In Defence of “Suicide Squad”: Yes, It’s A Mess, but It’s A Beautiful Mess, Nonetheless

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I don’t define myself as a Marvel fangirl, DC fangirl, or the like. My comic book knowledge is limited up to the point of I sorta know who-is-who and my gift of Wikipedia-browsing. I used to have an unhealthy obsession with Naruto manga (Kakashi-sensei~~~), but that’s another story, and I’ve moved on (no, not really).

I do, however, enjoy a good comic book movie, with brilliant acting and plot. Awesome soundtrack is just a bonus, albeit a truly significant one. And in cases of great comic book movies, those things often go hand in hand.

An honourable mention here is Watchmen (2009). I didn’t read the original comics, so I understand a lot of hate it received from the comic book fans. I won’t say them wrong either, especially when it comes to its faithfulness with the source material, since I can’t say I knew better. Even so, I still think Watchmen is a flat-out brilliant movie. I spent literally all Sunday watching the Director’s Cut (the entire three hours and six minutes of it) and fell in love with the gorgeous visual and the stunning soundtrack. Who would forget the suspended-in-the-air lovemaking scene with Leonard Cohen’s melancholic “Hallelujah” playing in the background? Granted, most of the actings did not really stand out, with the exception of Jackie Earl Haley. Haley was sensational as Rorscharch, right to the last drop of his scattered body tissue. Watchmen was directed by Zack Snyder who at that time was still fresh out of his 300’s fame.

Seven years and a godawful Batman v Superman later, Snyder sat on the Executive Producer seat to produce Suicide Squad.  The hype exhilarated me to the bone. The trailer—oh that Bohemian Rhapsody trailer!—easily should be one of the best trailers ever made for a super/antihero movie. Again, I am not that knowledgeable of the characters, but I got myself enough information in my pocket (it’s called smartphone, perhaps you’ve heard of it) to feel super excited. I also watched David Ayer’s Training Day when I was in middle school and thought it was a solid movie. I was curious about his take on a comic book movie, especially with such interesting multi-faceted character ensemble. But of course, what got to me the most was the Joker. More on that later.

Here in New Zealand, where I live now, Suicide Squad opened in theatres a little bit later than the rest of the world. I bought the ticket a week before the movie’s opening night and it was all I could think about at work (and instead of my thesis). I browsed Facebook happily, thinking there must be glowing positive reviews from the critics and the fans alike who had watched the movie before me. But what I’ve got was a torrent of disappointments as Suicide Squad got absolutely shredded by the critics. It got a pathetic 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which is down to 26% by the time I am writing this) and countless brutal reviews. The Muse has compiled some of the most scathing ones that reading them is almost as painful as reading hateful rhetoric from a swarm of bigots.

I tried not to let the bad reviews affect me. I still had high hopes when I walked into the cinema. After the credits rolled, I realised it was not as good as the promotional materials wanted you to believe, but it was nowhere near as horrific as you hear from the critics. True, it was a mess. Everything was mashed up together so incoherently it almost made no sense, and at times the fonts used to introduce the characters made me want to scratch my eyes out. It was a tough job for Ayer to introduce such complex characters and backgrounds for the maniacs and psychopaths in a little under two hours, so the first half of the movie was too rushed and sloppy with bits and pieces of scenes jumbled in. Almost unbearable to watch. Almost.

It could have been way better. Some reports have said that it was all the studio’s fault. With Marvel and its easy-to-like glittering cinematic universe soaring above them, DC and WB seemed to be desperately snatching at everything they could get their hands on in order to compete. The pressure was extremely high for Ayer and he was reportedly to be constantly exhausted. His initial vision was said to be closer to that of Nolan’s trilogy, with much darker tone and grim storytelling. (which I would much prefer, to be honest, as long as it is not over-the-top like BvS that I don’t even want to discuss) However the studio intervened to make to film more “fun”. As a result, some scenes were re-written and re-shot completely, costing them more millions to waste. Although Ayer has recently proclaimed that the theatre version as “his cut”, he admitted the ginormous pain in the ass for to make a movie that caters exactly to what people want. One of his sacrifices is leaving 10 minutes of Joker scenes on the cutting floor.

