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‘Blerd Vision’ Takes a Look at the Worst of the Worst, ‘Suicide Squad’

It’s been quite the summer for yours truly.

Well, likely a lack of summer is more like it. I had to cram it all into June and July, because August was gone. I spent the month on assignment working on the Rio Olympics as a researcher.

Combine my nerdlove of the Olympic Games with getting to know anything and everything about 306 events across 26 sports? Don’t mind if I do.

Do so while working 14-17 hours a day, for 21 consecutive days, while living out of a hotel room? Um, sure.

Suffice to say, I was pretty beat up by the time the cauldron was extinguished. Mentally, I feel like when Frodo and the boys returned to the Shire at the end of Return of the King, sitting in a pub with beers in their hands, staring blankly at each other while everyone around them went on blithely about their lives.

I took the next week off to recover and reintegrate myself into larger society. Got the manicure, the pedicure, the massage, the haircut. I bought a new lamp for the bedroom, walked the dog, stuff like that.

And, pop culture-wise, I saw Suicide Squad.

bv126-1While it wasn’t a critical darling, David Ayer’s entry in the DC Cinematic Universe left me pretty happy. I got what I came for – something gnarly, a bit nuts, and a whole lot of check-your-brain-at-the-door stupid.

But I did walk out of the theater with some pretty wild thoughts about this garish, hyped-up thing. Let’s unpack a few, shall we?

Metahumans in the 21st century

DC Comics long has used the term “metahuman” to describe people with superpowers. (People inside a comic book look silly saying “superhero” and “supervillain,” OK? Keep that for funny books.)

It’s a pretty cool concept when you break it down, as the term describes someone beyond normal humanity, or a person with something extra to their humanity.

Superhumans are above people, or over them. The word “mutant” connotes a “normal” human changed into something else, made into something else from the outside. They are the changed ones, and the word contains a value of less-than.

Metahumans, however, are people beyond people, or people with something added. Suicide Squad leans on the concept of metahumanity as extra, as more – more human than human.

Amanda Waller, in describing metahumans, says, “The ‘human’ is the most dangerous part.” And for the members of ARGUS’s Task Force X, their lives are as some ramped-up, outsized version of humanity.

bv126-2Deadshot takes a contract killer and add the idea of him being a shooter so good he can hit all head shots with increasing calibres of guns such that the metal targets are left with singular bullet holes, white-hot and smoking. But his only true motivation, his only true pain, is his daughter and his desire to be a good father for her. A good father who kills bad guys for money, but a good father nonetheless.

June Moon is the well-mannered academic, the good woman who got all the right grades, went to the right schools, looking forward to a life built exactly as she planned it. She pursued archaeology instead of an internship at McKinsey, for crying out loud. And her orderly world is ripped away from her by a predator flexing its self-entitled ideas of power, as Enchantress violates her body and mind. Like psychological trauma, June has an actual trigger word, and – in one of the movie’s best, yet simplest, visuals – Enchantress’ hand creeps up from under June’s hand and takes over.

Suicide Squad, or Minority Report?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the casting of this film makes the majority of the Suicide Squad a crew of minority groups in American society.

Deadshot and Killer Croc? Black men. Diablo? Latino. Enchantress and Harley Quinn? White women. Katana? Japanese woman. Amanda Waller? Black woman.

bv126-3There is a double-consciousness of people who are outcasts in wider society dovetailing with how these are super-criminals. If criminals have no place in society, what do you do with perpetrators of crime on such a hyped-up scale? Add to this how hard comic book characters lean on stereotypes, and this gets funkier.

If any character in Suicide Squad bears the burden of representation, it’s Harley Quinn.

Harley’s reception as the “crazy hot chick” twists upon itself. Not only is she beautiful, as Margot Robbie gives great face throughout the film, but Harley performs her madness as much as she lives it. She’s got charm and chutzpah. She’s a loveable wackadoo that’ll kill you with a smile, or just plain kill you – traits that go all the way back to creator Paul Dini’s original takes on the character.

bv126-4

Remember the episode “Harley’s Holiday” in Batman: The Animated Series, when Harley plants a big kiss on Batman? Suicide Squad does its own version, when Batman performed CPR on Harley after pulling her from the river, and she kisses him instead.

It’s not simply that all the soldiers – male and female – stop and stare as Harley puts on a T-shirt and hot pants. She retorts, “What?” as another sign-o-crazy joke. But, the fact is, nobody stared at Boomerang as he went for a track suit and overcoat to enter an interdimensional war zone.

Or look at the potential triple-consciousness of Killer Croc aka Waylon Jones. Following a lot of recent comics, Jones is a black man. So here you have a black man growing up in a society that fears his race, and as a deformed reptile man in a society that fears this skin as well. What code could he switch? So I laughed extra hard when he says, “I’m beautiful.” Black is beautiful. Croc is beautiful.

The movie has three straight, white men of any consequence: Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang and Joker. And really, Boomerang could have been cut, and most of how Task Force X’s plans go belly-up come from Flag and Joker. Sure, Waller comes up with the wetwork force, but the suits at the Pentagon had to approve it, didn’t they?

bv126-5All I can think of now is how much this must have pissed off Scott Eastwood. The poor son of Clint gets a mere handful of lines in Squad despite he and his famous father showing every inch of their asses trying to defend America from political correctness as head members of the Anti-Pussy/Pro-Pussy Party in an Esquire cover story.

