I have something to confess: I enjoyed Suicide Squad. I can’t defend it in any way, but I had a good time watching it. I own the film, I’ve seen it a few times since, and it doesn’t improve on repeat viewings, but I still like all the characters, despite how poorly they were drawn. It’s a fancy dress party of a film with little characterisation beyond costuming, but despite its lack of structure, character motivations or compelling villains, I have a little place in my heart for this tumultuous team-up.
But this is how I would have done it…
*Spoilers for Suicide Squad (2016) ahead*
The Main Character
In my version of this anti-hero heist movie, Harley Quinn is our main character. We start with Dr Harleen Quinzel, a psychologist in Arkham Asylum. She’s intensely lonely, struggling to fit in with her colleagues and craving an escape from the monotonous limbo she’s in. She overhears her colleagues talking about the newest patient, a person so scary that no-one wants to be assigned to him. Desperate to prove herself to her colleagues and gain their respect, she volunteers to take on the mysterious patient.
Her first exchange with the Joker should be edgy, eerie and electric. Think Wilson Fisk & Vanessa Marianna from Netflix’s Daredevil, but slightly more unhinged. Dr Quinzel is guarded at first, clinical and detached. But as their conversation progresses, and the tension escalates, we see the Joker manipulate their dialogue, peeling away the layers of her expertly-crafted exterior as he reveals exactly what he wants her to know about himself. That’s when we get to the point where Harley – and the audience – begins to understand the Joker; they bond over mutual loneliness, feeling like outcasts and outsiders, wanting to have and be more than the world has let them. For the first time in cinematic history, we see the Joker as not just a romantic figure, but a sympathetic one – Harley humanises him in a way we’ve never seen before onscreen, and you understand why these two broken souls might fall in love.
She can’t bring himself to call him by his villainous moniker, so she comes up with another name for him – Mistah J – a name that suggests intimacy and playfulness but also humanises the big, bad Joker we’ve been accustomed to. They also share a similar taste in music: I love a good leitmotif when used well, and I have the perfect song for my version of Harley and the Joker. My pick would be ‘Wild is the Wind’ – it’s such a perfect song for this pair (‘like the leaf clings to the tree/ Oh, my darling, cling to me/ For we’re like creatures of the wind/ And wild is the wind…’), and there are so many versions of the song by artists as diverse and different as Johnny Mathis, Nina Simone, Cat Power, and George Michael that each cover version would give a unique vibe to the shifting story beats and emotions as the film progresses.
The film will continue to flash back to their time at Arkham at relevant moments, but this is where we leave the past for now: at this moment of potential and discovery where Dr Quinzel is beginning to yearn for a different kind of life, one which only the Joker could provide.
Now we flash forward to Amanda Waller, ruthless director of the A.R.G.U.S. research facility and the Task Force X program, confronting a ragged and bedraggled Harley Quinn behind bars. She’s changed so much from the shy wallflower we saw before – now she’s brazen, bold, and no-holds-barred despite being behind them. Amanda is no stranger to these qualities – the main difference between them is that Amanda is on the other side of the bars, and as such, has the composure, coldness and confidence that comes with her superior status – and she has an assignment for her.
Harley’s mission, should she choose to accept it, is to track down the Joker. Yes, he’s our main antagonist – not the overpowered and underwhelming Enchantress/ Incubus, they’re too powerful a threat for anyone except the Justice League to face, so they’re out of the picture. The Joker is a far more human – and therefore more dangerous and unpredictable – threat, and perfect for our Squad to face.
You see, the Joker has stolen a powerful supernatural Artefact (it’s a classic MacGuffin along the lines of the Tesseract in the MCU) with huge potential for destruction, but all of Waller’s attempts to retrieve it have been foiled by the Joker and his hired thugs. If you like your DCEU world-building, maybe this Artefact has links to future films in the series where the JLA can actually get involved (and team-up with the Suicide Squad?), but don’t make this the focus: all attention should be on making the best film possible, and if it’s a success you can make more.