Which brings us to, yes, finally, the Joker. Let’s talk about the Joker. Before I say anything else let’s just agree that Heath Ledger’s Joker is the most well-acted Joker in the history of DC movies. Hell, maybe even in the history of superhero villains. He was simply flawless in every scene. Even the newest Joker, Jared Leto, agreed with me on this his recent interview. Nobody has yet topped Ledger’s performance, be it in the past or the present, and I would not argue otherwise. Nevertheless, with all that stuff, I still need to ask: but is Joker Ledger really the best Joker?

We’re talking about a comic-book villain in a comic-book movie here. The boom, thwack, and kapow with all of its glory. Nolan set the bar incredibly high with his Batman trilogy that successfully changed the expectations of the moviegoers for superhero movies. With superheroes like Batman we want grit, we want grim, we want to do Frank Miller justice. We want good storyline with the main character who is coincidentally a superhero. Heath Ledger performed so astonishingly as Joker that we came to want a pattern of Jokers who are as grisly and less giggly in the future. But Joker Ledger is not Batman’s Joker. He was a cunning madman, indeed, but his main objective was chaos for shit and giggles. He wasn’t obsessed with Batman, and even the “you complete me” interrogation scene in The Dark Knight felt more like a mockery to show that he could not care less for Batsy.

Enter Joker Leto. Leto is a brilliant, brilliant method actor. That Oscar he got for playing Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club is well-deserved. I can’t look at Rayon without feeling affection and heartbroken at the same time. She’s so fragile and likeable. Leto is always committed to disappear completely into every role he plays, and Joker was not an exception. News have covered his penchant of giving bizarre gifts to his Suicide Squad cast mates or that Will Smith never felt he’s met the “real” Leto, just the Joker. But what I want to bring up here is that I feel that his version of Joker really became the highlight of the otherwise shambled movie. It is mainly because of Harley Quinn.

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Some critics who aimed at Joker Leto called him “too stereotypical to be menacing”, and his chemistry with Margot Robbie is “rigid”, but this is where I beg to disagree. The scattered chunk of scenes regrettably did not explain anything about how the smart and beautiful Dr. Harleen Quinzel came to fall for her green-haired, iron-toothed, red-lipped psychopathic patient. Even the moment of Harley’s transformation was poorly played and, dare I say, a little bit awkward. But the combination of gripping soundtrack and that kiss following the Joker’s dive somehow made up for all of its lacking. Blame my inner fangirl and shipper, but any scene with those two in it is what I enjoy the most for the entirety of the movie. In the comics, they have sadistic, abusive relationship which I would not approve, obviously. But despite the Joker’s real intention of keep trying to get Harley back, or whether or not he only sees Harley as his valuable property, I truly enjoy his showing his genuine care for Harley by pushing her out of the exploding helicopter. And that ending scene…. Let’s just say butterflies and stomach in one sentence.

In regards to awkwardness, do people forget how awkward it could be in comic book movies scenes? Remember that scene in Batman (1989) when Joker tried to woo Vicki Vale and then literally tried to waltz her to death? Yes, Jack Nicholson as Joker was pure concentrated madness, but Nicholson doesn’t even need to put on a costume for us to think so. Leto, meanwhile, is a chameleon. He unleashed his madness and he did not hold back. He enjoyed playing Joker even more than his previous roles. He transformed into Joker, as opposed to Will Smith’s Deadshot who was just basically… Will Smith. I can’t say I’m not disappointed to know that I could have seen 10 minutes more of Joker in the movie. Showing Leto’s full potential as Joker could have been something that made the movie awesome.

