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How to Improve “Suicide Squad”: Reduce Character Count and Add Zombies

So, Suicide Squad is a flaming heap of garbage, but how do we fix it?  That’s the focus of this piece.  I have a more standard review of the film as a companion piece to this, which is linked above, but in the meantime I decided to present this piece as a reasonable means to improve upon the film.  Suffice to say, this post will contain spoilers for the film beyond what is normal for a review, as I have to discuss intricate plot details.  So, if you’re sensitive to spoilers, you’ve been sufficiently warned.  If you’re still game, what follows will be my humble proposal for how one could avoid the pitfalls that befell Suicide Squad and ultimately arrive at an overall superior film.

There are three main problems in the Suicide Squad film.  First, there are too many characters crammed into the story, which results in most of them being insufficiently fleshed out.  Not that it would matter, because another major issue is that the plot of the film is as rote as they come.  It is your standard, “Big Bad makes a Doomsday Device” story line, and fails to distinguish Suicide Squad from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, much less better films.  And finally, with such weak characters and plot elements, there is absolutely nothing for this film to espouse thematically.  The ultimate result is a frustrating nothing of a film that screams for improvement.  With a few keen alterations, each of these elements can be bettered, and hopefully the end result is a much more satisfying piece of cinema.

First things first: pair down the number of characters.  Make the Suicide Squad a mere 4 or 5 strong, and only put forward your best, most well-rounded characters.  These are Deadshot, Harley Quinn, El Diablo, and maybe Captain Boomerang.  Fuck Rick Flag, the disposable military men, and the poorly-developed nobodies and blatant fan service inclusions (cough JOKER cough).  By reducing the number of characters you include in the Squad, you immediately lighten your expository load, and allow the audience to bond with the remaining characters.  These are undoubtedly the strongest characters in the film, and showcase the most able performances as well.  Furthermore, with this smaller Squad, we have the opportunity to shrink the story and make everything more resonant with our characters – something the actual film was totally lacking.

Plot-wise, the worst aspect of the film is how often there is tension between motivation of the Squad and what they actually do, almost all of which is attributable to the stupid-as-fuck neck bombs and the accompanying smartphone app that lets the bosses blow people up.  You have to suspend disbelief that this is actually a reasonable way to control people so often in the film that it routinely elicits rolling eyes, and ultimately it cuts any motivational or thematic legs out from underneath whatever genuine character moments the film happens to stumble upon.  So, dispense with the stupid neck controls,  Enchantress heart-owning bullshit and align the goals of the “good guys” and the Squad with some plotting choice that imparts narrative and thematic power to the story.  I am okay with Enchantress being the villain – but she should be up to something more interesting than building a doomsday device with her ancient magic powers (which doesn’t even make sense).

So, that’s all a good start, but how do we actually accomplish these goals in the story? Let’s go with this:  Amanda Waller recognizes the incredible powers of the Enchantress, and while Dr. June Moone is afraid of that power, she is totally on board with doing her part to assist her country.  We get a kind of training montage as June stretches out and blossoms into her full power.   But she has pushed too hard and too fast, so Enchantress takes over, escapes the training facility, and lays waste to whomever gets in her way.  Finally free, she teleports to a super-populated area and begins reestablishing the cadre of worshipers that she enjoyed in ancient times.  She accumulates these devotees through a mixture of magic and deal-with-the-devil type bargains, and even manages to cajole a few high-ranking politicians into her inner circle by promising them astounding powers (which she delivers upon . . . with a price).  As she gains more followers, her powers increase, and she begins to transform people into mindless serfs, who will act as her henchmen.  They appear exactly like their normal selves, except they have superhuman strength, and feel no pain.  This is why Waller calls in the Suicide Squad:  a collection of individuals with no qualms over murdering normal-looking people.   As the squad starts to attack her, the minions they have to face are regular, everyday people with a kind of 28 Days Later frenetic zombie feel to them.   Enchantress seeks to literally ascend towards godhood by attracting followers and spreading her influence throughout the world.