Naturally, Harley laughs in Waller’s face at the thought of betraying Mistah J like that. But Waller makes her a deal: ARGUS isn’t interested in Harley or the Joker – they just want the Artefact brought to them so that it can’t wreak havoc on the world. If Harley successfully recovers it, she and Mistah J can go free: ‘you do this for me, and I’ll give you and your wack-job boyfriend a 24-hour head start before I send my troops after you’. There’s an added incentive Harley doesn’t know about until later – Waller implants a tracker in her that not only broadcasts Harley’s location at all times, but doubles up as an explosive device that can maim or kill Harley if and when Waller wants.
Harley just wants to be reunited with Mistah J, and agrees to Waller’s demands, while the latter gets busy assembling a team of criminals to accompany her on the mission…
Enchantress, Incubus, Slipknot and Rick Flagg are OUT of this film entirely, and though Killer Croc isn’t on my team he’s still involved in the plot, but not ‘til a little later. I did like a lot of the Squad’s potential, so I’ve kept most of them, but filled in a lot of blanks about their flaws, motivations and redeeming qualities:
- Harley, team leader.
- Why she’s there: locate the Joker and retrieve the Artefact.
- Motivation: reunite with Mistah J
- Major flaw: optimism that bleeds into delusion
- Redeeming quality: she always sees the good in people, and can bring out the best in her Squad.
- Deadshot, Harley’s handler.
- Why he’s there: he’s the best marksman in the world.
- Motivation: reduce his jail time so he can be reunited with his daughter.
- Major flaw: follows immoral orders if doing so will bring him one step closer to his ultimate goal.
- Redeeming quality: he refuses to kill those who are unable to protect themselves.
- Katana, the muscle.
- Why she’s there: Waller wants Katana to contain as many souls as she can in her sword so that A.R.G.U.S. can experiment on them
- Motivation: to avenge her husband Maseo’s death, because his killer (and brother) Takeo is working with the Joker.
- Major flaw: her quest for vengeance eclipses everything else.
- Redeeming quality: her Punisher-esque strict moral code makes her seek justice for those who can’t get it themselves.
- El Diablo, super-powered human who can control fire.
- Why he’s there: Waller wanted people with super powers on her squad
- Motivation: redemption
- Major flaw: his deep-held guilt over the death of his family has spawned defeatism and a hell of a death wish
- Redeeming quality is that he is kind to other outcasts, as he feels that nobody could be as wretched and irredeemable as him.
- Captain Boomerang, recon/ scout/ lookout.
- Why he’s there: his boomerang is a hi-tech device that can infiltrate places others can’t reach – and its coded to Boomerang’s DNA, but can only work whilst he’s alive (perhaps Waller cut a finger off to test if they could control it without Boomerang, but they couldn’t).
- Motivation: he’s a laughing stock but a lovable loser – at the end of the day, he just wants to make his mum proud of him for once in his life.
- Major flaw: he’s selfish, vain and wants to be noticed for all the wrong reasons, which has led to a life of petty crime (the only thing he feels he is good at).
- Redeeming quality: although vain, he sees the beauty in others where they don’t even see it in themselves – he has an endearing kind of innocent naivete about him.
- And last but certainly not least, Poison Ivy, super-powered human who can control nature. [I think she would make an excellent addition to the team, especially considering her long comic book history with Harley].
- Why she’s there: Her super powers balance out Diablo’s destructive ones, and Waller didn’t want to take any chances on supers gone rogue.
- Her motivation: prevent Joker using the Artefact’s nature-destroying potential
- Major flaw: misanthropy, believing humankind to be untrustworthy and treacherous in the extreme.
- Redeeming quality: this scepticism is proved right more often than not, and she wants to save others from the betrayal she has suffered.
- [Casting this role well is difficult and absolutely crucial: I would put forward a few candidates for very different reasons: Vella Lovell (who has a great sense of humour and realism), Eiza Gonzalez (who is no stranger to sympathetic anti-heroic roles) and Gemma Chan (who brings nuance, depth and darkness to every role she inhabits).]