Aside from Harley, the rest of the cast, sadly, was more like background characters with almost no tangible developments whatsoever. Margot Robbie really shone, as she also pushed the boundaries of mad obsessive love to her Puddin’ and mad obsessive need to physically hurt people. And her scenes with Joker were honestly everything I thrive for.

Will Smith got waaay to much screen time than I care to see, because let’s be serious, who watched the movie to see him anyway? The Arrow’s Floyd Lawton, played by Michael Rowe, is three times more interesting than Smith’s version. Shame that the studio thought casting a name as big as him would do anything to help the movie. Jai Courtney, however, could have been given more backstory and quips. He was a delight and watching him pocketing his pink unicorn was more exciting than any of Smith’s scene combined.

El Diablo, Killer Croc, Katana, and the sadly short-lived Slipknot were like the members whose name nobody remembers from Taylor Swift’s squad. Enchantress was terrifying, I give you that, and Cara Delevigne was not really given the portion to showcase her talent. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg was unfortunately replaceable with nothing really worth remembering. Whilst Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was ruthlessly convincing enough, but not quite there.

Yes, as I said earlier, Suicide Squad could have been way better. It has all the elements to make it a startling comic book movie, but sadly it was not. It was still a mess; but a beautiful one, nonetheless. If Ayer could have been given more freedom to arrange these scattered pieces of colourful papers into one masterpiece collage, I believe he truly could. I have faith in him. But since it did not happen, we may need to take a look at what we considered as “messy”. There is always a beauty in madness, and a beauty in a mess. Suicide Squad reminds us of the good ol’ mess of comic book absurdity, in its own way. Hopefully there would be some kind of a redemption for DC in the form of Justice League (although I would never truly accept Affleck as Batman until the world ends) as long as they stop trying so hard to top Marvel and just let it be.

In the meantime, for y’all Ayerverse Joker fans out there, this one is for you. The music is not my cup of tea, but let me just indulge in the overexposure of Joker Leto for now…

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phone

 “Nomor yang Anda hubungi sedang tidak aktif atau berada di luar jangkauan. Setelah nada berikut, silakan rekam pesan Anda.”

BIIIP.

“Hai.

Emmmmm.

Aku- aku mau ngomong sesuatu. Banyak sih, bukan cuma sesuatu. Berarti banyak sesuatu? Eh tapi itu bukan bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar ya? Aku mau ngomongin banyak hal. Ya. Gitu maksudnya. Kamu dengerin ya? Soalnya ini penting. Penting banget. Setidaknya buat aku. Moga aja buat kamu juga nanti jadi penting. Nggg, pokoknya dengerin dulu aja ya.

Ehm.

Dari mana ya mulainya?

Mulai dari- oh, kita mulai dari waktu aku pertama ketemu kamu. Lima bulan yang lalu. Februari. Aku nggak pernah lupa hari, tanggal, dan bahkan jamnya. Rabu, 4 Februari, tepat jam 3 sore lebih enam belas menit. Kamu jalan di hadapan aku. Kamu pake atasan warna ungu muda, rok selutut warna hitam, dan sepatu boot beledru. Saat itu hujan; kamu bawa payung kecil warna putih yang ada gambar pandanya. Kamu juga pake syal rajut warna warni—mungkin biar kamu ga kedinginan ya?  Rambut kamu waktu itu tergerai sebahu. Iya, waktu rambut kamu masih sebahu.

Kamu berdiri tepat di seberang jalan tempat aku berada waktu itu dan kamu langsung menarik perhatianku. Kamu lagi nungguin taksi yang lamaaa banget datangnya. Kamu berkali-kali mengecek jam tangan kamu. Ekspresi kamu gelisah banget, menandakan kalau kamu sepertinya telat datang ke suatu acara atau suatu janji. Kamu tahu nggak? Kalo lagi gelisah kamu lucu deh mukanya. Alis kamu berkerut gitu, terus mulutnya komat kamit nggak jelas. Aku hanya memperhatikan sambil senyam-senyum.

