Suicide Squad is arguably DC Films’ most important, and yet most divisive superhero movie to-date; a significant financial success that was also a critical and creative failure (on multiple levels). Given its worldwide gross of $747 million — on a $175 million budget — the studio is cautiously approaching a sequel, which hopefully addresses its predecessor’s shortcomings. Given recent all of the recent management turnover at both Warner Brothers and DC Films, this is a real opportunity to show how much has changed (or how much has not).
As concepts and castings go, Suicide Squad was a coup for DC Films. The movie was essentially a superhero version of The Dirty Dozen with an all-star cast. Joel Kinnaman and Viola Davis led a clandestine government agency, tasked with assembling a team of the worst-of-the-worst DC supervillains to confront the world’s darkest threats — and possibly DC’s heroes too, if they ever ventured off the reservation. The villainous cast included Will Smith, Margo Robbie, and Jared Leto (plus cameo appearances by Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash). Despite the tremendous upside of Suicide Squad‘s setup, its many missteps became the film’s major storyline.
Suicide Squad‘s problems were largely self-inflicted. The film’s production was chaotic and rushed from the very start, as reported by THR. WB announced the film’s release date in late 2014, before a script even existed. Writer-Director David Ayer was quickly hired, but many considered him odd choice for the project; his prior work largely entailed gritty, urban cop and crime dramas (End of Watch, Training Day) and war films (Fury, U-571). However, Ayer was excited for the opportunity to show what he could do and he dove in head-first. Ayer was finished his script in about six weeks, with principal photography beginning immediately thereafter. According to one source:
It’s not just that you’ve told the public the movie is coming, you’ve made huge deals around the world with huge branding partners, with merchandise partners. It’s a really big deal to move a tentpole date.”
These expectations alone must have created tremendous pressure for Ayer, combined with the fact that this was his first big-budget blockbuster. Ayer’s first cut was dark and somber, a tone many fans rejected in DC’s Batman v Superman just a few months earlier. WB’s execs pushed for a lighter cut that included more visual pizazz. Critics and fans hated the new tone, and also ripped the story and its characters, which were decidedly more anti-hero than supervillain — and yet this was the version WB ultimately released. All things considered, it’s amazing the film was even completed, more amazing how well it performed at the box office.
WB and DC dug-in and endured the fanbase and critical thrashings. Suicide Squad is an incredibly important franchise for the studio; it enables them to elevate lesser-known characters and properties without relying upon their big-hitters (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). Such a strategy has worked brilliantly for rival superhero studio Marvel (Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange). DC wanted to replicate Marvel’s successes, and Suicide Squad was their vehicle, but all of the old questions remain.
Suicide Squad 2 is now in early development, tracking for a 2019 release. Can WB and DC repair the predecessor’s many flaws, build on the core premise, and demonstrate that everyone involved has learned from their previous experiences? Some early evidence suggests they might.
Veteran Hollywood producer Michael De Luca (Moneyball, The Social Network) has been brought on, and his track record suggests that DC might be looking to tone down the over-the-top action and spectacle from the first film and focus more on character and story (cost-effective approaches that align with WB and DC’s new bosses).
Ayer has moved onto other DC projects, so the writing-directing duties were handed-off to another industry vet, Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant, Warrior). Additionally, stars Smith, Robbie, Kinnaman, and Leto are poised to reprise their roles, and the new big-bad is none other than Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam — a powerful anti-hero himself, who’s on a par with Shazam and Superman.
There’s no doubt DC wants Suicide Squad to be an evergreen property. DC has an enormous bench of “C” and “D” tiered characters who could provide color and texture to each iteration, too. However, it’s unclear whether DC Films will revisit the lighter tone of the original, or invest in the darker nature of these characters — either could work, but the question of tone has yet to be addressed by the new WB and DC regime, at least outwardly. Suicide Squad is a wildly intriguing franchise with nearly unlimited potential, but will fans embrace the sequel given all the recent furor and upheaval at WB and DC? If the sequel is solid and patches the original’s biggest leaks, it’s likely Suicide Squad becomes a major cornerstone of the DC universe going forward.