Unfortunately for members of the Squad, people they care about are caught up in Enchantress’ snare.  Deadshot’s plight is simple:  his daughter’s school is near ground zero and he is motivated to extract her at all costs.  Harley’s is even better:  put the Joker trying to steal something to break Harley out of the prison when he gets sucked into Enchantress’ spell.  Because of the way his crazy mind works, he both loves the idea of the destruction and absurd unification that Enchantress is capable of, and also rebels against her in an haphazard, chaotic fashion.  Harley feels like if she can get to him then she can dispel Enchantress’ charms – and she’s also a little jealous that Joker has “fallen” for Enchantress (even though it is heavily influenced by magic – do you really think that Harley would care?)  Captain Boomerang wants straight revenge; one of his buddies was killed when Enchantress escaped, and he wants her head for it.  And as for El Diablo, I actually really like his character arc in the film, so I think we borrow heavily from those pacifist leanings.  Hence, his motivation could actually be a little more noble than the rest:  maybe if he saves enough of these people, he can atone for his transgressions in some small way.  This could generate a fantastic dynamic as zombified people are attacking him:  he doesn’t want to kill them at all, but eventually he may have to.  To add a cherry to the top, Waller can offer to commute the sentences of these members of the squad if they can neutralize Enchantress (and maybe they even get some monies / perks that they want).

Now the story is much more streamlined and the motivations of each member of the Squad are organic and earned, not forced by a ham-fisted plot device.  Even the villain Enchantress has a more organic motivation.  Also, you get to explore some truly interesting thematic material:  the Squad can initially be shown indiscriminately murdering the “zombies” until they realize that these people can be saved and returned to normal.  It could get incredibly dark as they realize that indiscriminate murder may not be all it is cracked up to be.  In fact, with a Squad of four we can play to and/or subvert archetypes in interesting ways and nothing will get too jumbled up.  Each member is motivated by something they actually want to accomplish, so the second and third acts don’t feel force-fed to us.

Is this version perfect?  Absolutely not, but it solves the main problems in Ayer’s story: we get to focus on a smaller Squad and therefore have time to flesh out all of the characters in a satisfying way.    And finally, Enchantress is actually doing something semi-novel here:  her powers are linked to her number of devotees, so she strives to enslave as many as she can and imbue some with super-fast zombie powers.  You get an interesting deal-with-the-devil subplot here as well, and we can see a twist where supposed “good” characters like local politicians and businessmen commit atrocities at the behest of Enchantress.  Most importantly:  we actually get to address thematic concerns!  Suicide Squad doesn’t have to be just fan service and masturbation, we can actually explore some important themes about what it means to be a villain, the potential for absolution and redemption in the face of past mistakes, and even the dark places that we can be pushed towards when motivated by love and desire.

I’m not a screenwriter, and I probably never will be, but I do understand what makes a film worthwhile.  What’s more, I understand that David Ayer probably didn’t draw it all up like this when he set out to make Suicide Squad, but the unfortunate reality is that his name is pasted all over an abject disaster.  And I don’t think it could be saved with his director’s cut, either.  This is a film with fundamental flaws in almost every aspect of the film making process:  from the screenplay to the final special effects and everything in between.  Likely, Suicide Squad is the result of executive group-think on a titanic level, as nearly every decision has favored four-quadrant, riskless bland choices, and that’s a real shame.

Hopefully, my description of how I would tell a Suicide Squad story tickles your imagination at least a little bit.  My desire is for critics and lovers of the film to realize that the missed opportunities need not have been; that there are better ways to approach this material, and by no means do I suggest that my solution is the only one.  Suicide Squad disrespects its viewers by unveiling shallow characters and setting them loose through a regurgitated plot that simultaneously makes no sense from a film-making standpoint.  A superior version would recognize the potential strength of its villainous characters and craft a scenario where they could be set loose to play in the sand and lay waste to an even worse bad guy – and have a lot of fun doing it.

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Derek Jacobs

Chicago,IL 60606

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