The Villain Squad
I thought Jared Leto’s Joker had a lot of potential, as well as a nicely grimy design, for all the 4 seconds of screen time he had. David Ayer has even admitted he’d make the Joker the villain if he had the chance to do the film again. Ok, so he had the vocal mannerisms of Jim Carrey’s Grinch, but it worked in a strange way. In my version, the Joker has 3 hench-persons to counterbalance the team, as well as faceless goons (a megalomaniacal must-have): Killer Croc, Takeo (Katana’s target), and Mad Harriet (a minor but fun villain from the comic books who’s like a harsher, hyper Harley).
I’ve limited the Squad to a maximum of 6 members – it’s probably still too many, but their various powers, pasts and psyches have a lot of potential for conflict and they all need to have a bearing on the plot or don’t deserve to be there. Every character needs a moment, their own personal ‘Legolas sliding down Helm’s Deep on a shield shooting arrows’, NOT a ‘Legolas leaping over falling debris like it’s a video game’.
Harley, as in the film we got, is a person with boundless energy and enthusiasm who finds joy in the little things: like beating people up. Diablo and Ivy are constantly at loggerheads, manifested by their polar opposite powers – nature vs. fire. Katana hates everyone, but finds herself grudgingly protecting them when the chips are down, if only to save them from their own incompetence. Deadshot finds them all varying degrees of annoying, but at least respects Katana’s weapon skills, as she does his – though it doesn’t stop them from being competitive. And everyone laughs at Boomerang because he’s the least competent of the lot – everyone except Harley.
Katana and Deadshot are the best fighters – she’s lethal with a blade, he’s lethal with a gun. Ivy and Diablo are the most super-powered of the team – she with nature powers, and he with fire powers, and they oppose each other as much as their power sets do. Harley and Boomerang are viewed as the most crazy and useless of the team – both are good at combat, but not the best, and neither have super powers – but they end up having a huge impact with completing the mission.
Each Squad member has a bearing on the plot, a badass moment and a reason to be there, e.g. Ivy saves Harley from poisoning with a conjured-up antidote plant, Diablo blows up one of Joker’s safe houses, Katana captures a soul in her sword who gives them important info for the mission, and Boomerang’s namesake is both deadly and handy for surveillance.
Two major relationships will dominate the film: Harley/ Ivy and Harley/ Deadshot:
HARLEY x IVY
Their relationship starts off as burgeoning friendship with a hint of blossoming romance (setting up for future Gotham City Sirens movies). They balance each other out: Harley is too trusting and Ivy is too cynical – the balance each other out. They change each other for the better – Harley makes Ivy more trusting and Ivy gives Harley a healthy dose of scepticism and self-worth.
After being seduced and experimented on by her university mentor (as per the New 52 DC reboot), which gave her super powers, Ivy feels like everyone she gets close to will betray her – but she finds herself drawn to Harley, sees herself in the former Dr Quinzel. Ivy convinces Harley not to define herself only in regards to someone else – whether it be the Joker, the Squad, A.R.G.U.S., Arkham – i.e. you don’t have to be just a criminal, or just a girlfriend, just a hero – being ‘Harley’ is enough. She confronts Harley some home truths, and Harley admits that she was looking for an outlet to escape her drab life; Harley Quinn was always within Dr Harleen Quinzel, the Joker just provided an excuse to let her out.
To Harley, the Joker is more than a person – he’s an idea, the manifestation of freedom; she self-diagnoses him as an addiction, a way of acting out all the wants she’d repressed as Dr Quinzel – he was the ultimate fantasy made flesh. She wonders why Mistah J never came to break her out of prison, after promising they’d always be together, and Ivy confronts her with the possibility that the Joker doesn’t truly care for her, but that there are others who do care – but Harley pulls away in anger.
Harley, in turn, convinces Ivy to not just protect the world but to protect the people in it, too – ‘the world’s only worth saving if you’ve got someone to share it with’. She also tells her home truths, e.g. people wouldn’t be your friends, so you turned to plants. They fight verbally and physically throughout, but always make up. They support each other, but aren’t afraid to call the other out when they’re going down the wrong path.
