Minor spoilers, nothing central to the plot.
I’m a DC Comics fan. I loved Batman and Justice League as a kid, and as a parent I’ve watched the New Justice League, Young Justice, and several of the animated movies with my kids.
The recent DC animated movies, such as The Flashpoint Paradox, are as good as Marvel’s live action movies. Unfortunately, the recent DC live action movies, such as Batman vs Superman, have been as bad as Marvel’s animated stuff.
Who cares? I’m trying not to slip into fanboy stuff, so let’s talk about popular movies on a higher level for a sec. Why do movies like this matter, beyond escapist entertainment?
Popular movies are the carriers of our collective morality.
Back to DC land.
The Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy said the following:
- Batman Begins: America, though corrupt, is worth saving.
- The Dark Knight: It’s better to trust each other than live in a police state.
- The Dark Knight Rises: We should all be able to start again (even if we’re more like Catwoman than Batman).
These were good and true things to say.
Suicide Squad seems to be saying three things:
- Sometimes there is no good choice, just a choice between bad and worse. (True)
- We should all be able to start again — even if we’re more like Deadshot than Rick Flag. (True)
- The federal government is so afraid of us finding out about their secret anti-terrorism program that it’s turned full-bore evil. (Really?)
Here’s the minor spoiler: Amanda Waller, “The Wall,” a compelling central character across the DC universe, a strong willed, loyal American and career federal agent, is shown shooting FBI agents in the back of the head simply because they saw Task Force X (the “Suicide Squad”), which was supposed to be secret. This mass murder, while it made the thinnest of plot sense, made no moral sense at all, and was the point where the movie lost me and my daughter. We actually snapped out of the film, looked at each other, and shook our heads.
In this act, Suicide Squad changed Waller from a sympathetic hard-ass to a sociopath. Since she represents the government, the movie said, in essence, “Working for the government is no better than working for the Joker.” This undermines the redemptive act of being in Task Force X for the criminals, and makes the whole adventure pointless, from a moral perspective.
Look, I get the anti-fed gov’t feelings of the far left (“it’s a war factory in the back pocket of its corporate masters”) and the far right (“it’s a bunch of jackbooted thugs trying to take away our freedoms”). Personally, I hate the Patriot Act, never supported it, and am disappointed with everyone who voted for it, Democrat and Republican. We’ll probably never get our pre-9/11 privacy back. But I get why they did it. It wasn’t to peek in our collective underwear drawers. It was to protect us from terrorists. The Patriot Act was one of those “bad or worse” decisions, and I just think they took the worse one. And, I’ll admit, I could be wrong.
In my opinion, federal employees, including our congressional representatives and our military, are human beings. Most are sane, and practically none are sociopaths. (Out of several million people, I’m sure a few are nuts, but sociopaths don’t tend to rise in management to Waller’s level — they’re bad at relationships.)
I’ve had friends and family members in various agencies (FBI, TSA) and the military (Army, Navy). This twisted version of Waller is not who any of them are. They care about America and each other. That’s why they show up every day. Rick Flag, DC’s non-metahuman version of Captain America, the soldier who’s on the ground leading the Suicide Squad, would have never put up with Waller killing her own people like that. He should have shot her on the spot.
That might have saved the movie, frankly… though it would have been saying “the government has become so bad the military needs to take over,“ which is a completely different story (and another “bad or worse“ thing).
On the up side, my core theory — popular movies are the carriers of our collective morality — is still redeemable, because Suicide Squad isn’t that popular.
Maybe I can pretend that the movie takes place in one of DC’s many parallel universes, and in this one Waller turns evil. OK, given that, the movie is a 7 out of 10. I enjoyed Will Smith as Deadshot, I liked Diablo as the gangbanger who doesn’t want to bang anymore, and I felt sad for Harley Quinn, the nutty gal who really just wants a house in the burbs with a child but is in the most abusive relationship ever. Those all worked for me.
Maybe a director’s cut will come out with Waller’s murder spree removed, and we’ll call that version Earth One, and the movie can fulfill its core purpose.
And don’t give me that “art for art’s sake” stuff. That kind of art is seldom popular, and isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about big budget, mainstream art whose goal is big sales. Those sales, especially repeat viewings, can say “this movie isn’t just enjoyable — it’s speaking to me” — like how Top Gun drove up Navy enlistment in the 80s.
Now you could argue that Suicide Squad didn’t have that core message — that it was trying to be pure entertainment without moral or political philosophies — but you’ve got a tough row to hoe, given the terrified government using criminals to fight terrorism setup.