command had more information than we did about the threats and that they must’ve made the best decision possible based on what they knew. Just because it didn’t turn out well doesn’t mean it was necessarily the wrong choice to go low.

Inside the crashed helo, Waller gets to show a bit more of her toughness. She grabs a rifle and shoots a few of the Eyes of the Adversary before she runs out of ammo and more Eyes arrive to take her away.

There’s a quick shot back inside the Pentagon and Tolliver confirms that Waller is down. He says, “It’s over.” I guess this shows that, for them, they’re really just concerned with the status of the leadership in Midway City, because nothing is really over except for Waller’s ability to lead the team there. The mission is definitely not over because Flag gets the information that Waller is 1 kilometer West and he and the SEALs immediately stride forward, back to work. Although Tolliver said, “It’s over,” Flag says explicitly to Deadshot “Mission’s not over.” Deadshot says it is over for him, but Flag says, “Without Waller, you got nothing.” Instead of getting reaction shots from all the squad members, the filmmakers mainly stay on Deadshot here because he is the co-lead of the movie and we know the most about him in terms of what he has to lose and what he’s fighting for. Will Smith does some good acting here, showing a mix of frustration and sadness and being boxed in because he knows he can’t really do anything except continue. He looks up toward the sky and with just that look, we know that he’s still thinking about his daughter and he’s probably thinking about the same thing he’ll say to Flag later -- “When will this end?”

End of Episode

Thanks for listening to our analysis of Scenes 31 through 34 of Suicide Squad. Next up we will be heading back over to Wonder Woman where we will dig into the iconic scene where Diana saves a sinking Steve Trevor. And we also want to give you a heads up for our August 5th Suicide Squad anniversary episode. Back in March we did an anniversary episode for BvS and it was a lot of fun to have listener participation for that episode. So what we’re going to do for August 5th is have a Question-and-Answer episode. You can ask us anything you want -- it can be about the DCEU movies, past, present, or future, but you can also broaden it out to ask about other movies, TV shows, books, questions about the podcast, really anything at all that is appropriate for public consumption. If you have twitter, the best place to reach us is through our twitter account @JLUPodcast. But you can also email your question, with the subject line JLU Question, to ottensam AT att DOT net. We will be collecting questions until late July and then we’ll be aiming for August 5th to release the special episode.

Also be sure to check out the Suicide Squadcast and the MOSAIC podcast for some more great DCEU content.

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