I’d like to see Amanda Waller at home.
If she finds aphids on her roses, I’m pretty sure she’d just take a flame-thrower to those suckers. A hornet’s nest in the rafters? Great excuse to try out that new bazooka. Kids get out of line? Nothing her rabid grizzly can’t cure.
Heaven help the neighborhood if her house has termites.
This nail-spitting bureaucrat doesn’t cotton to mamby-pamby ideals like rational thought. No, we live in a big cruel world in need of some big cruel solutions. Forget fighting fire with fire: Let’s take it out with a nuclear warhead infected with Zika.
No wonder she’s so excited about her idea for the Suicide Squad.
It’s been a while since Superman allegedly fought his last monster. He’s apparently dead now, buried under the wreckage of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But Amanda figures it’s only a matter of time before another god-like superhuman decides to show up—and the next one might not be so nice. Best gather a group of bad-to-the-bone supervillains to use in case this hypothetical threat appears. Those baddies are just collecting dust in some old maximum security facility anyway. And if they get toasted by supervision or blown to smithereens by a sonic blast, who’s gonna care?
Seems dangerous, you say? Well, she has one of those villains in pocket already: The Enchantress. A witch-like being who, we’re told, is around 6,300 years old, she serves Waller only because the bureaucrat has a hold on her heart … literally. Amanda keeps it in a high-tech briefcase. As long as she has the witch’s dusty thumper, the Enchantress is just super-helpful—the Miss Congeniality of undead supervillains.
All Amanda needs is a few more dangerous hombres and the world, she promises, will be nice and safe. “In a world of flying men and monsters, this is the only way to protect our country.”
The government is totally on board. After all, what could go wrong? Want Deadshot, the world’s most lethal assassin? Fine. Harley Quinn, the insane psychopathic girlfriend of the even-more-insane supervillain Joker? Sure. El Diablo, the guy who can turn himself into a raging fireball of death? Why not? Just keep a fire extinguisher handy.
Yes, Amanda’s team is coming together nicely. As long as everybody plays by the rules, well, she should be getting a bigger corner office in no time.
But here’s the thing about supervillains. They just don’t like rules very much. And Enchantress, the Suicide Squad’s inaugural member, plans to make some mischief of her own. Something she can really put her heart into.
When your movie’s protagonists are a bunch of hardened killers, positives can be difficult to come by. But that said, there’s some good to be found in many of these bad guys.
Deadshot is an assassin, but he’s also a dad—one who really loves his 11-year-old daughter. He’d do anything for her (except, apparently, give up his lethal profession), and when he considers joining the Squad, his first thoughts are of her. He’s also a reliable teammate, always willing to protect a fellow fighter—no matter how good or how bad they might be.
El Diablo is no less a killer, but he’s filled with regrets over his past misdeeds. In fact, when Amanda first drafts the guy, he refuses to light up, as it were, playing the pacifist in the Squad’s bloody dealings. “I ain’t no weapon,” he says. “[I’ll] die in peace before I raise my hand.” And while Diablo changes his mind eventually, he’s still haunted by his dark history. He’s the most broken of the bunch, and he’s willing to sacrifice a great deal to rectify the tragic choices he’s made.
Many members of the Suicide Squad are portrayed as victims as much as they are villains. Yes, they’ve been pushed beyond the brink, but they can still feel love and loyalty. And they all do risk their lives to try and save the world. We’ll give them a star for that, even if they’re just saving it so they still have a place to store all their stolen loot.
The Enchantress feels pretty occultish: At her core essence, she’s actually a nigh-immortal entity that possesses the body of a female archaeologist named June Moone. She’s perpetually enveloped in shadows, performs acts of magic and keeps her heart stored, apparently, in a jar. Her remains were found near what appears to be an ancient altar. And when she frees herself (with the help of her equally ancient and occultish brother), they reminisce about the good old days, when they were both worshipped as gods. “Now they worship machines,” Enchantress says. “So I will build a machine to destroy them.”
Deadshot seems to have some spiritual leanings himself. The neck of his outfit is inscribed with the words, “I am the light, the way,” which is likely some sort of mashup from the book of John (“I am the light of the world,” Jesus tells us in John 8:12; In John 14:6, He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”) We can’t say whether the words are a hint of Deadshot’s beliefs or whether Deadshot is positioning himself as some sort of lethal savior. But later, when told that his daughter writes to him every day, Deadshot seems committed to do the right thing—so that his exploits will be remembered like books from the Bible (and his daughter will think better of him). He also threatens a corrupt guard, saying, “I’m going to rain down on you like the Holy Ghost.”
Katana, a lethal vigilante hired by the government to help keep the villains in line, has a sword that apparently captures the souls of those she kills. The same sword killed her husband, we’re told, and her conversations with the blade feel almost like a prayer. El Diablo said that his wife used to pray for/with him, even when he didn’t want her to. When Amanda communicates via computer tablet with the Squad, someone says, “behold, the voice of God.” And when Harley first meets Amanda, she asks, “Are you the devil?”
