After dealing with less-than-stellar box office figures for Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the film division of DC Comics is in some seriously burning hot water. After spending an estimated $800 million on BVS, Warner Brothers has been watching their collective dream$ go down the toilet as their supposed juggernaut was taken out of first place this weekend by Melissa McCarthy’s highly criticized comedy The Boss. Accounting for McCarthy’s undeniable star power, it appears that the continued lifespan of the DC Extended Universe (which I find to be one of the most laughable titles ever given to a series) now rests on the sadistic shoulders of the next installment in the DCEU, Suicide Squad.
That trailer aired during the 2016 MTV Movie Awards last night to massive acclaim. I saw the trailer this morning and was pleasantly surprised by it, as it appeared that the marketing people finally realized the kind of movie they wanted to promote. This darkly hilarious advertisement is in a stark contrast to the original trailer we got at comic con a few months ago, which showcased a much darker movie.
I was not excited to see THAT movie, as I could not hold in my laughter watching people in Panda costumes shoot up a convenience store, as well as a tantalizing Margot Robbie (known the world over for her breakout role in The Wolf of Wall Street) fulfilling the fantasies of fanboys everywhere with her spot-on portrayal of Harley Quinn. Having watched some of Batman: The Animated Series, as well as play Arkham City, I was astounded at how well Robbie channeled the psychotic glee of the character, from the exaggerated Boston accent to her overtly sensuous movements.
That being said, many movies have had fascinating characters stuck in bad scripts, a category that Suicide Squad could go under all too easily if the material is mishandled. I will wait and see the film in its entirety when it hits theaters on August 5th, but for now, here is my list of 5 Things Suicide Squad Must Accomplish In Order To Be Successful:
Do NOT Be A Guardians Of the Galaxy Rip-Off
The year was 2014. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (“Avengerverse” as I call it) was riding strong on the surprise awesomeness of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and they had another film following it up that year. That film was Guardians of the Galaxy, and it looked really, really dumb.
I thought this movie would be Marvel’s first outright bomb. While some missteps had been taken (cough, Iron Man 2, cough), none of the Avengers films had been outright horrible. This looked like an overbloated excuse for CGI and generic characters who happened to have famous actors playing them. However, to the shock of absolutely everyone, GOTG was a light, fun, and surprisingly hilarious action romp that had memorable characters and as good heart. Like its heroes, the film proved that the biggest underdog can sometimes soar past the expectations of those watching him. As a bonus, you didn’t have to see any other film in the MCU to understand what the heck was happening, a delightful breath of fresh air.
Suicide Squad is DC’s answer to that. Both feature relatively unknown comic book characters with one or two biggish names behind the project (GOTG had Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt, SS has Will Smith and Jared Leto) as well as their own unique tone compared to other films in their universes. Suicide Squad looks like the filmmakers are finally realizing how dumb this entire universe idea is and are going to have some fun with it, rather than trying to play it straighter than Saving Private Ryan. It is imperative that this movie be something unique and memorable in order for audiences to enjoy it, not be a darker copy of something that worked a few years ago. While I appreciate the trailers not showing us who the villain is, this film needs to be crazy, darkly hilarious, and, of course, exhilarating, in order to stand out from the crowd.
2. Have a Solid Story
I miss the days when action movies ran on a solid story and not endless F/X shots. Think of the greatest action films ever made: The Fugitive, The Hunt for Red October, Braveheart, and many others all had engrossing narratives that invested us in the proceedings of their characters. Action movies as of late seem to have the idea that 15-20 minutes of basic character and story development are all we “stupid” audiences can handle before hurling action set pieces in our face.
This theory applies to the comic book genre as well. Think back to the first time you saw Iron Man. Sure the action was (and still is) great, but what kept you coming back? The character of Tony Stark and the journey he went on. You liked Tony as a character and felt relief watching him transform from an egotistical warmonger into a slightly less egotistical human being who cared about and wanted to apologize for the damage he caused. Suicide Squad needs to be able to weave a good narrative into or around all of the craziness. We don’t want 2 hours of endless shooting with a paper-thin plot. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, but I need to be able to remember the story of Suicide Squad. If a film called Kill Bill can tell an engrossing story with good characters, then this should as well. That leads into my next point:
3. Make The Characters Interesting
Team-up movies are a big gamble because they have to establish and develop a large group of main characters and make them interesting individually. The Avengers took the loooong route and gave most of their heroes individual movies before having them team up, but Suicide Squad didn’t have the grace (or time) to do that. Most audience members know of the Joker and Harley Quinn through pop culture, but I had never heard of The Enchantress, Deadshot, or Killer Croc (yes that is his actual name) before that first trailer. As such, each character needs to be distinct and original in their own way. My favorite line in the second trailer for SS comes when Will Smith describes the characters: He eats people, he burns people, you’re (referring to the Enchantress) possessed by a witch, and she’s (Harley) just crazy”. That is a perfect explanation of who everyone is physically, but I don’t know who they are as individuals. They all have the potential to be great and memorable characters, but they could also be one-note and bland. Hopefully the writers have been able to make every one on this island of misfit maniacs into a complex person, but I’m only hoping. That goes into my next-to-last point:
4. Find the Right Tone
I love black comedies. They are able to help us enter the dark recesses of our minds and laugh at the ridiculous things in life. A great example of this is The Big Short, which took a seemingly humorless topic (the 2008 economic crash) and turned it into a sly dark comedy while still recognizing the seriousness of the situation. Many black comedies have more serious endings because they need to make a point about something. This is fine as long as the film remembers what it is and doesn’t try to be more than that.
Suicide Squad has the potential for both dark hilarity and serious drama. Most of the characters are psychologically damaged, which we’ve seen will lead to some good jokes. However, at the end of the day, these are very messed-up people with serious problems, and that needs to be accounted for. For example, the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker is an abusive one. She gives herself completely to a man who will never ever love her, but instead use her as a prop for his own self-gain. This version of Harley seems fiercely independent, but it could be a charade to hide a beaten and abused child on the inside. I want to see Harley come out on top of her abuser and show women that it is possible to escape the monsters who torture them.
That could be asking for too much out of one movie, but my point is that they need to decide on a tone and stick with it. Think of Batman Returns. We know immediately that this is going to a dark, sad movie, and that darkness never lets up. Suicide Squad needs to maintain a darkly comedic tone while allowing us to take it seriously when necessary. If they make it too serious, then the dark humor will clash with the tone, but if they make it too funny, then a random serious change will seem out of place for what preceded. My point is that this film needs to be able to make us laugh our butts off AND make us take the events seriously. The way to do that successfully is my last point:
5. It Needs to Be Well-Directed
The director of Suicide Squad is David Ayer. He is known for intense dramas with well-rounded characters and memorable action. I don’t know why he was chosen to direct a dark action-comedy that takes place in a world where men dress up in clown makeup and batsuits, but I can tell you that he gets results out of his actors. It appears that DC is giving their directors a large amount of creative control over their movies (for the moment anyway), so Ayer’s style will likely be all over this movie. In full form, he can make every one of my aforementioned desires for the film into reality, but he has to remember to have some fun with it. This should NOT be like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, this should be a fun, edgy, adrenaline-fueled ride with a dark undercurrent, a combination of Mad Max: Fury Road and the better parts of the Dark Shadows movie (the fun parts). As well, David Ayer should know that the future of the DCEU rests on this film, and its failure could very well be the biggest embarrassment of the year.
Those are the things I think Suicide Squad needs to do in order to succeed. Will this be the surprise hit of the year, or is it going to hurt really, really bad? We’ll find out when it hits theaters on August 5th, 2016.