The marketing campaign for next summer’s big supervillain movie Suicide Squad is either hilariously vague or vaguely ingenious, depending on how you look at it. There have been images (Cara Delevingne’s look as the Enchantress), hints (Harley Quinn’s apparent love triangle), and previews worth a second look. There has not been, however, much talk about what will actually happen in the movie.
The latest DC Entertainment Suicide Squad plot synopsis remains comically nondescript:
It feels good to be bad…Assemble a team of the world’s most dangerous, incarcerated Super Villains, provide them with the most powerful arsenal at the government’s disposal, and send them off on a mission to defeat an enigmatic, insuperable entity. U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller has determined only a secretly convened group of disparate, despicable individuals with next to nothing to lose will do. However, once they realize they weren’t picked to succeed but chosen for their patent culpability when they inevitably fail, will the Suicide Squad resolve to die trying, or decide it’s every man for himself?
There is nothing there that you couldn’t get from the title of the film: There is a squad and that it goes on a suicide mission. They have managed to convey less information in an entire paragraph than in two words, an impressive display of anti-pith. The trailer, while intriguing, is similarly vague. Pretty people pout while wearing weird outfits and snarling from behind bars. Sometimes they pout and snarl out in the open, without bars. And the Joker shares a stylist with Lil Wayne.
Is the Joker a syrup sipping rapper? Who the hell knows. All bets are off since there is no sign of any plot. Still, from this gaping emptiness emerges a conclusion: Rick Flagg, the Suicide Squad’s leader, is going to have to supply the initial energy to put this thing in motion.
Flagg has been conspicuously absent from the Empire magazine covers depicting the key characters. There was the Joker (Jared Leto), Deadshot (Will Smith), The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). No R-Flagg.
If you’re not a comic reader and therefore don’t know who Rick Flagg is, we don’t blame you since he’s been so absent. He’s the only guy making an Action Hero face who isn’t Will Smith. He’s front and center enough for Harley Quinn to lean on, but apparently isn’t important enough to get an Empire cover.
This is might not seem notable — after all, Flagg is played by Joel Kinnaman, who is much less famous than Jared Leto, Will Smith, Margot Robbie, or Cara Delevingne. But the part was originally supposed to be played by Tom Hardy, who is very famous and handsome and good at movies.
Tom Fucking Hardy is the closest thing there is to present day Brando: swagger and charisma mixed with a startling vulnerability and an unpredictable, electric presence. Tom Hardy could make a Tampon commercial kickass or a beer commercial moving and emotional. Hardy’s original casting indicates that Rick Flagg is central to the film. And if Hardy was still Rick Flagg, you can bet no magazine covers; no marketing pictures or trailers, would try to keep him in the darkness.
(RIP to the conspiracy theory that Rick Flagg is secretly Bane.)
There is no indication Hardy left because he decided Rick Flagg wasn’t worth it; that the “scheduling conflict” — the Hollywood version of the sick-friend excuse on a bad date — was a lie. In Hardy’s most recent interview, he said the following about dropping out of Suicide Squad: “Was I bummed? Of course I was. I hate fucking losing work.”
Hardy is great.
Anyway, Rick Flagg is not central to the comics and he’s not a fascinating character with a particularly noteworthy arc. He’s not a psychiatrist who has been manipulated by his own psychotic patient nor is he a notorious assassin. Presumably they beefed him up for the film or were relying on Hardy’s thousand-yard stare to do the character work for them.
We can assume, then, that since Flagg doesn’t have a notable character arc but he’s important enough to initially warrant an actor of Tom Hardy’s caliber and star power, he must be driving the plot. If Suicide Squad is a superhero Fast and the Furious Rick Flagg is Vin Diesel, an emotional center used to make really silly stuff seem credible.
It’s possible that the screenwriters tweaked Suicide Squad after Hardy dropped out, but unlikely. Here’s why: Joel Kinnaman is a terrific actor in the Tom Hardy mold. He’s got a weird voice and he generally plays quiet and coiled. Did his RoboCop reboot suck? Absolutely, but he slayed in the first season of The Killing. He seems dangerous without seeming bad. He plays hurt well.
And that’s likely what he’s here to do. The Squad clearly represents a solution of last resort so one imagines Rick Flagg will use them to solve an intractable problem. Maybe that problem is the Joker. Maybe it’s not. We don’t know, but we do know that he’s the only surface stable enough to let a plot spin. And we also know that this looks like his team in the picture, like he’s the one out on a limb vouching for these lunatics. To do that, Rick Flagg must be very angry or very desperate.
Either way, the movie will start with him.