Sebenernya aku pengen banget ngehampirin kamu, tapi nggak berani. Lagian taksinya juga keburu datang.

Aku mengawasi kamu pergi naik taksi itu. Kamu tahu waktu itu aku mikir apa? Aku berdoa untuk diberi kesempatan melihat kamu lagi.

Seminggu setelahnya, doa aku terkabul. Kamu datang lagi tepat ketika aku kebetulan berada di situ. Tapi kali ini kamu berjalan tepat ke dalam kafe di seberang jalan. Dan kali ini, aku tahu kamu lagi nggak nungguin orang. Kamu sedang ingin sendiri.

Kamu ngeluarin laptop kamu dan mesen kopi satu cangkir. Oh, sama puding. Puding warna hijau. Mungkin puding pandan. Hahaha. Nggak, bercanda. Aku tahu kok kamu suka puding green tea. Kafe itu kan beken karena puding green tea-nya.

Rambut kamu, waktu itu, diikat agak tinggi. Aku suka gaya rambut kamu yang begitu, soalnya aku jadi bisa ngeliat tengkuk kamu. Keliatannya segar. Bersih.

Lama aku merhatiin kamu, dan lama kamu juga nggak mengalihkan pandangan dari layar laptop. Aku menebak warna mata kamu agak kecoklatan. Memang ga kelihatan jelas dari tempat aku saat itu, tapi entah kenapa aku yakin. Beberapa kali kamu mengigit bibir saat menatap layar laptop. Sepertinya itulah kebiasaan kamu saat sedang berpikir keras. Kebiasaan yang membuat aku betah terus-terusan melihat kamu.

Saat itu harinya cerah. Nggak dingin, nggak panas. Udaranya lagi enak. Aku bisa melihat poni kamu melambai sedikit tertiup angin yang masuk dari sela jendela kafe. Aku ingin, ingin sekali membiarkan tanganku untuk membantu menyibakkannya. Aku ingin sekali pergi ke sana, duduk di depan kamu, terus memulai percakapan sama kamu. Tentang apa aja. Mungkin aku bakal buka obrolan kita dengan cara sok-sok minta tisu. (Iya tahu, emang norak banget) Dan nantinya aku bakal nanya jenis musik atau film apa yang kamu suka. Atau mungkin buku—itu juga kalo kamu suka baca buku. Apapun itu topiknya, yang penting orangnya kamu. Itu yang  bikin berarti.

Aku belum berani melakukannya. Masih, belum.

Akhirnya, aku yang pergi duluan. Aku memang ada perlu. Tapi sumpah, nggak rela banget rasanya ninggalin tempat itu. Ninggalin pemandangan seindah kamu.

Sejak hari itu, aku selalu melihat kamu kemanapun aku pergi. Kamu adalah kasir di toserba tempat aku membeli rokok. Kamu adalah penjual kue keliling menjajakan dagangannya di atas sepeda dekat komplek rumahku. Kamu menyanyikan lagu kesukaanku di radio. Kamu adalah setiap orang yang berpapasan denganku di jalan. Kamu adalah objek semua mimpiku setiap malam. Kamu menghuni otakku dan membangun rumah disana. Lalu kamu membersihkan tempat tinggalmu dari segala detail ide lain yang kamu rasa mengganggu. Jadi ya, hasilnya, aku kehilangan kemampuan untuk berfikir kecuali menyangkut kamu. Aku nggak menyalahkan kamu untuk itu. Nggak sama sekali. Aku justru bersyukur kamu, walaupun secara nggak sadar, telah bersedia menjadi inspirasiku. Dan kalau kamu belum tahu, kamu itu seorang motivator yang luar biasa lho. Kamu yang menyemangatiku untuk bisa sanggup menyelesaikan skripsi yang sudah dua tahun aku tunda untuk selesaikan hanya karena aku takut untuk menghadapi sidang akhir. Di telingaku kamu selalu membisikkan kata-kata penyemangat. Lucu sih. Aku kan belum pernah benar-benar mendengar suara kamu. Tapi bisa aku bayangkan seperti apa. Suara kamu  lantang tapi halus. Tegas tapi lembut. Kontradiktif, mungkin pendapat kamu. Tapi tidak juga; memangnya sesuatu tidak boleh tegas dan lembut pada saat yang bersamaan?

