Some things in this life never change; some concepts are never depleted of their depths. These motifs, Shakespearian in nature, have been played with and morphed for ages now and are cast in brilliant new lights. The key to life is re-invention and we have seen time and time again characters and symbols that remain with us in the darkest of nights and the brightest of days.
There is a boy whose parents are killed in front of him, striping his innocence and creating a symbol of the night. There is a small child from an alien planet left here on earth who is raised human, struggling to balance the different parts of himself. A man beaten by the sins of society is stripped of identity and turned into a brilliantly evil clown prince of crime. These are concepts and characters that have been with us for over 70 years and yet we are seeing their rebirth in an entirely new light.
This coming August 5, movie goers will be subjected to the worst group of superheroes ever in the form of the Suicide Squad. This new film from director David Ayer, of course created, produced, and distributed by DC Comics and Warner Brothers, is set to shock and thrill fans all across the nation. This marks the first time since their creation in 1959 that this particular group of baddies turned faux good guys will make their live action, blockbuster debut. This is an important step for many reasons.
Firstly, a loose plot summary sets up for events to come. A secret agency of the government, led by the devious Amanda Waller, highjack’s a group of criminals to make them complete secret military tasks for the United States government. Obviously things go awry, as they tend to do, and these villains must make a choice: do good for the sake of good or continue with their destructive ways. This is a choice and a plot as old as time but it will be presented in a very particular and exciting new fashion.
While many villains are capable of good and some good guys victim to the ways of evil, this movie will have a much darker tone and highlight many of the lesser known characters in the DC Comics Universe. While there are many incredible big name stars such as Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and Ben Affleck’s Batman, there is one character that is poised to either make or break the film and all signs point to his performance going down in cinema history as one of the most twisted and tormented performances ever offered on the big screen: Jared Leto’s portrayal of the Joker.
To understand just how important this performance is, two factors must be taken into account: the relationship between Batman and the Joker on screen in film and their deeper, twisted relationship in comic book lore. When looking at the live action portrayal of the joker, you have two names, Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger. Whereas Nicholson’s joker is very twisted and often highly underrated, its Ledger’s performance that really makes this movie interesting.
In a very strange turn of events in modern cinema history, Heath Ledger famously passed away barely six months before the theatrical release of The Dark Knight. When the film debuted, audiences were not ready for what Ledger brought to this character. Heath’s Joker was a powerful force of chaos, a human being with no humanity. It was the most reserved madness that anyone had ever brought to the character before and combined with the rumors that the role is what drove Ledger to an overdose death, the film to this day still carries with it a stigma. Ledger’s breathtaking and suave, maniacal performance earned him a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the first for anyone in a superhero film, and helped The Dark Knight become the most revered comic book movie in history. No one has ever even thought of touching the role of the Joker until now with Leto’s impending performance.
Before truly diving into a preview of what Leto’s performance could bring to the film and the future of the DCU, one must understand the deeper lore and connection between the Batman and the Joker. Whereas the Batman is the most focused and justice driven person in the history of comics, the Joker is the complete and total antithesis of this. They are the exact opposite sides of the same coin. While they are both complete adversaries, there is something there, be it a mutual, begrudging acceptance in the knowledge that without one, the other cannot exist. Joker’s entire existence is based upon the fact that he loves Batman. Looking beyond the campy stories of the 40’s and 50’s and into the serious pieces that examine the connection, such as Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke or the end of their relationship with Frank Miller’sThe Dark Knight Returns, you see that the duo co-exists out of a twisted need for the other. Batman will not kill the Joker because it will take him to the darkest of places, the abyss from which he will not return and the Joker will not kill Batman because it would erase the whole purpose of his existence. When you take this connection, as menacingly twisted as it is, and now apply it to a world where someone will try to step in and take the Joker character in a different direction than Ledger, you see how this movie is so important and, more importantly, what this could mean for the future of the DCU.
