It’s hard to believe there’s so much riding on Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ Suicide Squad. As the companies race to compete with Marvel’s well-established, record-breakingly successful film presence, that’s the situation they’ve put themselves in. The House of Ideas could survive an “eh” like Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World because they had a strong track record, even if if there were only two movies preceding the former. The Distinguished Competition so far only has the divisive Man of Steel, and that featured their biggest gun. Teaming up a bunch of lesser known super villains is a strange property to put forth as only the third entry in your cinematic universe, and if they can’t make this band of “who’s that” baddies work, they’re in serious trouble early on. So far, things don’t look so good.
Let’s be clear, we’re using “look” here very literally. I try to abide by the precept of not condemning a movie until you see the final product. There’s every possibility that David Ayer’s film is going to be a knockout blockbuster next summer, and fans should know enough to give it time to play out. No doubt some have been brought to tears seeing the first looks at the Suicide Squad cast in costume, but others have been dubious. And they’re right to be skeptical.
First out of the gate was Jared Leto’s version of the Joker. Perhaps the most iconic villain in comicdom, this inked-up, shorthaired, capped-toothed version has shocked many. Of course, there’s no reason a design can’t change from comic to screen, and in many instances it’s a smart move. (Wolverine wearing a yellow-and-blue suit and pointed mask would look ridiculous, and you know it.) Even Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning take on the Clown Prince of Crime was unlike most of what had been printed before, especially with the scarred grin. Taking Batman’s nemesis in another direction after that performance makes a lot of sense; you can’t compete, so do something completely different. Still, not only did that purely insane rendition match the world Christopher Nolan had created, but it played true to the ethos of the books.
While we can give Ayer the chance to prove himself equally discerning, the image of Leto as the Joker strikes immediately of missing the point. It’s not the capped teeth, easily explained by the fact that this isn’t another Joker origin, meaning this guy has gone up against Batman numerous times and probably had a few teeth knocked out in the process. So sure, let’s buy that. There’s even precedence in the books for a muscular and/or tattooed Joker (see: Jim Lee’s All Star Batman and Robin or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a book heavily influencing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, though that version was a more straight-laced madman).
What’s so odd here are the tattoos themselves. There’s something disturbingly sane about them. “See, I call myself the Joker, and I have this really great maniacal laugh. So, I was thinking just a bunch of “HAHA”s all over my left chest and arm.” And what sort of deranged man actually gets the word “Damaged” tattooed on their forehead? In carefully scripted cursive, no less. (Before you even make the argument, Charles Manson has a swastika, an image representing an ideology. He doesn’t have “I’m a racist psycho” up there.)
Joker is Batman’s foil in that while the Dark Knight fights to preserve reason in a dark world, the crazed clown is out to prove you can’t beat back the insanity because it’s already all encompassing. The world is nuts, and given a chance, chaos always wins out; even Batman himself is a product of this, and he’ll beat the hero over the head with a giant mallet until he realizes it. These inked images diminish that mindset in that they’re so calculated to appear anti-establishment. Instead of being punk anarchy, they’re punk Hot Topic. The skull with the jester hat is so literal it’s painful.
We can look at the mouth on the forearm or even the font of the laughter as being nods to the comics. But imagine if Anthony Mackie’s Falcon had a red-tailed hawk tattooed on his shoulder in reference to his comic book sidekick, Redwing; it would’ve looked silly and people would’ve said they were trying too hard. Is that what’s happening with the Joker?
Maybe not. Maybe Ayer has worked out a script that makes this representation of the Joker completely reasonable and believable. If nothing else, his appearance goes some way to explaining Harley Quinn’s look.
A fan favorite originally created for Batman: The Animated Series, Quinn’s obsessed with the Joker, and so having her adopt a similar street aesthetic as her love interest here makes sense. Except what street is this, Bubble Gum Punk Lane? Going blue-and-red as opposed to the classic black-and-red is fine — we’ve seen it in the New 52 version, after all. But, still, that’s red, not cotton candy pink. It’s nice that they haven’t over-sexualized Margot Robbie (despite the hotpants), and maybe going pink lets it be more “cute,” but it also lessens the character’s strength. She doesn’t seem that big of a threat, even with her “Good Night” bat.
Moreover, it’s pretty lazy that they didn’t alternate the coloring along her costume. Instead of having red down one side of her body and blue down the other, Quinn’s usually depicted as switching it up: left ponytail red, right half of her top red, left pants, etc. It’s a minor detail, maybe, but indicative of what’s happening everywhere with these costumes: They seem to be bashing fans over the head with comic references without focusing on the details to make the page-to-screen transition actually work.
You can see it on Quinn’s jacket (the back reads “Property of Joker” — ’cause she’s obsessed with Joker, see?!) and the overuse of the phrase “Puddin”, her pet name for Joker. It’s there on her collar and inked upside down on her leg. It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to prove they’ve read the source material, but it puts into question whether they’ve absorbed it; Quinn calls Joker Puddin, so why would she label herself with the word? Twice, even. And again, that ripped “Daddy’s Lil Monster” shirt just screams of being too self-aware. The diamond tats on the leg are a nice callback to her animated duds, but they’re cheapened by the rest of it.
