08 Aug Squad Goals: The Art of Building a Wild Bunch
The last thing the Internet needs right now is another article dissecting, chastising, or praising this weekend’s box office champ Suicide Squad. Whether you liked it or loathed it, there is no denying the appeal of assembling a ragtag band of Dirty Dozen bastards. I’ll watch any film involving the collection of rotten toughs on a mission. It could be called SUICIDE SQUAD, OCEAN’S ELEVEN, or THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER, I will be there opening weekend. After spending decades consuming this particular film formula, it’s impossible not to amass your very own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Feel free to play along at home, but these are the blokes I’d want on my all-star team.
1. The Mastermind
One of the highlights of SUICIDE SQUAD is Viola Davis’ diabolical puppeteer, Amanda Waller. She has the pleasure of being both ringleader and nemesis to our worst heroes ever, and steals most scenes with calm, venomous line delivery. Every Wild Bunch needs an evil mastermind to send them out on their hopeless quest, and I cannot think of a more hate fueled brilliant beast to steal the show than JJ Hunsecker as played by Burt Lancaster in 1957’s SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. As king of the tabloids, Hunsecker manipulates a network of fame seekers desperate for the ink he controls in the New York papers. His only weakness is his sister, and he would crush a dozen jazz musicians to keep her trapped in his penthouse suite. An essential aspect to a perfect villainous architect is their ability to crush you with simple language, and JJ has that in spades: “You’re dead son, get yourself buried….I don’t relish shooting a mosquito with an elephant gun, so why don’t you just shuffle along.” The team might be a collection of hard asses, but they’ll quiver at this devil’s tongue.
2. The Leader
There can be only one bandleader, and I challenge you to find an individual more suited for the role than Peter Weller’s Buckaroo Banzai as seen in the definitive cult classic THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION. Neurosurgeon, samurai, four color comic book hero, and rock star, Buckaroo Banzai has just as much confidence with his guitar solo as he does at saving the Earth from treacherous Red Lectroids from planet 10. He’s got that James Bond thing where you can’t decide if you want to be his best friend or married to him, and he’s proven that he can pack a tour bus full of equally weird castaways. He’s your skipper for sure.
3. The Sidekick
The trusty right hand man is a tough role to fill. It’s easy to find another cool dude to fill out your posse, but hard to find a guy who’s not going to rob the spotlight. Look to THE WILD BUNCH & Ernest Borgnine’s Dutch for the essential sidekick. As Buck Banzai marches to his death in a hail of a thousand bullets, you can trust Dutch to man the Browning machine gun in an effort to capture a few last minutes of slow-mo glory. Sure, his inclusion will mean the production of this theoretical machofest will require an endless stream of squibs, but I’ve also attached producer Joel Silver to this imaginary endeavor and he’s totally cool with it.
3. The Psycho
With a faithful sidekick in place, the team is hopefully prepared to deal with the more dangerous element necessary for pulling off a suicide mission. To achieve any scheme, you need a wildcard, a Joker you can only trust to be the monster you need at the moment you need him, and for this team I can’t think of a better psycho than Telly Savalas’s Archer Maggot from 1967’s THE DIRTY DOZEN. The wink in his eye is as sharp and pointed as any dagger. A convicted rapist turned religious zealot, Maggot will need to be put down before the credits roll, but his insanity will come in handy when realizing the more hopeless goals of your mission. At the very least he’ll attract enemy gunfire away from the teammates you actually care about.
4. The Femme Fatale
The best contingency plan one can have for a psycho on your team is a gangster’s moll ready to tame the beast. Behind the deceptively ditzy exterior of Debby Marsh (Gloria Graham in Fritz Lang’s brutal film noir THE BIG HEAT) beats the heart of a lioness. Debby enjoys the good life: fur coats, swinging clubs, and handsome heavies. She’ll soak up the riches, but she’s no damsel. Condescend to her, cross her, or throw a pot of hot coffee in her face and Debby will strike back with cold and calculating rage. Buckaroo Banzai may confuse her for the next Penny Pretty, but Debby will never allow herself to fall for the good guy. Pine all you want Buck, there’s only heartache here.
5. The Brains
Every team needs a planner, the brains behind the operation. There are so many classic eggheads one could choose to fit the bill, but with so many absurd personalities already on this squad, I think the best bet is to go with a mild mannered synthetic. Nothing tougher than a bug hunt, and the Bishop android model that served as Executive Officer on the USS Sulaco proved he could keep it together (mostly) when the acid blood hit the fan. During downtime he’s happy to hear your tales of alien conquest, and demonstrate a few carney parlor tricks.
6. The Muscle
After brains comes brawn. There’s no one stronger than The Incredible Hulk, and as much fun as it would be to defend the Eric Bana incarnation or even Edward Norton’s parkour champion, the only version of this Mr. Hyde I want backing my squad is the Joss Whedon scripted Mark Ruffalo. “Hulk Smash!” is what fandom lives for, but it’s Ruffalo’s mournful introspection that sells the cg green machine. Seriously, how great would it be to watch Ruffalo’s Banner & Lance’s Bishop lament their loss of humanity while nerding out over computer screens?
7. The Leftovers
I’d love to keep pushing for that DIRTY DOZEN or even the SUICIDE SQUAD’s nice round crew of 10, but this team has reached its breaking point on personalities. You’ll need a few throw away characters to ditch in the first 20 minutes. Maybe find a Deadshot in Benecio Del Toro’s soulful assassin from SICARIO. And shouldn’t any great team have a baby on board? Now that there’s no more gillman, what’s THE MONSTER SQUAD’s Horace up to these days? How about the wannabe who proves himself victorious? I simply have to stack this deck with Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo in SEVEN SAMURAI.
Obviously, Suicide Squad awoke a craving in me for these classic mission flicks. Besides providing plenty of bombast, these films tend to live and die on character work. The movies are only as good as the oddities you pepper them with and the performers you wrangle into their skin. We can do better, because we have done better. Now, it’s your turn – post your posse in the comments below.