On Monday, I took a group of 33 Year 10 Media Studies students to see the latest DCEU superhero movie, Suicide Squad. Over the past few weeks, we have been “studying” the superhero genre. I place the word studying in inverted commas because as yet, I am still unsure as to whether we have done anything other than watch a bunch of superhero movies. Year 10 students can be challenging, and in my experience, many of them seem to have an aversion to writing. In fact, many of them seem to have an aversion to school, which makes the concept of such things as “studying” problematic. Anyway, we do what we can, and considering this is the first time I have done anything in class with the superhero genre, I feel it’s been reasonably successful. It’s impossible to please everyone, and certainly, there’s room for improvement, but most of the students seem to have enjoyed it.
Like anything we teachers do with our students that requires leaving the school grounds and venturing out into the real world, organising this trip took a lot of photocopying. I’m not at all sure what percentage of a tree goes into creating a standard, crisp, white sheet of A4 photocopy paper, so I can’t say how many trees had to die so that my students could go to the movies, but at least part of a tree had to.
The movie theatre is only a few blocks from school, and I had organised for us to walk there. When I awoke on Monday morning, I was somewhat concerned about this, as it was pouring with rain at my house. However, as I drove through the rolling country hills on my way to school, listening to David Sedaris’s audiobook of Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, the grey clouds parted to reveal water washed sunlight and a sky that blued from baby to periwinkle as it approached the horizon. It was a beautiful thing. What was even more remarkable, considering the volatility of winter weather here in Northland, was that by the time I got to school to make the final arrangements for our movie trip, the sky and the sun were still there.
At 9:00am, my students gathered outside my classroom. I ticked their names off my roll and then handed a copy of my roll to the office so that the correct symbol could be placed next to their names on the student management system and their other teachers would know not to expect them in class for the first 3 lessons of the day, and then we walked. Oh, how we walked. We walked in an orderly line. We walked smiling and chatting happily. We got lucky with the weather; the sun shone brightly, the breeze blew gently, and the birds sang sweetly. No-one got hit by a car crossing the road, no-one got lost, and no-one tripped over an uneven lip in the concrete footpath and scraped their knee, requiring use of the first aid kit I had brought with me just in case.
Once at the theatre, we bought popcorn and sugary treats and filed in to watch the movie. The movie itself was an unholy muddled mess, the worst I have seen since watching Jupiter Ascending last summer. The plot, such as it is, goes like this: Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a cold-hearted, U.S. intelligence operative who assembles a team of meta-human supervillains whose purpose is to save the world should a superhero go rogue and turn terrorist. Thus, the bad guys become the good guys. The team also includes special forces officer, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his girlfriend, an archaeologist called June Moone, who is possessed by the spirit of an ancient witch known as The Enchantress. The team is an eclectic bunch, and includes a Mexican gangster with the meta-human ability to use fire as a weapon and an Australian gangster with the meta-human ability to talk in a funny accent. The only members we get to know in any meaningful way, however, are Deadshot (Will Smith), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). As a character, Deadshot is essentially just Will Smith playing Will Smith. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we’ve seen it before, in every movie Will Smith has ever been in. Far more interesting is Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn. She gets all the best lines, but even these soon start falling flat, as they are all a remix of the same joke, a version of, “I’m psychotically unhinged, but also cute and sassy.” The creepy, voyeuristic way she is treated by the camera is also problematic, and soon left me feeling as though I was watching an extended music video rather than a movie.
Prior to the film’s release, there was much hype about Jared Leto’s portrayal of The Joker. Certainly, the costume design is interesting, but as a character, the Joker is mere filler, Heath Ledger lite, only there to provide some back story for Harley Quinn and, based on the movie’s final moments, to set up a sequel. Almost all his scenes could be removed and the film would not suffer for it in any meaningful way.
As soon as our supervillains are gathered in the one prison facility, team member June Moone/The Enchantress goes rogue, turning full witch and terrorising a city by turning its citizens into faceless soldier slaves, creating an enormous, magical, swirling vortex of flying garbage, and dancing awkwardly. It’s up to the remaining members of our crack team of supervillains to stop her and save the world. Will they be successful, and at what cost? By this time, I no longer cared, and decided it was best to continue viewing it all as a spectacular, nonsensical, effects-laden music video. I wished I’d brought headphones and my own music though, as the soundtrack is hopelessly clichéd.
I made it through to the end of the film, and we assembled in the lobby of the cinema, before walking back to school. I quizzed a few of my students on their thoughts and they said they liked it. We headed back to school. As we neared the school gates, a couple of my students were walking behind me, chatting idly, as teenage girls are wont to do. I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard one of them say, “Is it true that every time you go for a poo you lose two kilograms?” This was a conversation I felt I needed to be part of. I turned my head and asked her where she had got this information. “My sister,” she replied, “she says it’s true.” The three of us discussed this as we walked and decided that it would depend on what one had eaten previously. I thought it sounded a little extreme—a two-kilo poo would be a fearsome beast indeed. We parted ways at the school gates and I laughed and thanked her for making my day. And she had. It’s little moments like these that make the challenge and frustration of being a teacher worthwhile. It was a great way to end a trip to see a movie that was, in the end, truly disappointing.
However, that’s just my opinion. And what would I know? I’m just a middle-aged, grey-haired, white male teacher. Most of my students loved it. I surveyed them the following day and 34.6% of them gave it 5 stars, with another 30.8% giving it 4 stars. Which is great, because it’s not about me and my opinions at all. It’s about theirs, and they all want to know when we can go to the movies again. I told them next term, once the seniors are on exam leave. That’ll leave me plenty of time to do some photocopying.