Looking towards Suicide Squad, viewers can be made aware of some certain facts that are new and exciting in the world of comic book movies. DC is not afraid to take risks. We all know and love the Marvel characters for what they have become and their interactions with one another. However, as the Marvel line enters the later stages, DC is just beginning to birth their extended universe and straight out of the gate, with only the third real movie in the series, they are bringing together this wagon of unfamiliar characters and highlighting villains in a way that have not been seen before on the big screen. It’s exceptionally risky but with the addition of some big name stars, an incredible cast and crew, and a director with some notches in his belt, it could very well be the start of a glorious movement in DC Comics movies.
Take a look back for a moment at the first real launching point for the DCU, 2013’s Man of Steel. This is the first film that launches not only Superman in this modern era, it also sets up the future events that are to come in this universe. It does a wonderful job of establishing the world that these characters live in and also gives some humanity to Superman, a task that is incredibly difficult. Move forward to 2016’s smash hit Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice which introduced Batman and Wonder Woman, plants the seed of future villains, and gives us our first glimpse at the other DC heroes. While both of these movies received mixed reviews from critics, they both did a phenomenal job of setting up this universe in a brave and exciting way. With Suicide Squad on the way, DC has a chance to do something that Marvel has not really done: emphasize their villains in a more main stream light. While some of these characters are household names, a majority of them are not. This is a statement that says they will take risks on all of their characters, show a darker, much grittier tone, and have a fleshed out world that is full of imperfections and evil just as much as it is full of hope. However, what does this move mean for the future of the DCU?
Essentially, the future of this cinematic universe appears to be in good hands. Where some felt stumbles on Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman, most of the early reviews for Suicide Squad seem exceptionally positive. The characters, from what have been shown, look like fresh and unique takes than their comic book counterparts and can really become mainstays in the world. In addition, coming out of Comic Con 2016 in San Diego, we were all shown the first footage of the new Wonder Woman movie as well as a very exciting first trailer for the Justice League movie, both of which seem exceptionally well received. Combine this with the most incredible rumor of the next solo Batman film being written and directed by Ben Affleck and Geoff Johns and set inside Arkham Asylum, DC might just have a license to start printing money. Taking the bet on a movie like Suicide Squad is certainly going to make the DCU exciting and could very well launch them into stiff competition with their counterparts at Marvel.
The final note that truly needs to be made is what do these comic book movies do for us a whole? It is essentially, the greatest form of escapism and motivation left in the entire world. Comic books and their characters, for more than 70 years, have tapped into the vein of the most essential and base needs of the average person: the ability to know that you can be more than what you are and that you can always elevate yourself to another position in life.
You can look at the campy stories from the 50’s, the grit and attitude of the 80’s, or even the streamlined and stylized works of today and see that they truly offer something for everyone, be it Marvel or DC. These characters are still with us because they are us, just turned up a little more. Many of these heroes struggle with the same issues that we do and they find ways, be it extraordinary or not, to overcome them. We love the super sci-fi characters but many, like the Batman, are just humans being put in precarious situations and having to overcome their circumstances. They are the most powerful motivators out of terrible circumstance and their ability to change, adapt, and overcome is what has constantly kept them at the foremost of the public conscious.
Take all of this in relation to Suicide Squad and what you have is something special. If the job is to sell or hype you on the movie, then you need look no further than this: the escape of this movie is knowing that the DCU is going to offer an unadulterated, unfiltered look at the other side of the superhero coin. We see Superman and Batman struggle with morality; Tony and Steve are constantly in a self-righteous debate. However, Suicide Squad will roll back the curtain of the villains psyche and say to the movie goers that not all in this universe is sunshine. Just as in real life we are bombarded with chaos and anarchy on a daily basis, this world has its dark points to. It’s ok to look at the villains, all be it not with acceptance, but still examine them and try to understand why they are the way they are. A wise man once said it only takes one bad day, meaning that these people were not always evil, or maybe they were. That’s the beauty of this film, the fact that it flips the stereotypical superhero film on its head and says that you do not know what is coming next, and that unpredictability makes for powerful characters, interesting plots, and a world that is full of as much darkness as there is light. It is up to us as viewers to find the hope and that is why you should all turn out to see Suicide Squad at your local theater on August 5th.
Jeremy Andrews Staff Writer