Created in 1986, Amanda Waller is one of the most fascinating #DC characters. She's a shady government official, using her political skill, ruthless intelligence and incredible connections to manipulate events to her best advantage. In the comics, she's often portrayed as an antihero, sometimes even as a villain; but I want to hone in on the character's portrayal in Suicide Squad, where she's expertly portrayed by Viola Davis. Is she a hero or a villain?
What is Amanda Waller's motivation?
Amanda Waller sees a world that's becoming ever more dangerous. She's already a major figure in a government project known as A.R.G.U.S. - dedicated to promoting American interests worldwide - and as such, she's become convinced that metahumans need to be managed. With the number of metahumans growing worldwide, Amanda Waller foresees a day when the next war won't be fought with nuclear weapons - it will be fought with metahumans, possibly more dangerous than any nuclear weapon.
Waller's initial focus in Suicide Squad is to put together a team who will have no choice but to serve American interests. She believes in leverage rather than friendship, and so chooses to sift the ranks of criminals for potential tools. Unfortunately, her focus means she's at least partly blind to the risks she's taking - risks that prove to be too great when she brings Cara Delevingne's Enchantress into play.
From there, Waller's motives become mixed. She's in Midway City when it's attacked by Enchantress's brother, and chooses to stay on-site. Her focus then shifts to survival, both in physical terms - the Suicide Squad is put into play to rescue her - and in political terms, as we'll see.
What Lines Does Amanda Waller Cross?
I think the first key fact is that Amanda Waller knows that the world has defenders. She has close enough connections to #Batman that she can get news of Deadshot's vulnerability to him, and even knows Batman's secret identity. The mid-credits scene makes it clear that Waller and Wayne share a history, and the DCEU's Bruce Wayne seems to have enough political connections to pose a threat to Waller. She has no wish to bring Batman on board, even though - in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - the Dark Knight proved he's willing to up his game in defence of the planet.
Likewise, the files Waller gives to Batman indicate that she knows all about the Flash and Aquaman; neither of whom catch her eye as potential allies. No, Waller is interested in the down-and-outers, the people she can force to do her bidding. She assembles a crack team of mad(wo)men, assassins and supervillains, and her strategy is to implant explosive devices within their necks. Faced with the option of approaching the great and the good or forcing the forces of 'evil' to serve her purposes, she chooses the latter - and I don't think she even realized there was a decision there. It's pretty startling, and speaks volumes about her character.
Waller's greatest flaw is her faith in 'leverage'. Because she believes that she has leverage over Enchantress, she tasks her to defeat Alain Chanoine's Incubus. She has no understanding of how magic works, and is blissfully unaware of the relationship between Enchantress and Incubus, but simply trusts in her leverage. Evidently, it wasn't enough. Her reliance on 'leverage' is coupled with a failure to understand the more positive traits of human emotion, such as love; she realizes too late that Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag has kept crucial information from her.
I'll give Waller credit; she chooses to remain in Midway City, even against advice. But when things become too hot, she brings in Suicide Squad - not to save the day, but simply to ensure she's extracted safely. Shockingly, she executes the technicians who stayed behind with her, calmly explaining that they don't have "security clearance" for the knowledge they possess. It's hard not to suspect her real motive is to cover her tracks, proving that she'll go to any lengths to save herself from the consequences of her decisions.
The mid-credits scene supports that argument. Here, she meets with Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne as an uncomfortable ally. She's willing to give him some of her greatest secrets - the files on known metahumans - in order to secure his help in covering up her involvement in the Midway City debacle. Given the level of security clearance Wayne would need to actually be given those files, it's hard not to see this as an act of treason, all conducted to save Waller's own career.
So is Waller a hero or a villain?
Although I suspect many fans will argue that Waller is - as is often the case in the comics - an antihero, I think she crosses the line into becoming a villain in Suicide Squad. Blinded by her own pessimistic view of humanity, she takes foolish risks, and fails to properly understand the men and women she's trying to gain leverage over. Although a patriot, she clearly believes in her own importance over and above the country she's sworn to protect; she'll break any rules, take any lives, and even commit treason in order to save her career.
The mid-credits scene suggests that, if Waller doesn't shut Suicide Squad down, Batman and the Justice League will do it for her. Given we already know that a Suicide Squad sequel is on the cards, it's surely only a matter of time before the Justice League and Suicide Squad go head-to-head - and before Batman dedicates himself to defeating this shady government figure. I for one am rather looking forward to seeing that confrontation...