Dearly beloved, we need to talk about this summer movie season. Sure, Justice dawned. The X-Men apocalypsed. Jason was Bourne. And Independence was resurged, or something. But listen, summer movies. You, as the saying goes, have one job: Give us an excuse to hang out in an aggressively air-conditioned environment for two hours without hating ourselves, preferably by being entertaining in some way, shape, or form. No one is asking you to win awards, or anything. Just let us have fun. We’re not having fun.
In spite of all of our best hopes, Suicide Squad has continued this lackluster summer movie season—but it isn’t just bad, but by employing one of the worst movie tropes in recent memory. You’ve probably seen it, because not only has it become a summer movie staple; it’s also a summer movie trailer staple. You know, the one where the film’s heroes must race towards a giant beam of light shooting toward the sky and thereby save the planet.
It’s not really a spoiler to say that Suicide Squad does this lame trick, because one of the weirder things about Suicide Squad is how early it happens and how poorly explained it is, as well as how chill everyone seems about it. Regardless, the effect is the same: It’s boring and lazy, reducing the final conflict between the movie’s opposing forces to what’s essentially a battle over a light switch. Turn it off, and the world is saved.
Suicide Squad is the third big-budget movie in which this exact climax appears in this summer alone, after the otherwise pretty great Ghostbusters and the less-great Warcraft. Widen the scope a bit to include variations on this theme, like Giant CG Machines and/or Clouds of Destruction, and the count increases to include gems like Independence Day: Resurgence and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
Giant Beams of Light in the Sky are like the cargo shorts of blockbuster movies: We get it, they’re useful, but there are better moves to make, and you probably deserve all the judgment coming your way.
What’s particularly annoying about this gimmick is that it’s not even all that unique to the late-period M. Night Shyamalan movie that is the year 2016. Last year’s horrible Fantastic Four reboot was all about this life. So was the first Avengers movie—possibly the only modern blockbuster to do it well. (This, however, is offset by the fact that Marvel loves that shit. If you are in the last twenty minutes of a Marvel movie and there isn’t some glowing cosmic energy nonsense in the sky, someone put the wrong movie on.)
But wait, there’s more: Ever play video games? Video games adore giant fucking beams in the sky. They can’t get enough of them. Mass Effect 3 does this, and so does almost every Halo game. And if you want to mix up games and movies, both Tron films make gratuitous use of this particular brand of imagery. (But okay, fine, at least Tron: Legacy makes them look kind of cool, with those light up suits and Identity Discs and Daft Punk’s crunchy synths.) Look, we’re big fans of video games, but video games have some real bad habits, and beams of light in the sky is not a style move you want to crib from them, movies.