For the record, it is much easier to act as an amateur script doctor than it is to write something original (as my paltry screenwriting efforts to date prove). It is also much easier to suggest improvements to a finished film than earlier in its development or production. In other words, this is more of an exercise for me than any reflection on how good a screenwriter I am or how bad others are.
While I am certainly a hater of Suicide Squad, I didn’t hate it nearly as much as others did, mainly because I thought that there was an interesting film hiding in there somewhere. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot wrong with it, and there’s only so much one can do with the pieces given. (As Joss Whedon famously said about his days as a script doctor, “The problem with your act three is your acts one and two.”) Jenny Nicholson already has a great video explaining so much that’s wrong with the whole thing. So I’m not trying to make the BEST version of Suicide Squad, only a slightly better version of this film.
Before we get too far along, there are a few structural/plot tweaks:
- Slim down the exposition that introduces each character – and that includes Slipknot – but add a short character vignette that can serve as a call back for the “demands” scene at the end. In other words, why does Harley Quinn want that espresso machine after all? This pitch-perfect scene in Sneakers should be the template.
- Cut the rest of the SOF team and Katana. This a Rick Flag/Suicide Squad show.
- The military brass aren’t interested in Task Force X; they’re interested in Enchantress. After she runs amok, Suicide Squad is the backup plan, and nuking an evacuated Midway City is the backup backup plan.
- Along those lines, their mission is to get in and grab Waller without a fight. She doesn’t want them to know what’s REALLY going on. The fact that they’re killing zombiefied people and that Enchantress is behind it all should genuinely be shocking to them, or at least Rick Flag.
- El Diablo doesn’t use his power until the very end, and only then because he’s so pissed at Enchantress for the false promise of his family being alive – a much better payoff.
Suicide Squad was marketed as a film with a unique point of view: it’s about the bad guys, not the good guys – or the “worst heroes ever” according to the poster’s tagline. It should embrace this and present its characters as charismatic but still bad.
- More banter between squad members. Why are Harley Quinn and Deadshot the only two who get a chance to be appealing?
- More bad deeds. These should start small, like Harley Quinn breaking the window and stealing the purse, but progressively get worse. As long as they’re accompanied by a good one-liner, the audience will stick in there. By the end of the film, the fact that innocent civilians may have been killed by our heroes/villains should be a laugh line. Clearly, nailing the tone is key – think the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the head (and, for the record, I’m not comparing Suicide Squad to Pulp Fiction).
That doesn’t mean our heroes/villains shouldn’t be sympathetic. By playing up their predicament and the good guys’ lack of scruples, all of a sudden that audience is thinking, “Yeah, it’s bad that they killed those civilians, but it’s also not fair that the government is lying to them.”
- Twist the capture scenes into ruminations on vigilante tactics. Despite the fact they can’t prove Deadshot is a criminal, Batman grabs him (in front of his daughter no less). There’s no warrant for the cops to search Captain Boomerang’s hideout, but the Flash doesn’t care. The superheroes are so convinced our heroes/villains are bad that they’re willing to bend or even break the law – not to mention scare little girls – to apprehend them.
- They’re also being held without trial in a military prison. Play up the Guantanamo Bay/Abu Gharib angle by making the guards truly sadistic: they burn a letter from Deadshot’s daughter before 10 of them beat him. By the time the Joker captures Griggs, the audience should be begging for him to get what he deserves.
- While Amanda Waller isn’t exactly heroic, make her even worse. Her plan is to offer them full pardons but never follow through. And her contingency is to use a tactical nuke on Midway City if they don’t succeed, killing two birds with one stone. She kills her staff because they know that the whole Enchantress thing is her fault, and there’s the implication that Rick Flag is next. At the end, she puts a bullet in Enchantress/June’s head “just to be safe.” (It’s not like that couldn’t be explained away in the inevitable sequel.)
- Rick Flag should be slightly compromised too. His squad’s been accused of war crimes and he’s got a drinking problem as well as some serious PTSD, all of which allow Waller to manipulate him. When she kicks him out of her escape helicopter, it should be clear she thinks he’s as expendable as the rest. Which would help explain why he and the heroes/villains eventually get along . . .
Speaking of motivation, a more believable path from “we’re bad guys” to “let’s work together as a team” would make Suicide Squad a lot more coherent.
- Waller is a bad person who does bad things for what she thinks are good reasons. When things go wrong, however, it’s all about her own survival. She’s a lot like Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris from Training Day – hey, that was written by Suicide Squad writer/director David Ayer!
- Our heroes/villains want pardons or a clean getaway, not necessarily in that order. Captain Boomerang works his escape angle one way, Harley Quinn another. They’re perfectly happy to let the zombies kill Rick Flag and only save him once they realize that their heads might be blown off if they don’t.
- It becomes increasingly clear that the whole mission is a setup. These are zombies, not terrorists, and it’s Enchantress’ – and thus Waller’s – fault. Deadshot realizes the pardons are bullshit after Waller slips up and offers him the same thing if he shoots Harley Quinn. Rick Flag realizes he and the rest of the squad are going to get nuked as soon as Waller gets away. This puts our heroes/villains and Rick Flag on the same side, at least temporarily.
- Rick Flag bridges the gap between bad and good, or at least bad and expedient. He tells them that the backup backup plan is to nuke the city with them in it. He deactivates their neck bombs because he’s fed up with Waller, but tells them they don’t have time to clear the blast. Then he offers them a deal: if they help him defeat Enchantress (he gets something he wants: he lives, his girlfriend is saved, and Waller is exposed) he’ll tell the government that they died fighting her (they get something they want: a clean getaway).
In the end, I think Suicide Squad is a real missed opportunity for a genre that needs some variety. Man of Steel is what happens when someone other than Christopher Nolan tries to make a “serious” superhero movie. And I’ve stopped watching the Marvel films because they’re all the same. Even Deadpool – despite its hype – is basically the same movie with swearing and boobs. This one could have been different. It probably would never have been great (I personally feel greatness is limited to Spiderman 2 and The Dark Knight – feel free to object in the comments) or even good, but it might have been cool. At the very least, it would’ve been an antidote to Marvel’s predictable formula. What more could DC ask for?