Oh come on, you knew it was coming. Despite being a film that made just about every possible misstep they could take, had actually managed to accomplish something very few films do. Because did you know that today’s film actually won an Academy Award? Well that ‘aint the half of it’ as we’ve got gifted rodents, a trailer the world wasn’t supposed to see, and so much licensed music it’ll make your head spin. All on top of a script that was written in just 6 weeks! Today we’re talking about David Ayer’s…or well…maybe we shouldn’t identify it as that since he’s been pretty adamant that this isn’t his cut so…today on DC Revisited we’re covering Warner Brother’s Suicide Squad.
One key thing to remember when looking at the development of Suicide Squad, is that Warner still had faith in Snyder’s vision for the DC Cinematic Universe. This was before Batman v Superman brought in less money than Warner had hoped, and critics lambasted the film for being too dark. So this film was being developed with the same dark and gritty mindset that came with both Man of Steel and its sequel.
The film was originally announced in 2009 but there wasn’t any real movement on the project until it was revealed again in 2014. But the biggest issue with this was that not only was it announced, but it was given a release date! So production had to move swiftly. They were off to the races when David Ayer boarded the project in early 2015 as writer and director. Ayer had just finished work on the WW2 epic Fury starring Brad Pitt and had a lot of buzz behind his name. The only problem was that he wrote the script in 6 weeks and, given the complicated nature of bringing together so many different characters, that seems like an astronomically low amount of time. But Warner had a release date to hit and so the production trucked on.
They had to now assemble their squad of…suiciders? Okay that doesn’t work but oh well. I tried. Ryan Gosling, Tom Hardy, Margot Robbie and Will Smith were all initially offered roles in the film. While Gosling turned them down and Hardy would eventually have scheduling conflicts, Robbie and Smith both accepted.
Heath Ledger had made such an impression with his Joker, that many wondered if they’d ever attempt another live-action version. Everyone would simply be compared to Ledger and Nicholson and already start out with quite an unfair disadvantage. But even still, The Joker was too iconic to keep in the shadows for long. Everyone’s heard the stories of Jared Leto‘s Joker, but for the uninitiated: Buzz was quite positive when Leto was first announced as the Clown Prince of Crime. That changed rather quickly when the first image of his iteration released and it all came crashing down like a tattoo that said…damaged. These tattoos were Ayer’s way of modernizing the character. Leto has cited David Bowie as an influence on his version as well. Jared stayed in character on set, even sending his castmates rather odd gifts, with the ultimate being the rodent he gifted his on-screen love interest…
Margot Robbie may have been the most obvious choice to play Harley Quinn out there, with her almost perfectly embodying the fan favorite’s look. Even if absolutely everything about the film sucked, the fact that we got Robbie’s Harley Quinn is an absolute miracle because she’s a breath of fresh air. We even get a brief glimpse at Joker torturing Harleen Quinzell, which leads to her joining his side.
Will Smith was cast in the film before the character he’d portray had even been decided. The studio just knew they wanted Smith and his charisma. This is obviously well before his…controversy [SLAP!]. Funnily enough, Smith actually turned down the chance to reprise his role of Captain Steven Hiller, in the Independence Day sequel in order to be in this film. Ultimately, he took up the mantle of Deadshot, liking that the character’s motivation is trying to do right by his daughter.
Joel Kinnaman was cast as Rick Flag, the man who has to corral all the supervillains and keep them up to task. This was actually the role that Tom Hardy was originally cast in before leaving. Playing his love interest June Moone, and also shockingly the big bad Enchantress, was Cara Delevingne. Mostly known as a model, this served as her first major role. The Australian loudmouth Captain Boomerang had Jai Courtney cast in the role. Despite being criminally underutilized, he looks to be having an absolute blast.
Despite being under 50 pounds of makeup, and featuring a lot of stuntwork, it would have made sense to just go with a stuntman for the role of Killer Croc. Instead, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje took on the part. It should be noted that this makeup job was actually good enough to win an Academy Award. Wait, you didn’t think the movie won an award for its writing did you?
The rest of the squad was rounded out with Adam Beach as Slipknot, Jay Hernandez as Diablo and Karen Fukuhara as Kitana. If you think I’m not properly giving them their time then you’d be correct but that’s because the movie itself doesn’t really give them much time either. Scott Eastwood also appeared in a brief role but he’s hardly relevant to anything going on. David Harbour shows up as a government suit, but this was before he’d blown up as Sheriff Hopper on Stranger Things. And I just have to highlight Ike Barinholtz, who portrays a slimey prison guard. This guy is just hilarious.
Finally in a role we’d come to know quite well, Viola Davis was cast as Amanda Waller. Since she’s the one that controls the Supervillains, there had to be someone with proper gravitas to match and it’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling it off quite with the flare that Davis manages. Ben Affleck also reprised his role as Batman, showing up in the film a lot more than you would expect, including a midcredits scene that would help set up the Justice League. Speaking of that team, Ezra Miller also shows up as The Flash in a brief scene to capture Captain Boomerang.
When it comes to the story of Suicide Squad…I’m going to struggle even making sense of this. So we’ve got Amanda Waller, she’s putting together a group of Supervillains to protect us against massive threats, now that Superman is dead. Why she immediately jumps to bad guys and not, say, Aquaman or Wonder Woman is anyone’s guess. But these bad guys are recruited because Cara Delevingne has awakened an ancient evil and wants to destroy the world with her ancient brother. And then there’s the Joker who pops up here or there because he really wants to save Harley…even though he doesn’t really care much about her. It’s a wonder why this film failed so spectacularly…
Filming on Suicide Squad started in Toronto, