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"The Suicide Squad" is a dark parody of America's imperial fiasco

Founded in 1987 by John Ostrander, the Suicide Squad team of the DC superhero universe has always been a criticism of the American state. In the comics, the government recruits jailed supervillains through bribes and intimidation to take jobs that superheroes can't or won't – often in connection with the gloomy corners of the late Cold War. The villains implanted bombs in their skulls; If they try to escape, their leaders will execute them without trial. The concept seems to have sprung from paranoid left fantasies and is reminiscent of radical films from the 1970s such as Punishment Park. In the end, you fire at prisoners, despise the simple morals of super cops and question the FBI's motives.

The new movie The Suicide Squad takes up anti-superhero and anti-security state stories like The Boys, Invincible and Watchmen to create the most cynical Suicide Squad story to date. Stylishly directed by James Gunn, the film is steeped in a dark and brilliant cynicism. The US prison system and US intelligence agencies are portrayed as vicious, corrupt and ruthlessly stupid. And yet, despite its dark wit, the film can't help but end with an affirmation of imperial logic and American decency. The film shows how far a mainstream, big-budget superhero film can go – and how far it can't.

Founded in 1987 by John Ostrander, the Suicide Squad team of the DC superhero universe has always been a criticism of the American state. In the comics, the government recruits jailed supervillains through bribes and intimidation to take jobs that superheroes can't or won't – often in connection with the gloomy corners of the late Cold War. The villains implanted bombs in their skulls; If they try to escape, their leaders will execute them without trial. The concept seems to have sprung from paranoid left fantasies and is reminiscent of radical films from the 1970s such as Punishment Park. In the end, you fire at prisoners, despise the simple morals of super cops and question the FBI's motives.

The new movie The Suicide Squad takes up anti-superhero and anti-security state stories like The Boys, Invincible and Watchmen to create the most cynical Suicide Squad story to date. Stylishly directed by James Gunn, the film is steeped in a dark and brilliant cynicism. The US prison system and US intelligence agencies are portrayed as vicious, corrupt and ruthlessly stupid. And yet, despite its dark wit, the film can't help but end with an affirmation of imperial logic and American decency. The film shows how far a mainstream, big-budget superhero film can go – and how far it can't.

The 2016 widespread film Suicide Squad was an unconscious mandate for US global domination. The United States enslaves an alien god, and when it breaks free and threatens to overthrow the hegemonic world order, super-prisoners mistreated by the same government nonetheless take action to sincerely defeat them. It is the story of a slave revolt that encourages you to sympathize with the slave traders.

At first glance, the restart / continuation of 2021 seems even more passionate about imperialism. The mission is to raid the island nation of Corto Maltese, where a coup brought an anti-American government to power. The new authoritarian rulers have access to an alien super villain of mass destruction. Sober and ruthless agency director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) recruits reluctant Bloodsport (Idris Elba) to lead a ragged band of super villains, super weasels and super sharks to destroy the weapons program and protect the United States from attack by rival powers.

The parallel here with the logic of the Iraq war is obviously intentional. And the film presents the US intervention against Corto Maltese, which is just as catastrophic as the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Waller initially overestimated the competence of her troops by far. Practically the first thing that happens is the emergency services realize that one of the recruits they threw into the water for an amphibious landing cannot swim. From then on, things quickly deteriorate as the film gleefully casts a number of notable actors on the deadline – both for shock value and to illustrate that the people you thought were heroes are absolutely not . The squad members are actually good at killing and surviving, but it's so likely they won't shoot the wrong people. They pile up the corpses with smug efficiency before realizing they've done a boo-boo.

The United States is not only incompetent; it is also corrupt. Given the usual tropes of superhero films and the cosmic nature of the threat, it is initially believed that Waller is sending her team to save the world as a whole. But through a series of masterfully orchestrated twists and turns, it quickly becomes clear that the U.S. government absolutely cannot care less about the people of Corto Maltese. Waller is happy when civilians are tortured and murdered when it promotes their vision of US interests. Waller's nationalist cruelty towards foreign rivals is explicitly related to their equal contempt for the rights of domestic prisoners. The American security state chews people up at home and abroad with the same ugly lust.

And yet. While portraying US power as awkward and brutal, The Suicide Squad can't help but enjoy it. The film carefully shows how a prisoner behaves cruelly so that his punishment by Waller seems like poetic justice; when he got his, a lot of people laughed with me in the theater. This belief in essentially just punishment is precisely the logic of the prison system and jail rape jokes.

As with prison, so with imperialism. The heroic villains consistently demonstrate their greatness by mowing down large numbers of mostly faceless foreign opponents. In what is perhaps the most breathtaking fight sequence in the film, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has her pale skin dramatically highlighted by a bright red dress as she turns and makes her way through dozens of non-white opponents. Cartoon birds and flowers are literally spraying across the screen to underline their feminist empowerment, which in this case is also the empowerment of white Americans.

As this suggests, for all their flaws, the members of the Suicide Squad are ultimately the film's heroes. This means that the people of Corto Malteser will not be saved by Corto Maltese, but through US intervention. Superheroes kill or save people overseas. However, their super awesomeness is exemplified and built upon by the overwhelming crowd there. A superpower is a superpower because it rules the world.

There are some superhero stories that reveal and deny the appeal of the imperial superpower. The TV show The Boys features the Homelander, a Superman-like character who is a rabid white nationalist sociopath. His imperialist fantasies are clear, and that makes him both a popular American celebrity and a terrible villain on the show. Filipino superhero Darna has historically appeared in narratives that downplay "violence and aggression" in favor of "redemption and redemption," according to scholar Cherish Aileen Aguilar Brillon. As a post-colonial superhero, according to Brillon, Darna offers an alternative to the American fantasies of superhero colonial power.

The Suicide Squad is almost there. It tells you that imperialists are corrupt; it tells you that imperialists are incompetent. It tells you that when imperialists say they are going to save someone, it is generally just an excuse to use violence and take power. But at the end of the day, a big budget American movie will show you big budget American heroes saving a thankful world population. The Suicide Squad aims its weapons at its own super-self quite admirably. But the bullets just ricochet off and inevitably hit the rest of the world.

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