"We're bad guys. It's what we do." - Harley Quinn
Wow – what a week to be a Batman fan!
Okay, this IS going to be a review of the long awaited and hotly anticipate Suicide Squad, but I need to address some of the other things that I saw in what I can only call The Week of the Bat!
You probably know the background to all this by heart, it’s something that I’ve mentioned a few times. But here’s the short version – 1966, age six, first exposure to Batman and DC Comics (oddly enough – I didn’t know Marvel even existed back then). Huge, obsessive fan of the Adam West TV show, became hooked on what we called American comics which in the small tourist town where I live, we could only get in the summer.
By the age of sixteen, I decided to succumb to parental pressure and try to grow out of my passion. I quit my superheroes and my comics and entered a decade long numbness until the release of The Dark Knight Returns – which was like giving crack to a junkie. Been addicted to DC & Marvel again ever since.
Earlier this year, I saw Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. I had instantly liked the choice of Ben Affleck for the part of Batman and indeed that film saw him become in my opinion the definitive screen Batman. That view was reinforced at the beginning of the week when BvS was released on BluRay in an ultimate cut that adds about half an hour to the movie.
The extended cut is a satisfying feast of a superhero film! The original cut was tremendous, but it actually benefits from the extra half hour – just a couple of scenes here and there, and some added character establishing pieces and improved motivation make a great film into an epic one. I truly wish that this had been the cinema cut (which, incidentally is included in the BluRay release).
Anyhow – I mentioned in my reminiscences that a graphic novel called The Dark Knight Returns which was adapted into a two part DC Animated Universe movie and it became a high watermark of their superhero animations. Previously, I had thought that the best Batman film was Mask of the Phantasm which was my first exposure to Batman – The Animated Series, back in the early nineties.
That animated series, to me, remains definitive. It added a huge character into the Bat Mythos that was actually carried over to the comics as canon, in the Joker’s psychotic girlfriend Harley Quinn.
The Joker himself in that series was voiced by Mark Hamill, who brought to the character a likeable but unpredictable manically homicidal charm. Essentially, the Joker we should have had that was more twisted and dangerous than even Jack Nicholson portrayed.
So, having become sucked back into the comic book fanaticism back in 1986, I was hungry for more – and got it. Batman: The Killing Joke was added to my collection a few months after the Dark Knight Returns. Drawn by Brian Bolland, this was the definitive Joker story. It showed the enigmatic supervillain’s origin for the first time since a story published in the forties. It also showed him at his villainous lunatic worst, and he changed Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon’s life forever and tried to prove his point that the difference between sanity and insanity is just one bad day by turning her father, the Commissioner, crazy.
Wow – that story, which stunned me with its darkness and savagery, was published thirty years ago! I have the first edition. Thirty years I waited for the disc that arrived yesterday. The DC Animated Universe adaptation of Killing Joke.
Using the animated series voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the voices of Batman and Joker respectively was genius. The story has been padded, and understandably so. The graphic novel is a relatively short one and if adapted literally, it would last about forty five or fifty minutes. So they’ve added a chunk to the beginning, to give more background to the Batgirl character so that her fate in the film carries a greater resonance for the casual viewer who might not necessarily follow the comics.
For an animated film, it’s dark, it’s brutal and it’s shocking. For a Batman film, it hits the mark perfectly. In the series of Animated Universe films released, it’s actually ahead of the aforementioned Mask of the Phantasm and Dark Knight Returns in my book. No punches pulled.
But inbetween those two discs came the opening day of The Suicide Squad.
If you don’t know who or what they are, let me try and explain quickly.
Remember The Dirty Dozen? The war film where a bunch of misfits were taken from a military prison and sent on a suicide mission in WW2 with a promise of freedom on completion of the mission if they lived. This is the DC comics version of that. It’s not a superhero film, it’s a supervillain film. If any members of the covert team try to run while on the mission, a nano explosive in their necks with blow their heads off.
Marvel Comics, to my knowledge don’t have anything like it. If they did, then the closest would, in my opinion be The Guardians of the Galaxy.
From the first trailer, I knew this was going to be offbeat and special. And I was right.
The casting is just perfect. Will Smith brings the right degree of dignity and sympathy to Deadshot. Even though he headlines the film, he’s not really the star.
Since the sixties, I’ve been looking for the definitive live action Joker. Cesar Romero just wasn’t threatening, though he was physically imposing. Jack Nicholson brought crazy to the role, but was too podgy to be the Joker. Heath Ledger was…okay, but he didn’t REALLY work for me.
Now we have Jared Leto. And he is as much the definitive screen Joker that I’ve yearned for, as Ben Affleck is the definitive screen Batman. He’s skinny, almost scarecrow-like spindly. He’s unpredictable, yet likeable and threatening at the same time. He’s several light years beyond crazy, and he’s entirely credible in the role. He looks demented. Look in his eyes whenever he’s on screen and you’re looking into incomprehensible blackness, an absence of any decency or morality, save his own twisted and ever changing values. Despite only being on screen sporadically during the film (the Joker isn’t the main character) his magnetism radiates in every scene he’s in. Leto leaves us wanting more and certainly craving the Batman/Joker movie that MUST be in the offing for the future.
But even Leto isn’t the star of the show despite being second billed….
That honour goes to Margot Robbie, whom I last saw alongside Will Smith in Focus.
She IS Harley Quinn! Sassy, funny, psychotic and charming. Her portrayal of the Joker’s ex psychiatrist now girlfriend, hopelessly devoted to “Mr J”, her “puddin’ “ is just perfect. Please, please let Warner bros have tied her down contractually to reprising the role in a future Batman film alongside Affleck and Leto. The brief scene with all three in Suicide Squad was a tantalising glimpse into how awesome a film that would be – a Batman movie for the ages.
The DC movie universe is fast catching up with Marvel’s, despite having started several years later. Of course this film is part of that universe. It’s established that it takes place after the events of Dawn of Justice, Superman is nowhere to be seen and it further shows us that Batman has been cleaning the streets of Gotham for quite some time. It’s also established that Robin’s time with Batman has already passed – we saw his costume covered in Joker graffiti in dawn of Justice, but in Suicide Squad, Harley is revealed as having been an accomplice in Robin’s murder.
It was at this point that I realised exactly why Leto’s Joker is definitive. I could never imagine Romero, Nicholson or Ledger gleefully killing Robin, as in the “Death in the Family” story arc, or carrying out the insanity of The Killing Joke – but I can see Leto’s Joker perpetrating those crimes on a whim.
Also along for the action is Flash villain Captain Boomerang, an Australian boomerang thrower with a drink problem, Katana – a female Japanese warrior who carries the souls of her victims in her samurai sword and Killer Croc, I guess Batman/DC’s version of Spider-Man/Marvel’s Lizard. He’s half man, half croc, and provides some of the comedy relief. El Diablo is a fire throwing mutant with pyrokinetic powers who has to be kept prisoner in a tank of water.
The villainy of goddess/witch The Enchantress, their protagonist, isn’t quite the showstopper it should have been, but then it’s tough to outdo a bunch of misfit supervillains with this much charm. Wisely, the plot is only a means of getting the team into action and allows their charisma to shine. It’s pretty much secondary overall – the film is more a character study of the villains and how they’ll manage to co-exist, or not as the case may be.
Essentially, the squad isn’t picked for their determination to succeed, they’re there because they can be written off if they fail.
So far – the film of the summer, as far as I’m concerned. As I said, it’s a great time to be a fan of The Batman.
Copyright © 2010 - 2016 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.