Itu bagaimana aku selalu membayangkan kamu.

Dan tahu nggak? Takdir memang aneh. Aku baru sadar setelah beberapa lama kalau kita naik bis jurusan yang sama setiap pagi. Aku mengutuk diri; kenapa tidak dari dulu aku diberi kesempatan untuk melihat kamu?

Tapi tidak apa-apa. Aku bersyukur tahu itu sebelum terlambat. Setiap hari aku naik di jam yang sama demi mencari kamu. Seringkali aku tidak seberuntung itu, tapi saat aku menemukanmu, hari itu selalu menjadi hari yang indah. Pernah kamu bahkan duduk hanya beda dua deretan di depanku. Pernah diagonal kiri di belakangku. Aku kadang susah mempercayai bahwa kita pernah sedekat itu dan aku masih saja tidak bisa menyapa kamu. Karena aku tahu itu tidak mungkin. Aku bukan bagian dari dunia kamu, dan tidak akan pernah menjadi salah satu darinya. Jadi aku sungguh menikmati apa yang bisa aku dapatkan, karena aku tahu persis ini yang terbaik. Dan aku merasa ini cukup. Serius. Aku juga tidak minta lebih. Kesempatan yang sekarang aku dapat untuk bisa tahu kamu ada sudah luar biasa.

Jadi begitulah. Semuanya sudah tumpah. Kamu mungkin akan bilang aku pengecut karena nggak berani mengatakan semuanya langsung dan malah memilih mailbox handphone sebagai media-nya. Nggak jantan banget, mungkin kamu akan bilang begitu. Tapi sejujurnya aku memang tidak tahu cara lain untuk bisa mengungkapkan semua ini sama kamu.

Aku bahkan tidak tahu nama kamu. Tapi aku tahu persis bahwa aku jatuh cinta sama kamu. Serasa sudah selamanya. Dan tidak akan ada habisnya.

Sekali lagi maaf aku harus pake cara ini. Aku janji aku akan langsung hapus nomor kamu. Aku cuma butuh kamu untuk mendengarkan ini.

Terima kasih ya. Aku tahu kamu akan selalu bahagia, seperti layaknya kamu membuat aku bahagia dengan adanya kamu dalam hidupku.”

BIP.

Dia memasukkan handphone-nya kembali ke dalam saku sebelum berdiri. Dari kejauhan terdengar seruan seorang gadis, “Oh, itu kali orangnya ya?” yang kemudian terburu-buru berlari menuju bangku di tengah taman itu dengan seorang pemuda mengikuti di belakangnya.

“Ya ampun, makasih banget ya Mas!” gadis itu menghampirinya dengan ekspresi luar biasa lega. Atasannya ungu muda, dan rambutnya diikat agak tinggi. Di tangannya tersampir payung berpola panda. Suaranya lantang tapi halus. “Makasih, makasih banget. Aku udah pasrah pas tahu hape aku ketinggalan di bis. Nggak  nyangka bisa ketemu lagi! Makasiiih banget ya Mas! Sayang, hape aku ketemu!”

Pemuda di belakang gadis itu menyalami pria bangku taman. “Makasih Mas. Semoga kebaikannya dibalas sama Tuhan.”

Pria bangku taman itu menelan ludah. Bibirnya terasa kaku.

“Sama-sama Mas,” ujarnya, membalas salaman si pemuda.