HARLEY & DEADSHOT
Their connection is more of a platonic bromance, as they eventually earn the other’s grudging respect. At first, Deadshot just writes her off as a crazy, clingy girlfriend, and Harley dislikes his dull, army man GI Joe BS. As the film goes on, they realise there’s more to the other than they thought – Harley realises he has a heart when she learns about his daughter i.e. his whole motivation for joining the Squad. In turn, Floyd realises there’s more to Harley than meets the eye – she can be caring and protective, and fundamentally believes in people’s best selves. They bond over the shared feeling of separation from a loved one.
Unbeknownst to the others, Floyd was ordered by Waller to shoot Harley if and when he found that she was going to go off with the Joker – but he refuses, despite the myriad opportunities he has (I envision a few times where we see Deadshot getting ready to shoot, but can’t bring himself to do it). similarly, Harley is given a prime chance by the Joker to off the entire Squad, including Deadshot, but decides not to.
There should be 3 major action scenes in 3 very different locations (first contact à escalation à climax) : ideas include a bowling alley, mini golf course, casino, circus. Personally, I’d love to see a few zany set pieces, e.g. someone being thrown like a bowling ball and knocking down pins, a fight between serious-looking supervillains taking place in a ball pit, an obstacle course, a jungle gym etc. Each of the 3 action set-pieces should include great fight scenes, solid humour, relevant but not too on-the-nose songs, and character development (both individual and interpersonal).
In fight #1, we see each Squad member shine in their own unique way – a demonstration of their particular skills and their inability to work together. An argument ensues, but Harley manages to calm everyone down a little bit using her psychiatrist skills (which aren’t used to their optimum potential in most media).
In fight #2, we see the Squad starting to gel; they protect one another, save one another, and look after one another – but one of them (probably Harley) messes up royally and jeopardises the mission. Argument ensues, followed closely by the bar scene in which the team drinks their sorrows and discusses their shortcomings.
In fight #3, a united Squad put aside their differences and attack the Joker’s gang as a team. The finale is set in the place where it all began for Harley and Joker – Arkham Asylum, which Mistah J has made his base of operations. They infiltrate the place with skill, precision and teamwork – but they get captured in any case.
As important as the action scenes are, equally so are the more low-key portions of the film, the parts where we get a more in-depth look at the Squad’s souls. The film we got did manage to get this right, via the bar scene, and there’s very little I’d alter to that – except for letting more character talk, and adding Poison Ivy to the mix.
In this ‘Bonding Bar Scene’, the Squad chat and share their feelings (they all open up, may not like each other but understand each other and will fight together):
- Diablo has a death wish but seemingly can’t die, and envies the rest of the Squad for their mortality.
- Katana tells him they all have to live with the bad things they’ve done, and he’s no different to rest of them. She hates everyone on the Squad, but herself most of all – she has killed criminals and innocents alike to get her revenge, turning into the very thing she despises. She has a Faramir-esque speech where she wonders about the lives her victims led – if her victims had Maseos of their own.
- No, Poison Ivy cuts in, he’s real and he’s posing a threat to millions of people. How can you still care for such a person? [Ivy]
- Boomerang says there’s no stopping a man like that. He thought thieving was the only thing he was good at – just wanted to look after his mum, but then he started enjoying it. when she found out, he was in too deep to stop. [maybe his mum is v ill? And while she’s still here, he wants to be able to see her one day and tell her he did a good thing]
- Deadshot says ‘maybe we’re the only ones crazy enough to try’. He started out as a freelance hitman for hire – when ARGUS captured him, he works for them and do whatever they order him to do as they say that one slip-up and he’ll never see his daughter again. truth is, he says, I felt less dirty killing people for money than working for Amanda Waller. But this threat is greater than us.
