The world is full of horrible films, but sometimes there is a great movie deep inside it. At the very least a better one. Come along with me to this hypothetical universe where I have final creative control over the story of films with untapped potential. This is Script Doctor.
The DC movie universe has been quite the hot mess, has it not? It is the perfect storm of a studio rushing to compete with Marvel Studios and the aesthetic visions of complete madmen. The latest of these multi-million dollar train wrecks is David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. This movie had everything going for it: a great cast, a seasoned action director, and one hell of a great trailer… but it all went wrong. I suppose that is what happens when you write a script in six weeks and have a trailer house cut the theatrical edit.
However, this is not about shitting on a bad film (although I always jump at the chance to trash the DCEU). This is about molding this lump of clay into a watchable film.
First, we must ask…
Altogether, most of the cast is very strong across the board. Will Smith is great as a hired gun, Margot Robbie does a decent Harley although she is way too sexualized for me, and Viola Davis is the perfect casting for Amanda Waller. The rest of the cast is really good but could use some more time to shine- not too much as to overcrowd the film but enough to leave a lasting impression. You have a woman with a possessed katana and the film literally does nothing but give her a highly obvious exposition drop. Aside from some tweaks to the dialogue and shifting the film’s focus on some characters, this is a solid cast.
The actual story on its surface is intriguing by all means. A covert ops unit comprised of super villains convicts just reeks of a great action film at the very least. Add on top of that is the underlying theme of the government’s shady practices coming back to bite them in the ass. This shit is gold! This is a decent foundation to build a movie on.
Good stuff, but that brings us to…
The film has no single lead protagonist. Sometimes it’s Deadshot, other times it’s Rick Flagg, and sometimes it’s Harley’s movie. This isn’t an episode of Game of Thrones where you can have ten protagonists in the same episode. You have three characters that would make great leads- just not in the same movie. With Deadshot, you can focus on his conflict of disappointing his daughter. With Harley, you can make her abusive relationship with the Joker an interesting conflict (and it is abusive, people!). Rick Flag is boring as paint drying so he’s out. My self-indulgent pick would be El Diablo. He is an ex-gangbanger who swears off violence after he accidentally murders his wife and children. That can lead to a great story of redemption! You can still have fun with your side characters but this movie needs focus. Unless you are one hell of a writer, you need a central character to ground the story.
With such a great setup the execution is something to be desired. In the comics, the Suicide Squad is a covert unit sent on highly dangerous missions that are… well, suicidal or at least bring the characters close to death. The film introduces the group as a deterrent for Superman as he becomes a threat in the DC Universe. How exactly are a guy who can shoot really good, a clown woman with a bat, a crocodile man, and a dude who throws boomerangs a match for Superman? This is why we need to completely separate the film from the Justice League, or at least get rid of the original framework. You can have nods to the next film but not have the entire team’s existence hinging on that concept.
The film also has a major tone problem. The marketing promised a fun, supervillain romp. Instead, I got a movie that wants to be up-its-ass serious like Dawn of Justice, but also goofy like Guardians of the Galaxy. Not to mention it just HAS to tie-in to Justice League. This is a Chronanburgian mess most definitely. Ordinarily, movies need a consistent tone. You can’t have brightly colored character bios in one scene and Harley Quinn being force-fed through a tube in another. I mean you can, but I’m gonna question it.
Speaking of tone, let’s talk about those musical sequences. Suicide Squad is not Guardians of the Galaxy. Stop trying to be Guardians of the Galaxy. The music in Guardians had a specific narrative reason for being there. Suicide Squad thinks movie + music = good filmmaking, which only works if you also add great editing and great direction. Ayer is no Scorsese or Gunn. The music sticks out like a sore thumb and only highlights the incompetence of the filmmaking. I have seen better musical accompaniment from YouTube.
Remember what I said about the great cast? I meant everyone excluding Jared Leto’s Joker. It’s as if a boardroom committee put a gallon of Hot Topic, a cup of prison gang culture, and a heaping bag of Juggalo into a blender. I’m not sure whose really to blame here but it’s so embarrassing. Not even the extended cut could excuse this travesty. Jared Leto is definitely a talented performer but the material is lame. Harassing your co-stars and doing really gross antics doesn’t lead to an automatically groundbreaking performance.
Enchantress is dumb. Giant death beams shining into the sky are dumb. Her giant CGI brother is dumb. Enchantress’ plan is dumb. Moving on.
Now that we’ve broken it down, let us try to MacGyver this into a decent flick. Consider this as a rough outline of what I would have done to try to improve the film.
For the sake of simplicity, let us make Smith aka Deadshot aka Floyd Lawton our main protagonist and the relationship with his daughter the heart of the movie. The film opens with him taking out his target like in the film and is immediately followed by the scene where he is apprehended by Batfleck in front of his daughter. Floyd wants to give his daughter the world but in doing so, is at the cost of losing his daughter. In this first 10 or so, minutes we see no other characters. This is Lawton’s story.
