Trailer Talk – Suicide Squad

Not that there’s ever a break in the superhero movie promotion machine, but as winter looms over us the movie studios seem to want us to look ahead to the summer months and the onslaught of superhero movies that will fill our theaters as the days get long and hot. Since the beginning of December, we’ve seen new trailers for Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Netflix’s Daredevil, and now Suicide Squad. I haven’t done Trailer Talks for each of these trailers, because they all feel so similar to me – Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, and Captain America: Civil War are all films about superheroes fighting each other; Deadpool, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Netflix’s Daredevil, and now Suicide Squad are all about antiheroes at odds with society doing the right thing in the wrong way. You can only write the same thing so many times.

However, I haven’t even written it once, and Reel Spirituality Practicing Critic Chris Lopez asked for a Trailer Talk on the new Suicide Squad trailer, so why not?

Warner Bros. has been hyping this movie since September of 2014 when David Ayer was named the upcoming film’s director. In December of 2014, the first cast list was announced. In April of last year they released the first (“controversial,” if it is right to use that word to describe fan reactions to a picture of a man costumed as a iconic comic book character; shouldn’t we reserve that word for political debates on which people’s lives hang?) image of Jared Leto as “The Joker.” A full-cast photo rolled out a couple of weeks later. Then the first trailer was shown at Comic Con in July. Empire Magazine featured Suicide Squad characters on its covers in October. And now we have a new trailer for the film, released yesterday.

All that to say, there’s been new Suicide Squad publicity released every three of four months for the past year and a half. None of it really offers any new information concerning the plot, tone, or quality of the film, at least nothing that we couldn’t have inferred based on the movie’s source material. Suicide Squad is a movie about “bad guys”—though judging by her prominence in the promotional material, the “bad girl” seems to be what the studio is most banking on to sell tickets—doing “bad” things in the name of good. The trailers promise a darker, rowdier, angrier, more anarchic superhero flick than the “do the right thing” counterparts over at Marvel.

The most interesting thing to me about the pair of trailers for this film is the music the trailer’s editors set them to. In the first trailer, the explosions and gunplay are set to Sydney Chase’s haunting arrangement of the Bee Gee’s hit “I Started A Joke” (performed by Becky Hansen). The melting synthesizer sound gave the first trailer an ominous tone. Mixed with Deadshot (Will Smith) haggardly calling the team a “suicide squad” and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) claiming deniability if anything goes wrong, the first trailer had a fatalistic feel. Heavy. Foreboding. Depressing. I doubt that sells tickets to anyone but the most ardent of fans. (Coincidentally, after sitting through the inter-hero conflict-filled trailers for Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, and Captain America: Civil War prior to seeing Star WarsThe Force Awakens, my wife leaned over to me and said, “Well, that was depressing. I’ll pass. Why don’t they make them fun anymore?”)

This new trailer is set to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a fun, raucous song even if the lyrics themselves are both mysterious and existentially angsty. This song suggests the film will be both anarchic and exciting if touched by a bit of fatalism. Perhaps a fatalistic temperament is necessary to embrace anarchy in total. The sections of “Bohemian Rhapsody” hand-picked from the much longer song reveal more of the marketing’s method. “Is this just fantasy” plays as Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is shown for the first time, because, as before, the actress/character’s sex-appeal is a big part of the film’s promotional appeal. But the following section showing the inmates being brutalized by guards is scored to the part of the song about “spine shivers” and “body aches.” The squad’s suicidal tendencies are contextualized in their having nothing else to live for anyway. The squad’s activities are scored by Queen’s psychotic bridge in which the singer struggles to get free of the powers that bind him, and then the trailer doubles-down on letting us know these people are troubled, reminding us that they are tormented by devils “put aside for [them].” The final minute of the trailer lets the anti-heroes do their worst set to the most rebellious part of Queen’s song—including hearing Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) say, “Let’s do something fun.”—and then ends with a shot of Margot Robbie’s derrière.

“What do filmgoers want?” DW Griffith famously asked years ago. “A girl and a gun,” he answered. Suicide Squad has both, and the film’s trailers and other marketing material want to make sure you don’t forget it.

What of the film’s marketed fatalism though? What are we to make of that? The trailer suggests that the bad guys are bad because they have nothing else to live for. Their violence is an outworking of their existential angst. Writer/director David Ayer has always made movies about violence, the way if affects men, and the ways it is inescapable in our cultures. His films typically lean toward the idea that violence in service of good is commendable if unfortunate. Fury, his film about a tank crew in WWII, is as thoughtful a cinematic depiction of Just War as I’ve seen lately.

Will Suicide Squad allow him to tackle similar themes? We won’t know until we see it, but the potential is there. The trailer suggests it offers two answers to why we allow and even sponsor violence in the world – to do good and because we are essentially hopeless beings. That those two answers are in irreconcilable conflict doesn’t seem to be on the film’s mind at all. That violence can be something other than physical—that repeated, voyeuristic shots of a young woman is another kind of violence—seems beyond the film’s scope as well.

Suicide Squad opens August 5. Both trailers are embedded below.