- Harley gives a rallying speech, inspiring them all to fight. They brought Belle Reve with them, carrying their prisons on their backs. No-one else cares about us, and that makes us family. But sometimes it takes a monster to kill a monster – and if there’s a chance to do one half-decent thing in their lives, this is the time. Only Ivy realises she doesn’t quite believe what she’s saying (she takes her to one side and tells her she sees through her lie – it’s an illusion. But Harley says she’d rather live in an illusion than the real world).
The Climactic Battle
The assault on Arkham, if you will, comprises the film’s climax – Harley’s inspirational speechifying in the bar has inspired a last-ditch effort to retrieve the Artefact from the Joker. Throughout the film, he’s left a trail of playing card clues behind, toying with the Squad, sending them red herrings and misdirects – but Harley knows him too well to be deceived for long.
The Asylum looms ahead of them; Harley looks around and sees Ivy’s retreating back – she runs to catch up with her. Will you stay and help?’ Harley asks, not daring to contemplate the alternative. ‘For them?’ ‘No’, Ivy replies, and Harley looks dejected. But Ivy smiles, and continues: ‘I’ll stay for you’. She pulls Harley into her arms, holding her for a few precious seconds before pressing a kiss to her brow and tearing herself away to enter the fray. We see a mix of emotions on Harley’s face – surprise, relief, pride, and affection that hints at more to come for this pair.
At long last, our Suicide Squad is functioning as a full-blown force to be reckoned with – everyone looks cool, everyone’s fighting is on point – it’s like a comic book panel brought to vibrant life, and finally this motley crew are catching a break.
Enter the Joker, and it all goes to hell. He’s brandishing the Artefact like Loki’s sceptre, using the mystical power of it to send the Squad flying in all directions. Harley and Ivy recover, and start taking down Mad Harriet as a team – when the Joker flees, Ivy and Harley share an unspoken look; Ivy nods, staying back to fight Harriet while Harley runs through funhouse mirrors to confront Mistah J.
Meanwhile, the rest of our team are doing a bang-up job of beating down Joker’s goons. Deadshot gets a nice slow-mo sequence with bullets flying; Boomerang is flinging around his fatal namesake and cackling with glee; Diablo’s fire is crackling like Ghost Rider’s whip; and Katana’s stabbing and slashing so quickly she’s little more than a blur. Having taken out everyone in the vicinity, she hears a gunshot – and feels one of Joker’s goons collapse behind her – she nods up at Deadshot, and pursues a fleeing Takeo.
Meanwhile, Boomerang is leading a group of goons down dark corridors, leaving miniature explosives behind him as he runs. He rounds a corner and runs right into Killer Croc – we’ve seen Croc tearing up buildings and flinging aside his own comrades on the Joker’s orders, not to mention being beaten up by the Joker when he fails to carry out his demands. But now he’s stock still, staring at Boomerang. And Boomerang’s staring right back at him. Yes, Suicide Squad just went rom-com, and it’s love at first sight. Boomerang is the first one to see Croc as beautiful, except for Croc himself, of course. I imagine their romance as if Doctor Who’s Madame Vastra & Jenny were members of SAMCRO’s biker gang. Croc abandons the cruel Joker’s side to stand by Boomerang’s, and fights his goons alongside his newfound Squad.
Katana and Takeo engage in an incredible fight – truly matched, but Katana’s anger makes her sloppy and Takeo is able to get in a few hits. Bleeding profusely, particularly from a wound in her stomach, she staggers after Takeo and finds him standing over Deadshot, silently about to stab him from behind. A sword drives into flesh and Deadshot snaps around – to see Takeo slump to the ground, Katana’s sword lodged in his chest. ‘Thanks’. Her vengeance is completed – but in the end, she killed Takeo for unselfish reasons – so that Deadshot could finally see his daughter again.
Everything’s going well for our Squad – and so, naturally, it’s about to all go to hell. The Squad stumbles and staggers its way into the atrium where the Joker is holding court, finding him engaged in a tense conversation with Harley. She sees Deadshot in the rafters, rifle primed and aimed at the Joker. She shakes her head, almost imperceptibly – but he gets the message. This is Harley’s fight now, not his – he doesn’t take the shot, but neither does he lower the gun.
