The Suicide Squad and Antagonistic Banter

***This post will have spoilers for The Suicide Squad and the first season of Game of Thrones***

After watching James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, I found myself coming to realize that there’s a certain action-adventure trope I love, that I thought this movie did both very well, and could have done better. I suppose there must be some name for this on TV Tropes or somewhere, but I couldn’t think of it specifically.

I love when two characters have an antagonistic relationship that involves them sparring verbally, and ultimately leads to a physical confrontation. The verbal sparring may say something thematically relevant to the story, or it might just be a good bit of fun. Preferably, some element of their previous dialogue works it into their fight.

If you’ve seen The Suicide Squad, you probably know I’m referring to Bloodsport (played by Idris Elba) and Peacemaker (played by John Cena). They’re a mercenary and a vigilante respectively, and both members of the Suicide Squad. Bloodsport is totally jaded, and only participates in the Suicide Squad’s mission because Amanda Waller threatens his daughter. Peacemaker, on the other hand, totally buys into the idea of the Suicide Squad, because he is ideologically driven by the desire to coerce the world into world peace. Every piece of dialogue between and about these two have makes it more and more clear that they don’t like each other, and are bound to eventually fight.

One of the funniest elements is that Bloodsport is described by Amanda Waller like so: “Robert DuBois. A world-class marksman. In his hands, anything is a deadly weapon. His father was a mercenary who trained his son to kill from the moment he was born.” In the following scene, with Bloodsport present, she describes Peacemaker as: “This is Christopher Smith, known as Peacemaker. In his hands, anything is a deadly weapon. His father was a soldier who trained his son how to kill from the moment he was born.”

Bloodsport points out that that’s exactly what he does, and Peacemaker says he does it better because he hits his targets “more in the center” than Bloodsport’s “dead center.” Peacemaker explains how he uses smaller bullets, it’s more impressive. Thus starts a male-ego pissing contest that lasts the rest of the film, and adds a great deal of humor as well as conflict between these two characters. There’s a funny competition between the two of them to see who can kill in the most creative way. That being said, the dialogue throughout the film more clearly pits them against one another.

Another such example of antagonistic dialogue comes in one of my favorite classic adventure movies, the 1940 The Mark of Zorro; Diego – Zorro – is at a dinner party with the corrupt local tyrants he’s actively trying to Robin-Hood, when he notes that Captain Esteban – the villain’s main soldier – is needlessly stabbing a piece of fruit. “Capitan, you seem to regard that poor fruit as an enemy,” Zorro says. “A rival,” Esteban replies. This opens a dialogue between the two characters in which we learn more about Esteban and how he killed a “man of influence” in his native Spain. When Diego asks if this had anything to do with the gentleman’s wife, the mood becomes dark and tense. Watching as the scene goes from Esteban stabbing a piece of fruit from no reason to the Esteban staring at Diego with fury in his eyes, it becomes clear that there is a fight brewing between these two characters. Somehow, the fact that this conversation takes place over dinner makes it even more tense. It’s unsurprising that this culminates in one of the best fencing swordfights ever put to film.

For a slightly more recent example, there’s Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister in the first season if Game of Thrones. They banter with each other in the first few episodes, and by Episode 5, fittingly titled “The Wolf and the Lion,” they fight, leaving Ned crippled for the rest* of his life. Early on, it’s clear that the most honorable man in the North is going to come into conflict with the disgraced member of the Kingsguard.

But there are a few scenes early on in the show, as Ned is chosen to be Hand of the King, and Jaime is one of the foremost members of the Kingsguard despite having killed the previous king, where these two characters are butting heads, and it’s clear that these two are gearing up for a fight. This goes back to the first episode of the series where we see Ned and Jaime have a conversation during the feast at Winterfell:

Jaime: I hear we might be neighbors soon, I hope it’s true.

Ned: Yes, the king has honored me with his offer.

Jaime: I’m sure we’ll have a tournament to celebrate your new title, if you accept. It’ll be good to have you in the field; the competition has become a bit stale.

Ned: I don’t fight in tournaments.

Jaime: No? Getting a little old for it?

Ned: I don’t fight in tournaments, because when I fight a man for real, I don’t want him to know what I can do.

Jaime: Well said!

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 1 “Winter Is Coming”

As the characters arrive in King’s Landing, we get another great example of this dialogue:

Jaime: Thank the Gods you’re here, Stark. About time we had some stern northern leadership.

Ned: Glad to see you’re protecting the throne.

Jaime: Sturdy old thing; how many kings’ asses have polished it, I wonder. What’s the line? The king shits and the Hand [of the king] wipes.

Ned: Very handsome armor. Not a scratch on it.

Jaime: I know; people have been swinging at me for years and they always seem to miss.

Ned: You’ve chosen your opponents wisely then.

Jaime: I have a knack for it.

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 3, “Lord Snow

And this dynamic is bolstered by the way Jaime’s reputation is built; we hear all about him being one if the greatest sword-fighters in Westeros, and how he murdered the king he was sworn to protect. This is perfectly juxtaposed with Ned Stark’s honor, which is mentioned so frequently you could make a drinking game out of it. In that first season, Ned and Jaime easily fall into their roles as hero and villain respectively, which makes Ned’s humility and Jaime’s cockiness (which he uses to veil his shame and insecurity) play off each other in an interesting way.

Ned’s honor prevents him from boasting, and Jaime’s ego makes him boast, but ultimately, when another soldier intervenes, Jaime refuses to kill Ned because it “wouldn’t be clean” despite that it could be tactically advantageous. In this way, the banter leading up to the fight between these two characters ends up making a broader point about Jaime; people think of him as a man without honor, but ultimately, his decision in this case goes against this idea.

This leads me back to the confrontation between Peacemaker and Bloodsport. Early on, the dialogue between them and about them clearly pits these two against each other, despite the fact that they ostensibly fight for the same side.

The broader point this movie makes about international relations can be seen in the contrast between the scale of their motivating factors; Bloodsport fights on behalf of his daughter, and Peacemaker – as the name implies – strives to bring peace to the world. Peacemaker’s hypocrisy becomes clear throughout the film, but is most obvious when he proudly declares “I cherish peace with all of my heart. I don’t care how many men, women and children I kill to get it.” We then watch as Bloodsport makes the more personal choice, and Peacemaker makes the more ideological choice; most audiences would recognize Bloodsport as the hero in this situation.

The conflict between them comes to a head when Bloodsport interrupts Peacemaker trying to kill Ratcatcher II, and the two finally have a reason to fight. I almost would have preferred if the film had found a way to drag out the conflict between these two characters, but since they’re both characters who use and have guns, it makes sense for it just to be a quick draw gunfight. They both draw and fire their guns at the same time, with the bullets going along the same path – as Peacemaker mentioned earlier in the film, the smaller bullet cuts through the larger bullet, and Peacemaker is shot. This brings back the earlier conversation in which Peacemaker claimed that his smaller bullets were more impressive, and it is now used against him. It’s a great way to reincorporate the antagonistic banter from the beginning of the film, and to pay off expectations set up earlier.

Anyway, this post has kind of meandered from example to example, but the thing which unifies all three examples is the fact that the dialogue foreshadows the conflict. If you have two characters who are not in direct conflict but are ideologically opposed, lighthearted or not-so-lighthearted banter between them can help prep the audience for the conflict between them. Sure, plenty of movies do this, but perhaps not enough of them do it.

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