This summer, the DC Extended Universe is mixing things up in the comic book genre by releasing Suicide Squad, which is the first time a team of villains and antiheroes will be placed in the center stage of a superhero movie. It’s safe to say there are many people excited about the film’s potential, as Suicide Squad is the most-buzzed about movie of 2016 on social media, generating high levels of hype ever since the first sizzle reel leaked online last year during San Diego Comic-Con. It is a little surprising that it’s caught on this much with the general public, since many of the characters are relative unknowns to casual moviegoers.
What makes Suicide Squad such an interesting production is that the protagonists are criminals who have been locked in prison for their actions – hence the tag line “Worst. Heroes. Ever.” The film is unique in that it asks audiences to root for individuals they would normally want to see someone like Batman defeat, and going by the reactions, fans are more than willing to oblige. Villains can be more popular than their counterparts, but why is that? What makes the members of the Suicide Squad relatable?
During the San Diego Comic-Con 2016 panel Breaking Badder: Suicide Squad and the Dawn of the Heroic Villain, this very question was posed. Criminal profiler Mark E. Safarik offered this as a response:
“A lot of the characters in Suicide Squad have elements that endear them to us, human elements. For example, Deadshot has a family. Now, like you said, a character like the Joker is absolutely deplorable. Harley Quinn struggles with gaining freedom from the Joker. So yeah, there are a lot of struggles and conflict with these characters that I think are exceptionally fascinating.”
It is true that director David Ayer made an effort to give each member of the Squad an element that theoretically could speak to someone watching the movie. El Diablo is searching for penance after his powers caused a tremendous amount of pain to those he cares about. Killer Croc had a troubled upbringing and rough childhood. And like Safarik says, Harley Quinn and Deadshot have aspects of twisted love and family (Deadshot’s daughter) that motivate them. Suicide Squad is a fascinating exploration of the idea that even awful people who commit crimes have some redeeming qualities. The real world isn’t black and white like some films portray; there are shades of gray present throughout society. The audience can see parts of themselves reflected in these characters.
That things turned out this way isn’t a shock. Typically, movies like this work well when the viewer can relate the the protagonist and live vicariously through them for the duration of the film. The key difference here is that Deadshot doesn’t necessarily stand for truth, justice, and the American way. He’s an assassin who will kill anyone for cash without thinking twice about it. Most people understand that that is morally “wrong,” but Suicide Squad should force some tough questions on moviegoers. How far would they go to protect their loved ones? What would they do if they were placed in similar situations? People like to think they will always do the “right” thing, but when pushed to extreme limits, they may have more in common with Floyd Lawton than they’d like to admit.
By giving the “Skwad” their “human elements,” it will hopefully lead to a stronger, more emotionally rewarding experience. Going by all that’s been released publicly in a killer marketing campaign, most of the team members (the ones with the greatest chance of sticking around for more than one movie, at least) are well-rounded, which will make them compelling to watch on the big screen. Ayer has mentioned before that audiences deserve better than the so-called “brutal” villains most films feature today, so ideally he delivers on that front and does these characters justice.
Suicide Squad opens in U.S. theaters on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash is currently without a release date.