The moment the rest of the Squad enter, however, the Joker holds out a hand and they all freeze – with the power of the Artefact, the Joker is more powerful than ever. His veins pulse with dark energy, and he seems crazed with power, seeing triumph as a foregone conclusion.
Harley’s tragedy, which she only discovers towards the end of the film, is that the two central figures in her life at the moment – the Joker, who ‘offers’ her freedom, and Amanda Waller, who limits it – feel no loyalty for Harley. Both of them are just using her for their own ends – Harley is nothing more than a pawn to them. The only loyalty Harley has ever truly known is from her Squad – this was something which I feel the film was trying to convey, but rushed. The bonds felt less genuine than they might have done. The interpersonal relationships need to be more finely crafted for the message to hit home.
He offers a choice – to come with him, or die with her Squad. Harley faces a dilemma: does she choose the (abusive but charismatic) Joker, or the Squad (who, like her, are damaged people trying to be better)? Does she follow the pretty dream, or the ugly reality?
As she hesitates, the Joker telekinetically draws Ivy to his side, and holds a gun to her head. Harley pleads with him to let her go, but he refuses, suddenly angry that she seems to care for someone other than him. In that moment, Ivy sees him for who he truly is, and realises that Ivy was right – he doesn’t really care about her. Fighting against years of manipulation, she breaks away from Joker’s control. She walks up to him, strokes his face, tells him all the things he wants to hear – then she yanks the Artefact out of his hands and yells ‘Now!’ to Deadshot. He aims at the Joker’s head, but he pulls Ivy in front of him.
Harley screams out – but Ivy has only been hit in the shoulder. The Joker runs, and Harley watches him for a moment before catching Ivy and cradling her in her arms. They aim at the Joker but Harley shouts ‘no-one gets to kill him but me’. Deadshot is the first to lower his weapon, and the others follow suit. She simply cannot kill Mr J – he gets away, but at least they got the Artefact – she has time to run away with him but decides to stay with her Squad.
Battered and bruised, they all take turns trying to destroy the Artefact but none of them succeed. Then Diablo steps forward, knowing he’s the only one who can do it, but it will probably destroy him in the process. The Squad don’t want him to sacrifice himself, but he shares a knowing glance with Ivy, old opponents united in doing the right thing. She rests a hand on his shoulder, before carrying the others away with her vines. Diablo, happy to sacrifice himself for a noble cause, ‘dies’ in the blaze (but we later see him crawling from the wreckage in a post credits scene).
The moment Diablo destroys the artefact, himself and Arkham Asylum all in one fell swoop, Waller and her team arrive – Amanda is angered by Diablo’s sacrifice as she wanted the Artefact returned to her, not destroyed – but Harley asks for one request, in exchange for her service – that she and Ivy are put in adjoining cells.
The denouement (and a smidgen of sequel-baiting)
The team is battered but triumphant, though back in jail – freedom isn’t a person, it’s a choice, Harley learns, and tells them they can transcend the bars thinking like that. She has matured, learned respect for herself and others, and found a family along the way. We cut to Ivy and Harley talking through a gap in the wall of their cells, feeling hopeful – only for Harley to find a Joker playing card in her cell.
We leave Harley feeling happier and healthier with Ivy as her companion, having separated from Mistah J for the greater good – and for herself – but leaving him alive. In future films, he will return, and test her new-found resolve. A question mark still hangs over her future – she rebelled him once, but after years of bending to his every whim, can she face, and defeat, him a second time? And with Arkham Asylum destroyed, a whole new wave of villains, criminals and supers are roaming the streets of Gotham waiting for the sequel… (Selina Kyle, anyone?)
As always, let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂
Top 5 tracks:
- Wild is the wind: various (Johnny Mathis, Nina Simone, David Bowie, George Michael, Cat Power etc.)
- My brain is hanging upside down/ blitzkrieg bop/ I wanna be sedated: Ramones
- Career opportunities: The Clash
- You know I’m no good: Amy Winehouse
- Tusk: Fleetwood Mac