Too bad he has to be in a movie in which some women and a couple of black guys are sent in to clean up a mess kept from them by the top white guy on their team, who won’t admit he messed up.

The world at a tipping point.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a lot of talk – from the presidential election to climate change to refugees to income inequality – that depicts the sense that our world of humanity is at a tipping point. That, here we are in the future years, but still grasping at accepting new ideas and new paradigms for how to exist.

Think of the recent politicized furor over the Confederate flag, or transgender rights, or racism. I think of those who don’t want the same-old ways any more, and those, from Trump supporters to ISIS, who want to “go back” to some idealized past couched in domination by them.

In these times, the superhero has been shedding his 20th-century skin. How much longer can we go with World War II as a starting point for Captain America and Wonder Woman? How much father we can go with costume design based in circus strongmen, when we live in an age of athletic apparel that outstrips any supersuit?

To me, the DCCU is built solely on this idea of the tipping point. Superman arrives, and the world is changed. We now know aliens are real, and they nearly destroyed the entire planet in a manner of days. What else from our imaginations is actually happening?

In Suicide Squad, we see people react to the fact that magic is real. Gods are real. Katana has a sword that takes the souls of the people killed by it – wait, souls are real? A reptile man swims in the sewer and eats people. There’s a guy who moves between seconds, he’s so fast.

bv126-5What if a selfish drug lord, who gave in to his godly fire for worldly reasons and destroyed those he loved, can harness that power to save the world? That’s what happens to Diablo. He goes more human than human, in a constructive way rather than selfishly.

The world is changing. And the enemies in this film are literal old gods grown jealous and resentful of a humanity that no longer worships them. The new humanity must rise to defeat them. Change, or die.

More human than human means more mad love than ever

This past weekend, I attended the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. The theme of the weekend was “heroes of the realm,” honoring military, police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders.

At the day’s finale, after celebrating the coronation of King Henry VIII, the faire recognized a Marine and a volunteer firefighter by having Henry knight them and present them with swords.

The men walked under a canopy of swords by fake knights, to kneel on a stage full of actors before a fictionalized version of a king of a country we don’t pledge allegience to, who died about 500 years ago.

But, dagnabbit, the honor itself was so real, that it transcended everything.

In the most contrived of scenarios, something real can happen. It’s part of being human.

Remember that Amanda Waller says, when discussing the concept of metahumans, that “the human part is the most dangerous.” It’s the unexpected love between Rick Flag and June Moon that gives Enchantress room to rebel, and it’s the cruelty of Amanda Waller that further pushes Enchantress to put her scheme in motion.

bv126-7And Joker’s love of Harley Quinn leads to many of the plot’s monkey wrenches.

A friend of mine who saw the film said she thought the Joker-Harley relationship was kinda sweet. For a relationship between a pair of murderous psychopaths, there was something else I got from this movie.

It starts with Kehlani’s song, “Gangsta” on the film soundtrack. The opening lines sum up the Joker-Harley relationship of Suicide Squad: “I need a gangsta to love me better than all the others do. Someone to forgive me, ride or die with me. That’s just what gangstas do.”

The Harley Quinn of Suicide Squad is entirely unhinged. They say she’s crazier than Joker, among other facts I won’t spoil here. This Harley does exactly what she wants, exactly how she wants to do it. She is the queen of Gotham’s underworld, to be feared and obeyed in her own right. She’s not just “Joker’s girlfriend,” as a hapless hood in their crime den finds out Joker and Harley’s murderously sadistic foreplay.

bv126-8As Harleen Quinzel, she is attracted to the laughing man who holds all of Gotham City in fear any time he walks free. She wants to know why he is what he is, and is deceived. But only because something within her wants that power, too.

Even though Joker transforms Harleen into Harley, my sense of the movie is that, in actuality, Harleen realizes what was inside her all along. She sees her monster within, and lets it all out until there’s no going back.

It’s not simply that Joker grants Harley permission to exist beside him when he asks her, “Will you live for me?” It’s that he blocks out whatever would keep Harley from existing, from doing whatever she wants. To always forgive, to ride or die, us against the world.

I think about how I want to live in my marriage as a pair of powerful equals. Therefore, I want to do whatever I can to foster my wife being the best version of herself as much and as often as possible. That I support her saying yes to whatever she wants to be. That we live for each other.

Luckily for the rest of you, I’m not a murderous psychopath criminal looking for an equal in depravity and evil.

And yet, even these two have dreams. Joker, bereft of Harley, sits in a room surrounded by a layout of knives and guns. But spy the two baby onesies in the corner. Reminds me of Joker and Harley brainwashing Robin into Joker Jr. in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.

bv126-9While Suicide Squad doesn’t jump deeply into the Harley’s backstory to show whether she is the shrewd game-player who gets out-duped by Joker’s lies like in Paul Dini’s Mad Love, her Enchantress-fueled fantasy of 1950s-style domestic bliss belies that psychological search for a “perfect family” often enacted by people who suffer abusive childhoods.

Quite a lot for a dumb movie, eh?

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