We see the same sort of visual pandering in some of the other characters, too, most blatantly Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang. This outfit is so close to being okay, but then you notice the word “Captain” blazoned on his track jacket. With the too-obvious labeling, gold chain, and duct-taped leg, he ends up feeling like the Russians from Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye. Although, maybe that sort of goofy, dangerous ineptitude is what they’re going for. Slipknot’s comic costume is ridiculous, so avoiding it is a good thing. But lest the filmmakers let you forget who he is, look at all that rope! ($20 says this character dies on the first mission.)
It’s a tough call on Killer Croc, as he’s one of those creature characters that’s tough to pull off in live action, and without seeing this suit in motion, it’s even harder to make judgement. Off hand, it does feel a bit like the Thing suit from the first Fantastic Four movies mixed with Super Mario Bros.’ Goombas. From set photos, it also seems like he has that hoodie up a portion of the time, implying that this Croc is at least a bit ashamed of his features. Again, this would lessen a character known for his ferocity.
Then there’s Deadshot. Will Smith is the center piece to this whole thing, even if he’s not the leader per se. Thus, it’s strange they went with Deadshot’s full-head white mask. There are plenty of depictions of him with a half mask, so why cover your biggest star? Fans got over the lack of Thor’s helm, and even Cap takes off his helmet in the final Age of Ultron battle (for … no reason); surely they would’ve been satisfied seeing some of Smith’s features? Besides, it’s not a particularly interesting mask.
Of course, there’s a solid chance that like Chrises Hemsworth and Evans, Smith won’t be wearing the mask for much of the film. As Deadshot, however, he’ll still need that electric scope on his eye. So, ignoring how cosplay it looks, why’s it on the wrong eye? Deadshot has always had his enhanced optical on the right eye, the eye to which he holds his gun when aiming. It’s rare for a shooter to be right-handed on the trigger and left-eyed on the sight. Smith’s version is clearly right-handed, and with a left-eyed scope, I’d imagine most of his shots being about three inches off their mark. Which could explain why he’s strapped with so much ammo. Deadshot is supposed to be the best marksman in the world, but all those bullets give the impression that he’s more likely to just spend shells until he hits something.
It all begs to be asked if the filmmakers/companies are really taking care or just trying to quickly service comic fanatics without thinking things through. Warner has had to rush the construction of the DCCU to catch up with the MCU and get in before the comic movie bubble bursts. This isn’t the wrong strategy; it’s practical, and they shouldn’t try to repeat what Marvel has done. However, because of that, they’re willing to give their filmmakers’ more control simply to get these characters out into the world. Marvel, conversely, is notoriously hands on, which has often led to disagreements (see: Edgar Wright, Edward Norton, even Joss Whedon), but also cohesion.
Most of the characters in Suicide Squad look like they’re in a different movie than the others. Enchantress, the whole mystic side of the DCCU on her shoulders, looks like a belly-dancing Swamp Thing/Samara hybrid. El Diablo is reduced to a stereotypical Latino thug with the varsity jacket and gold pocket chain. (Why’s “Diablo” in quotes on the jacket, anyway? “Daddy’s Lil Monster” isn’t, and El Diablo’s his actual name.) Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg just feels like a generic paintball soldier, a questionable amount of unprotected body for a trained soldier leading a team of career criminals. Katana — who’s Japanese, if you couldn’t tell — would fit better in a pure comic book movie, not the “street” film this is purporting to be.
Plus, we have to think big picture, the whole universe these characters are meant to inhabit. It’s hard to imagine Ben Affleck’s Batman — what little we’ve seen of him — going up against Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc. There’s also the fact that this is the DCCU’s Joker for life. Even if Leto is recast, you can’t ever do a DCCU Joker lacking those tattoos without bringing out the huffs and puffs from fans and continuity sticklers. It’s hard to see that look maintaining Loki-like levels of appeal and harder still to see it alongside the world Zack Snyder has been creating with Man of Steel and now Dawn of Justice.
DC is in an unfortunate position. They have a great catalog, but can’t afford to spend years building a viable universe for them like Marvel has done. Simultaneously, they have to please audiences who have become very used to Marvel-sized rosters, so they’re trying to present a lot all at once. It’s why Dawn of Justice seems so packed with cameos and why their third outing features no fewer than 10 name characters. The problem is that juggling that many people is hard, and they haven’t proven this universe yet. It’s the same reason the Batman/Superman fight already feels off to some; when they battle in the comics, it’s about old friends finally coming to blows over differentiating ideologies. Here, it’s because we need these two guys in one movie so we can do Justice League.
Guardians of the Galaxy was a weird, risky property for Marvel, but they’d built up trust beforehand and had plenty of other working franchises to fall back on if it failed. Suicide Squad is a weird, risky property for DC, but they have no groundwork laid, so their job is a lot tougher. Still, as much as we can critique these three official images, it’s only three images. Ayer deserves the opportunity to make his film (which no doubt will include post production color alterations that could dramatically shape the appearance of these outfits), but he has his work cut out for him. If he can’t make these clunky-looking characters pop, his Suicide Squad just may self-destruct the whole DCCU.