Mason, You Ignorant Slut

A half-assed rebuttal in defense of Suicide Squad


First and foremost, two quick things: First, Mason Shumaker really does mean it when he says he thinks Suicide Squad is the worst movie he’s ever seen. He is neither trolling nor being intentionally hyperbolic. It took him two tries to finish the whole movie. Second, in our echo-chamber world, we largely forget that the truest purpose of any form of criticism is to engage the work and each other. We ought not seek only those opinions that bolster or own. We are enriched by having to do the work of thoughtfully reacting to differing takes and should be more willing to cede certain points to others.

Except in this case where I am totally right and Mason is totally wrong.

I kid. I get the criticisms of Suicide Squad. In fact, I agree with a surprising number of them. I just disagree on the amount to which I see those flaws as particularly damaging to the film as a whole. Let’s start where Mason did, with the “appearance of garish studio logos, customized to look like the front entrance of Spencer Gifts.” I’m pretty sure Hot Topic is pissed he went with that referent, but he’s not wrong. The core of Mason’s complaint is that such graphics were distracting and obnoxious. I agree with both points. I simply thought that was the movie we had paid to see: a distracting, obnoxious take on distracting, obnoxious miscreants.

It’s harder to rebuff Mason’s claim that the film jumps tone from “frame to frame.” He’s right. It does. And the haphazard nature of the thing is inarguably the easiest and strongest complaint. That said, I don’t know that I disliked any of the things that were grossly and inarticulately welded together. That is to say, if I like all of the tones, is it so bad for the film to hop between them? There are at least three competing movies jockeying for position within Suicide Squad. One is the silly, pop-culture-laden flick the trailers promised; one is the dark and twisted version director David Ayer likely wanted and one is the blockbuster action spectacle the studio demanded. I liked all three of those movies within this movie, even if I admit that the whole thing lumbered like Frankenstein’s monster, looking for love. Jared Leto in specific. Jared Leto wants your love.

Mason then tackles the characters, which is where we are going to disagree the most. While he treats Will Smith not unlike Smith was treated by a couple of guys who were up to no good that started making trouble in his neighborhood, I found Deadshot to have a fairly complete arc. While the film didn’t spend ample time establishing Deadshot as a nefarious murderer, such can be implied easily by a dude with Dead in his name. His willingness to soften his assassin ways because of his daughter isn’t revolutionary but is still effective.

Harley Quinn is where I most strongly disagree with Mason, who clearly is one of few capable of resisting Margot Robbie’s once-in-a-generation charisma as an actress. She’s a star. And when she’s goofing on screen, it works. She was given no favors by having her arc paired down to being an abused princess to the Joker’s clown prince of crime, but her performance and the character were both completely engaging for me. I wanted more from her, which is the telltale sign of acting success in any ensemble.

On the other hand, I will never defend Joel Kinnaman or Jai Courtney. Mason is right. They suck.

That said, the complaint that the bulk of the “squaders” get short shifted doesn’t fly with me. That’s how every Dirty Dozen-inspired flick should be. We have a core group that are the “main” characters, with the rest relegated to scene-stealing or assists. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is an excellent example of exactly how that should work in a movie sporting a large cast. He was interesting, had a killer few moments, but let the other lead actors carry the load.

In terms of dialogue, while I concede that Mason is right in pointing out how often everyone in the movie reminds us these are “the bad guys,” there are also a fair number of clever quips and one-liners. Smith is still adept as hell at a quality punchline, and although the trailers exploited most of the good dialogue, that’s not the movie’s fault, and it should still get credit for them.

Really, what a lot of reactions to the movie come down to is Leto’s Joker. Allow me, for the record, to be clear: The actual person of Jared Leto, who “method acted” his way through the shoot by sending dead animals to his peers and by watching actual violent acts, sounds like a ginormous douchewaffle. There’s a great, and I mean great, write-up of what his schtick means for method acting as a whole over at “The Atlantic” I highly recommend. I believe it’s entirely possible that Leto’s greatest contribution to the human race may be the scene where he gets his face violently pulped by Ed Norton in Fight Club.

And I liked his Joker.

It’s so very hard to separate the performer from the art. As a Chicago Cubs fan, whose team just drafted a killer closer that happens to also be a somewhat unrepentant domestic abuser, I’m used to the mental gymnastics necessary to separate what a person does from who they are. Leto is a dick. But his Joker is great. For Mason, it sounds like the potent funk of obnoxiousness emanating from the character made him despise watching him. I think that’s precisely what my understanding of the Joker is.

The best adversaries for superheroes are their immediate and exact opposite. Batman is all stealth, so the Joker drives a purple lambo. Batman doesn’t kill, so the Joker does so without a second thought. Batman is to be feared, the Joker is to be laughed at. I found it embarrassing to watch the Joker talk with his ridiculous face tattoos. But think about it: Isn’t a face tattoo the exact opposite of anything Bruce Wayne would ever get? Why does the Joker laugh and lay on the ground surrounded by weapons arranged in artistic fashion? Because Batman hides all his weapons in a cave or in his utility belt. Leto’s Joker made me violently uncomfortable in the same way that watching someone who is about to be embarrassed in front of a class makes me squirm. And, to me, that’s a take on the Joker that’s great.

Suicide Squad is uneven AF. It’s got a ton of tiny problems and a few big ones. I still would rather watch it an infinite number of times before enduring a supposedly “better” DC Comics movie (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) once. This back-and-forth between me and Mason isn’t actually that much about Suicide Squad. The movie came to symbolize the cultural disconnect between “fans” and “critics.” I can tell you that Mason and I are both. Listen, it’s okay to both respect someone and completely disagree with their opinion. Mason is a hell of a reviewer. I bet we agree 80% of the time to some degree. When we don’t, I like to hear why.

And that’s what’s being lost right now. In all the social media, in all the “petitions to shut down Rotten Tomatoes,” what’s lost is the art of simple dialogue, the art of listening. You can agree with almost every flaw in Suicide Squad and still like it. Nobody can stop you. You just shouldn’t be mad at someone who doesn’t or who points out why they don’t. I find it infinitely more fun to discuss a movie with someone who has a different opinion than someone who has the same one. “You remember when (blank) happened” isn’t as fun as a spirited, but respectful, exchange over whether something sucked or didn’t.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go spray paint “Suicide Squad rulez” on Mason’s car in hot pink. 


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