Gadis itu tersenyum manis sebelum menggandeng kekasihnya pergi dari sana.

“Batrenya habis, sayang. Kebayang banyak kali ya missed call sama SMS ke hape aku yang nggak kejawab. Kudu cek mailbox nih kayanya…”

Pria tadi hanya memandang mereka selama beberapa detik sebelum perlahan melangkah pergi, tidak tahu ke mana, asal dia bisa menjauh.

12 Januari 2014

Lotus Blooms

Antithèse, by Victor Brauner (1937)
Antithèse, by Victor Brauner (1937)

Lotus, your name is written in the language of the stars. You painted the sky with the colour of your smile; it was blood red. I am breathing the ground suffocating in your aura,

the rainbow in the sand, the shorelines of the broken shells, bubblehead bubbling jaunting
gargling amazing sharp shreds jagged edge tangy scent copper tongue
escaping curls touching fingertips. I am so artificial, aren’t I?

“exquisite corpse”

Petal modelling—unrelenting, releasing, immigrating. Electricity when our gaze met.

Lotus, your name is written inside my wrist, I carved it yesterday, using shrapnel of our past.

-Auckland, 22 October 2015

Potret Jakarta #1

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Aku hanya bisa mengumpat
Saat hidungku terlanjur mampat
oleh kepungan asap knalpot dan bau keringat
ah, Bang Mamat!

Pergi pagi tak sempat mandi
Pulang malam juga belum makan
Bukannya dikeloni malah dicibir bini
Karena kurang setor duit bulanan

Bang Mamat supir Metromini
Kretek murah terselip di gigi
Telah lama lekang mimpi
Jadi pegawai negeri bergaji tinggi

Aku hanya bisa nyengir
Saat tubuh terhempas ke pinggir
Penumpang lain pasrah pada melipir
Metromini belok mendadak nyaris tergelincir

–Bandung, 10 September 2014

Insoluble Yearn

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I’d like to sink myself in every rough detail of your face

I’d like to bathe myself in your sandpaper voice

I’d like to immerse myself in your scent and your breath

I’d like you to swallow me, swallow me whole, digest me, make me a part of you

I’d like to circulate inside your body and be within you

I’d like you to think that of me too.

Memento Mori

grief

He already knew that things wouldn’t be easy, but he had never thought it would be this hard.

Sighing, he leaned his weary back against the decrepit bench, probably as old as he was. Hand on top of his walking stick: black cedar wood with a polished handle because he didn’t like those grubby metal-type that made a loud clang whenever he bumped into something. The wind is silent, the afternoon was falling, the babes on the playground were dispersing one by one to the arms of their loving parents only to come back the next day and wreak another havoc on the sandbox or the jungle gym. He paid little to no attention to any of them, as his mind was too preoccupied with the same feeling, same smell, same touch, same everything that was no longer there ever since she was gone forever.

Half of his heart, part of his breath. He watched the life diminishing from her beautiful eyes before they were closed, forever, he watched his tears dropping on her hand, grasping his own tightly, the tears dropping and then sliding down to the sparkly gleam of their wedding ring on her brittle finger. “Goodbye, my love,” she said, barely a whisper, before his life shattered into a million tiny pieces.

This playground, where he was now, sitting there but not really there, is where she said yes. What felt like an eternity ago. They danced under the streetlamp after, laughing merrily, she couldn’t hold back her ugly cry (that’s what she called it, but for him she never had an ugly cry, never even had a single ugly moment). Not even when she said her farewell, a skeletal figure on the hospital bed, with countless tubes over the sinister beeps of the machine. She was beautiful. Every day. Every moment. Even now, when he closed his eyes, and opened it again, he could see her dance, smell her hair, feel her soft fingertips caressing his face.

The night has arrived and the same streetlamp where they once danced and laughed and were infinitely happy gave out a feeble light to the bench where he sat, while the montage of her smile flickered across the opposite wall like a neverending loop of silent movies.