Whose Stories Are The Filmmakers Interested In Telling? – By Ben Clemmer.
While it wasn’t planned much beyond our team enjoying a summer vacation, the Storytelling Breakdown blog took a bit of a hiatus over the last several weeks. What’s going to end that hiatus comes as no surprise as The Suicide Squad (2021) was maybe one of the two films I was most excited about seeing this year.
So you’ve been warned, SPOILER ALERT for The Suicide Squad.
Right out of the gate, I feel like on some level nitpicking is a compliment. I’ve always been more of a DC guy than a Marvel guy, so I know I am harder on their adaptations of stories and characters because I have more experience with them. While some movies discussed on the blog or on our podcast in the past have had major structural issues, this is not one of those films.
It’s James Gunn, so I went in expecting Guardians of the Galaxy level humor with Deadpool (I know, not directed by him) level violence. The movie pretty much hit that mark. It was immensely entertaining and got so much right.
That said, I’m starting with the nitpicks. When I first saw the length of the cast list and the obscurity of some of the characters, I knew over half of them were going to die. I did not expect that to happen within the first ten minutes of the film. The mission started with a pretty straightforward storming of a beach, which gave me flashbacks to the first time I ever played a Fate Core game in the Suicide Squad universe, and then things began to go pretty bad for the first team. This failed beach landing leaves Harley Quinn and Colonel Flag both captured and everyone else dead.
That included Captain Boomerang, played by Jai Courtney, one of the few holdovers from Suicide Squad (2016). On some level, I get why they did it. As soon as Boomerang dies, consumed when a crashing helicopter erupts in a fireball on the beach, you know no one is safe. Harley Quinn even reacts by screaming, “Boomer!” I had to process that as the opening credits rolled and the story continued. This is one of the reasons this blog’s title is a question, whose stories are the filmmakers interested in telling? The Suicide Squad (2021) is not about Captain Boomerang, but he’s appeared in so much other media as a member of Task Force X. The biggest disappointment is just a failure to use the character well in two big screen appearances and barring another reboot or a resurrection, we’ve seen the last of Courtney’s turn as the character. Going back to those other media where Boomerang is prominent on the squad, you have the Task Force X episode of Justice League Unlimited. Boomerang also appears in Batman: Assault on Arkham and Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Shifting from animation to video games, there’s also this game where it looks like Boomerang will be as prominent as other big names like Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and King Shark. A piece of concept art on Instagram even showed Boomerang more prominently than Bloodsport.
I’ll get back to the movie, but when I played Suicide Squad RPG sessions with my friends, many of the iconic moments came from Casey playing Captain Boomerang. He talked about it a little bit in the Spotlight for this episode. Our first session included Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, El Diablo, Enchantress, Harley Quinn, and Killer Frost. I found myself watching this film’s opening on the beach and thinking, “Really? This is what you brought him back for? If you weren’t going to tell a meaningful story with the character, do what you did with Deadshot and leave him on the shelf.”
But again, whose stories are the filmmakers interested in telling?
My second nitpick was less about a character death and more about a character decision. If you’ve read this far, I have no problem telling you that Colonel Flag also doesn’t survive the film. It’s revealed that the US was responsible for the mess Task Force X has been sent in to clean up (a common situation). There’s hard drives with data that reveal the US’s involvement and they immediately become the MacGuffin of the third act. To my surprise, the character who proclaimed that the drives should be released to the press was Rick Flag. What plays out from here is dramatic and entertaining, but this felt like a change in character motivation to serve the story. Flag follows Waller and serves the US government. It felt a little like he abruptly broke from that without clear reasons why. This film did offer moments that humanized Flag and did so much more with him than the 2016 film. We see him being willing to rescue his squadmates or get captured so others on the team can escape. Flag was also leading the cannon fodder team on the beach at the start of the film. After walking into an ambush, it would make some sense he’d be reconsidering where he stands, but we don’t see Flag do anything else (granted, I’ve watched the film once) that suggests he’d turn on Waller.
Another random thought, I’ve always pictured Rick Flag played by a younger Adam Baldwin. He voiced Flag for Justice League Unlimited and Baldwin’s character John Casey in the show Chuck is pretty close to Flag. Again, he’d need a particularly good reason not to follow orders. Also, shout out to Stephen who played Flag in our Fate sessions and got me to watch Chuck.
If there was a character on the team who it would have made more sense to have wanting to publish the drives, it’s Polka-Dot Man. We don’t know much about his past, and what we do know is presented to hilarious effect, but one of the few clear details is he was subjected to dangerous experimentation that gave him his powers. The fact that a parallel wasn’t drawn between that and the objective of the mission is surprising.
Now that I have said all of that, I loved this movie. This is absolutely the best film treatment Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn has gotten. And going back to our question of whose stories are the filmmakers interested in telling? Everyone who James Gunn did want to focus on is given amazing development and scenes where they shine. Thanks to being a Batman and DC fan, I knew of Ratcatcher, Polka-Dot Man, and King Shark, but I had very little knowledge of Bloodsport or Peacemaker before this film went into production and we found out who Idris Elba and John Cena would be playing. I am now a huge fan of all of these characters. From the bizarre visions that allowed us to get inside characters’ heads to the clashes of ideologies and varying sizes of bullets, the story of The Suicide Squad is one of the best put forward in a DC film in quite a while and I can’t wait to see Harley Quinn (I mean, she’s everywhere), Ratcatcher II, Peacemaker, King Shark, and Bloodsport again.
But it’s Suicide Squad, so they could just die in the first ten minutes of the next film.
I have one last addition to this. I had a feeling Nando would make a video about the film sooner rather than later and his changes make me feel better about both of my big criticisms.