“May be,” Amanda answers.
June Moone is sleeping with the Squad’s military overseer, Rick Flag. We see the two kiss and lie in bed together (fully clothed). But when June transforms into the Enchantress, she likes to do her evil work in as little clothing as a PG-13 rating will allow. Everything strategic is covered, but we do see lots of skin. She sometimes kisses mortals, which turns them into monsters.
Harley also prefers a more stripped-down look. While her male compatriots prefer to do their fighting fully clothed (and sometimes vaguely armored), she spends most of the movie in a super-tight shirt and short-shorts that expose a good bit of her derriere. (She changes into that outfit, incidentally, in full view of a bunch of male onlookers and the camera, and we see her pull her top over her bra.) In flashback, she wears other revealing getups, smooches with Joker and, at one juncture, is seemingly passed off to one of Joker’s underworld associates as some sort of perk (or temptation). She suggestively licks an iron bar. Diablo’s former wife suggests that, now that the kids are asleep, they can have sex.
The Joker/Quinn relationship, incidentally, is seriously messed up. While sometimes it appears as though the two love each other—and the movie seems to sometimes want us to invest in their romance, there’s a deeply abusive undercurrent at play. Joker drags Quinn (who was once his psychologist) into madness and later asks her if she’d both live and die for him. He then pushes her into a vat of chemicals (she falls willingly), then later dives into the same vat and they kiss passionately. But earlier, we also see him …
… Take some sort of metal device and place it against her temples, seemingly shocking her repeatedly and telling her how much he means to hurt her. It’s not the only time that Quinn suffers at the hands of men. Guards appear to beat and torture her with some regularity while she’s incarcerated. Someone also knocks her out underwater when she tries to slice him with a knife.
This being a superhero movie, it likely won’t surprise you that there’s a great deal of ongoing violence in play. Enchantress creates an army of strange, inhuman foot soldiers that mindlessly do her bidding, and members of the Squad shoot, slice, immolate and vaporize them with impunity. Some are sliced in two. Others have their heads chopped off at around ear level. And while these creatures don’t bleed when they die (they seem to be made of black, bubbly goo), we know that all these zombie-pawns were once human, which makes the movie’s body count disturbingly high.
Lots of unzombified people are shot and presumably killed, too. Many are incinerated. Pellets are shot surgically into people’s necks. Skulls litter a cave. A tentacled evildoer grabs several innocent people and seems to moosh them together somehow, creating something far more disturbing. Bombs blow up. A creature barrels into and through a rushing subway train, causing untold casualties. Helicopters crash.
An innocent mom and her two kids are killed: We see their bodies. One man is shot in the back of the head. Another has an explosive chip in his neck blow up. This man’s corpse, attached to a high, hanging cord, thumps into the side of a building.
We hear one f-word in a background song, while about 25 s-words are uttered as a matter of course in the dialogue. Characters also utter “a–,” “b–ch,” “crap,” “d–n,” “h—” and “p—y”, along with crass terms referencing testicles.
God’s name is misused a half-dozen times, including three with the word “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused once.
In the middle of fighting untold evil, the Squad decides to go to a nearby bar and have a drink. Their beverages of choice are pretty divergent, ranging from shots of vodka to fruity cocktails. A couple drinks wine at dinner. Whiskey is quaffed.
As supervillains, members of the Suicide Squad flaunt authority and sometimes treat their superiors disrespectfully. On the other hand, some of these authority figures are louses—as bad as the supervillains they’re supposedly managing.
“We’re bad guys,” Harley says. “It’s what we do.”
But in a movie full of bad guys, you have to root for somebody, right? And that’s what turns Suicide Squad into a frustrating exercise in relativism.
That’s not all bad. I mean, let’s face it: We’re all antiheroes in our own way—an amalgamation of God’s divine plan for us and the muck of a fallen, sinful world (and, of course, our own bad decisions). We’ve all fallen from grace. Most of us have done things we’re ashamed of. As Harley Quinn says, “We all are [ugly on the inside]. We all are.”
But I’m assuming that few of us have become unrepentant professional assassins, or serve as the willing girlfriends of unhinged, green-haired homicidal psychopaths.
It’s the unrepentant part, of course, that is the most troubling thing at play here—at least from a spiritual angle. Perhaps, had the movie known what it wanted to say—if there was some sort of point or purpose to this whole exercise—we could glean something of merit. But there is no real point or sense of cohesion here. The writing feels jumbled and confused: sometimes as if its writers were working in isolation from each other and then suddenly found themselves needing to patch the thing together on deadline. The movie itself is gratuitously sexual and jarringly profane. While it’s not quite as grim as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it’s even more problematic, and it’s certainly not the tonic that Warner Bros. hoped it would be to get its DC superhero franchise back on track.
Suicide Squad is a visual spectacle for spectacle’s sake. It doesn’t really know what it wants to say. It only wants to make a lot of noise and take in a lot of money—which makes it a lot like its characters.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.