Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman
For all the film's much talked-about pros and cons, Suicide Squad is nothing if not a novelty in the world of the superpowered film genre. That novelty has reaped serious box office rewards too, resulting in an opening weekend that set records for the month of August. Regardless of the film's legs in the coming weeks, it's clear that there's a widespread appetite for anti-heroes; the box office surprises of Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool were proof enough of this, but Suicide Squad takes it a step further. These protagonists aren't just morally questionable scoundrels, they're straight-up villains.
As a first in superhero films, (not to mention shared universes,) this poses a unique quandary. Now that these characters have voluntarily risked life and limb to save the world, can they ever really function as villains again?
With Superman "dead" in the wake of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the head of the top-secret government agency A.R.G.U.S., devises a new response to superhuman threats. Task Force X, an expendable team of imprisoned felons with unique skills, is formed. Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) are fitted with nano-bombs and forced into suicidal community service.
Except the squad isn't sent to take out the film's metahuman threats. While the demonic Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and her brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine) prep a mystical machine to conquer the world from the center of the now-zombified Midway City, Task Force X is sent to exfiltrate Amanda Waller from her observation center in the danger zone. The team fail and Waller is captured, forfeiting her military secrets to the enemy. In a fit of despair, squad handler Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) lets the team off their leash, though still asserts that he'll take the fight to his on-again, off-again girlfriend and save the world.
At this moment, the Squad voluntarily decide to do something truly heroic.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
Deadshot's change of heart receives the most screen time. Once an assassin with one rule - he doesn't do the job until he gets paid - he discovers that his daughter Zoe is still attempting to reach out to him. Faced with the option of fleeing to be with her, he decides to do the heroic thing instead. After all, what's the point in being with her if he's not a father worthy of her respect or love?
Chato Santana, a.k.a. El Diablo, doesn't see himself as redeemable. At the beginning of the film, he is a broken man. Having inadvertently killed his family in a fit of rage, he vows never again to use his powers against another. As a conscientious objector, his powers, and the spirit of vengeance that fuels them, are sidelined for the majority of the film. When he realizes that he is the only member of the team that can effectively combat Incubus, he gives in to his curse for the greater good and purportedly dies while taking Incubus down.
Harley Quinn spends the majority of the film waiting for her chance to escape A.R.G.U.S. and get back to her puddin'. When The Joker (Jared Leto) appears to have died during her attempted rescue, she returns to the squad. Harley's erratic reasoning is never fully explained, but it's likely that without her love, Task Force X is the closest thing she has to a family left. With nothing left to lose but her immediate "friends", fighting an ancient evil seems to strike her as a darn good time. And if there's anything we can count on, it's that Harley will always choose the most entertaining option at any given moment.
With only a handful of lines in the film, we can only guess at Waylon Jones, a.k.a. Killer Croc's, motivations. Amanda Waller explains that he was born with his looks, but that being treated like a monster made him the villain he is. Croc is one of the few squad members who never seems to really have an issue with his imprisonment or his assignment on Task Force X. The most likely possibility is that he simply likes playing the role of the beast. He's the only character who expresses open admiration for Amanda Waller, presumably because she's a bigger monster than he is. Being on the leash of the "good guys" seems to suit him just fine, as long as he can be nasty about how he assists.
As for Digger Harkness, a.k.a. Boomerang... his motivations for returning to the team in their moment of truth are the hardest to peg. It doesn't really align with anything else the film tells us about him. He is, first and foremost, the guy who never thinks twice about stabbing his partners in the back. He manipulates Slipknot into testing out the legitimacy of their nano-bomb leashes with explosive results, and doesn't seem to give it a second thought. However, he does look uncomfortable when Deadshot agrees to kill Harley, and is morose when he believes she's been killed, even offering Deadshot a word of comfort. Of the entire squad, Boomerang seems most preoccupied with escape and is the first to make a run for it when the opportunity arises.. Could it be that he felt remorse for the first time in his life? Did he realize that escaping with a bomb in his neck and a demonic plague sweeping the earth was futile? Was he just jealous of how cool the rest of the squad looked in that slow-motion shot? We may never know.
SUPERVILLAIN STREET CRED
Relapse happens. Obviously, all of these once-villains could do their time while continuing on the path of righteousness - maybe even perform enough missions to secure a release within their lifetime (assuming Waller would even honor the deal). But how believable would that be, now that they've shown their propensity for good? Has their villainous credibility been damaged beyond repair? Could we take them seriously in future DCEU movies that position them as a legitimate threat to the status quo?