After he is apprehended, Floyd is sent to Blackgate, where we meet the devil herself, Amanda Waller. Now, you can be really creative with this. Deadshot could wake up from being drugged in a room with the rest of the future Suicide Squad. Maybe you could execute an elaborate set up where it seems that Lawton is scot-free but then ends up in Waller’s clutches. Whatever scenario you use, there should be no room for negotiation. Amanda Waller already knows who he is and what he can do. The audience must know that this woman is not to be trifled with.
In the original film, the character Slipknot is used to illustrate the stakes of the Suicide Squad. I would suggest, that instead of a total C-lister, we have someone fans have a bit of knowledge about. I’m talking Scarecrow, Captain Cold, or even the Riddler. Include this character in the marketing and trailers. Get people really excited about this character. And then kill them. It will establish the high stakes and would also be really funny.
Once we’ve established the stakes, we can move onto a training montage or even just them going on small missions. Here, we can get a sense of the character dynamics and relationships. We can have Harley using her knowledge of psychology to poke fun at the others, but also giving her professional diagnosis of her teammates. We can also show her attempts to separate herself from the Joker because deep down she knows she is just a prop in his sick games. Show Rick Flag trying to keep control of such extreme personalities. We can see El Diablo’s continuing reluctance to use his powers to the detriment of the team. Have the team collectively poke fun at how lame it is that a guy unironically calls himself Captain Boomerang. Make Killer Croc do crocodile shit! Over time the team develops a sense of comradery, even if ultimately forced by circumstance.
Among all this, we continue to see Lawton’s internal conflict. He is no longer is he killing for money, but instead murdering at the behest of the government. This means nothing to him as he is used to killing, but he does care about how his daughter will only ever see him as a monster.
Throughout the film, we cut to elaborate costumed goons pulling various heists in very mischievous fashion from Star Labs and of course Argos, the organization who creates the nano explosives for the Suicide Squad. We only get bits and pieces of what their plan is, saving the reveal for later. In one of these scenes, we finally reveal the Joker!
In this film, we go back to basics with the Joker character, no pseudo-philosophical bs, no bizarre gangsta rap aesthetic, no tattoos, and no f***ing grill in his mouth. We just have a sociopathic clown who kills and causes havoc for fun. If it works for the cartoons it can work here. We already have a serious introspective Joker on film. No one will ever match Heath Ledger’s Joker. Unless maybe you are some kind of acting God like Daniel Day Lewis… Come to think of it a Daniel Day Lewis Joker would be interesting as hell…
You’re probably asking, “Where does Harley fit into this scheme?” She doesn’t. We can treat Harley’s story arc one of two ways. Harley could be very aware that the Joker is no good but is still being pulled in by his charm or we can portray her as still believing that good ol’ Mr.J is going to bust her out of there any day now. Either works for a final confrontation where she confronts the Joker and even delivers the final blow towards defeating him. I’m not against reinterpretations of their dynamic, but if this is to be the defining film version we must establish that Joker and Harley’s dynamic is abusive. Joker wouldn’t waste a breath on Harley if it didn’t benefit him in some way. When Harley discovers this she can rid herself of her feelings for him and become more than just “the Joker’s Girlfriend.” Harley Quinn pretty much has accomplished this in the comics! Let Harley become an antihero who overcomes her abuser and gains her freedom.
The rest of the film plays out like the fun action romp we were promised. Joker takes over a city via bomb threat. The bomb is set to release a new brand of Joker toxin that will detonate in 24 hours. Unless he is paid 10 billion dollars. No military or law enforcement can approach so they send in our Suicide Squad. They must go in covertly and take his ass out before he can detonate his chemical agent.
It would be a huge benefit to contain the action to one building instead of the whole city. Basically The Raid but with super villains. Instead of generic Putty like creatures that are easily beaten, let’s throw in some skilled henchman! When was the last time you saw some badass henchman in a movie? Make them D-list villains or even make up some new ones! Hell, just steal some from the Arkham games! Remember that guy with one arm and the sledgehammer? That would make a great action scene!
It will all lead to a climax at the top of the building and a countdown for the bomb. Here we can have Harley triumphantly defying the Joker, work in a way to resolve Deadshot’s inner conflict, and throw in some witty banter that people will quote for years.
The main objective here is to make it fun and have some goddamn character. Give the people what they were promised! A fun action romp with obscure C-list comic book villains that is balls to the wall exciting.
That’s all I got for this one, dear readers! Tell me what you would do to fix Suicide Squad! Got any suggestions on movies that need some of my medicine? Let me know in the comments!