Major spoilers ahead for Suicide Squad, so if you haven’t seen it yet and you’d rather go in blind, stop right here.
When you call your movie Suicide Squad, you’d damn well better give the audience a few deaths to chew on. That’s exactly what director David Ayer delivers with his bad guy team-up, a thrill ride through the darkened streets of Midway City which stumbles occasionally in terms of story, but delights in the chemistry shared by the squad and throws a couple of very surprising curveballs before the credits roll.
So, which of the bad guys ended up in a hole in the ground underneath a tombstone marked "collateral damage"? Let’s work our way through the four major deaths of Suicide Squad, and ask what they might mean for the sequel we all know is coming, and how they may impact the DCEU at large.
The first member of Task Force X to die is the one we all knew would. Slipknot, the so-called master rope artist who doesn’t even get his own introduction when Amanda Waller introduces the squad to her cohorts in the CIA, is convinced by Captain Boomerang that the bombs are a fake, and that they should make an escape together. Because he has zero functioning brain cells, and somehow cannot see that Amanda Waller is a woman who means business, Slipknot falls for this lie and ascends skyward on a rope. Rick Flag promptly detonates the bomb in his neck, and that’s that. It’s a brutal way to go, but Slipknot deserved it. Unsurprisingly, he’s never mentioned again.
The second member of the squad to expire elicits significantly more sympathy. Although quiet in the trailers, El Diablo actually comes armed a pretty interesting backstory — during a fit of rage he set the family home on fire, killing his wife and children in the process before turning himself in. During the course of the mission, Diablo is reluctant to use his powers at all, and when he finally embraces them he goes toe-to-toe with Enchantress’ ludicrous CGI-monster brother, Incubus, ultimately sacrificing himself to take out the enemy. Diablo knows that he deserves death, and he faces it calmly, saving the lives of the squad and giving one act of good back to the world. It’s a well-conceived character arc, and a useful reminder that, unlike Marvel’s Avengers movies, which never have the balls to kill anyone, the life-or-death nature of the Suicide Squad makes the DCEU a dangerous playground.
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The fourth and final death (don’t worry, we’ll skip back to the third) is that of Enchantress. Because Suicide Squad never successfully establishes what Enchantress’ motives are, why she raises her brother from the dead in another man’s body or what the hell all that CGI voodoo she’s conjuring from a disused subway station actually does, her death feels inevitable and doesn’t elicit much more than a shrug — especially seeing as June Moone survives the experience. The sequel to Suicide Squad will need to find an enemy far more villainous (and less vaguely-drawn) than Enchantress if it’s going to make the leap from being a good movie to a great one.
So, while that trio of deaths is successful in establishing that nobody is quite safe, it’s the headline-grabbing death of The Joker that delivers arguably the biggest twist of the movie — or perhaps I should say "death", given that we all knew there was no way David Ayer actually just killed the freshly-gangsterfied Clown Prince within one hour of his manic introduction into the DCEU.
Still, the off-screen death works on one important level: It makes Harley Quinn vulnerable. I've already talked about the unique, borderline-romantic nature of her relationship with The Joker in this universe, and Ayer isn't bothered about convincing us that the Joker went up in flames — he only needs Harley to believe it. The sight of the gymnast sat on the roof of an abandoned car, sobbing because the man she loved is gone, is a small moment which completely elevates the whole movie. You'd need a stone heart to feel unmoved as she paints on a smile and plays down her hurt when Deadshoot, Boomerang and Croc return to collect their friend.
That poignancy becomes triumph when The Joker smashes through the walls of Harley's cell in Belle Reve, not only revealing that he survived, but that he can't seem to live without the woman once known as Dr. Harleen Quinzel. Sure, it's a bit of a fake-out, but for better or worse these two are bound, and together they can do extraordinary — or awful — things. And that, in a nutshell, is the beauty of the premise of Suicide Squad, all of the movie's best moments arriving when it commits to exploring these corrupted, but not entirely irredeemable characters, and the limits of what they're capable of.
Ultimately, it's a good thing that The Joker lived to die another day. With Harley Quinn on his arm, one of two things could happen: Either they'll raise two children and play out Harley's disturbing dream-future fantasy, or they'll prowl the streets of Gotham in a blinged-out Lamborghini, weapons in hand, terrorizing anybody unfortunate enough to get in their way. Which gets your vote?
We transformed one of our writers into The Joker — check out the tutorial below and give your friends an epic fright...
Epic header art courtesy of Michelle Karyl Nerona on Behance.