At first glance, Deadshot would seem the most likely candidate to cooperate with the "good guys" moving forward. He has something to fight for; the respect of his daughter, and the chance to see her again. But this center of morality exists outside of him. Zoe's innocence is the reason he surrenders to Batman in the first place. But at the film's end, she seems to have begun empathizing more and more with the man that Deadshot was, using her geometry homework to figure out how daddy would best perform a kill. After realizing the consequences her actions had for her father, might Zoe be regretting her noble stand against violence? And if she relays to her father that she respects the hardened killer that her naivety sent to prison, he may very well feel better about returning to his old life, given the chance.
But Deadshot's values may still be the most volatile, even if Zoe's moral compass remains constant. While he's unlikely to change his stance on doing right by his daughter, his mind may change about how best to service that. Perhaps he (quite reasonably) loses hope that Waller will ever release him, regardless of how well he performs in his community service. One could also imagine a scenario in future films where Zoe is kidnapped or threatened, as a means to manipulate him into performing nefarious deeds. "Kill the Bat, get your daughter back" would be a fantastic premise for a future film, framing Deadshot as a deeply sympathetic villain.
Let's reasonably assume that El Diablo isn't actually dead. He disappeared in an explosion while fighting in "god form." No body was found. That's comic book code for "He's alive." So what are the chances that he'll return as a villain? Pretty high, actually. While Chato Santana had made an earnest attempt to restrain the spirit of vengeance within him, there's no knowing what effect unleashing it has done to his mental state. Might he return to enact vengeance on Amanda Waller, pitting him against the Suicide Squad in a sequel? The motivations of these ancient spirits can be very difficult to predict, but it'd be a shame if we've truly seen the last of Santana. He was one of the most compelling characters in the film and certainly has some of the coolest powers.
Speaking of relapse, Harley Quinn is already there. For a moment, with The Joker apparently dead, it seemed like she might be on the mend. She had time to contemplate who she wanted to be, outside of that abusive relationship. She also seemed genuinely content reading in her cell with her espresso machine. But in a bittersweet turn of events, the film ends with The Joker returning to bust her out of prison. It's likely that, at least for the immediate future, she'll be taking her boyfriend's nefarious lead. This leaves her firmly in the role of the villain for the sequel to Suicide Squad, or the upcoming Ben Affleck-directed Batman film.
So what about Killer Croc? Having accepted the monstrous identity that the world chose for him, he seems content to drift wherever the wind blows him. This leaves Waylon Jones just as likely to show up to help the Justice League as he would fight them. Croc could easily fill the "Release Hulk in case of emergency" role from The Avengers movies, but without the side that feels remorse for embracing the beast.
As for Boomerang, of all the possible motivations he may have had for helping out at the end of the film, doing so out of the goodness of his heart seems the least likely. Since there's almost no chance that Digger Harkness came around with heroic intentions, he easily holds on to his villain cred. There's a decent chance that he'll appear in The Flash's standalone film to be pummelled by the hero once again. After all, Boomerangs always come back.
Other than Rick Flag or Katana (who weren't on the team as convicts, but soldiers), we certainly can't rule out any of Task Force X's members as villains in the DCEU moving forward. The great thing about this is that Suicide Squad showed us these characters' propensity for good, and a sympathetic villain is often a good villain. This doesn't mean they have to necessarily have good intentions, but there's a twisted logic to the actions of Darth Vader, Hannibal Lector, and The Joker that make them incredibly compelling to watch. Over on the Marvel side, Loki is still the most popular villain of the MCU films because his evil actions are driven by motivations that audiences can relate to. He feels betrayed, undermined and, most importantly, out of place. He turns to villainy not out of a basic desire for power, but because it's the only way his identity makes sense to him.
Regardless of Suicide Squad's merits as a film, it featured some equally fascinating characters: a killer with a soft spot only for his daughter; a man with terrifying powers who seeks redemption by removing himself from mankind; an intelligent and capable woman who turns her whole identity into an expression of twisted love; a man who could only define his monstrous appearance by embracing it as his identity; and a jerk who throws boomerangs. The most important thing Warner Bros can do with these characters moving forward is to continue asking what it actually means to be a villain. What are the forces that brought them here, and what are the forces that may keep them here, regardless of their best intentions? These questions take us entirely different directions when they're asked of villains than of heroes, so let's hope Hollywood continues to put forward fascinating villains in their future superfilms.
What are your hopes for the members of Task Force X in the future of the DCEU? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Suicide Squad is in theaters now. Wonder Woman opens 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, the Batman solo movie and Man of Steel 2 are currently without release dates.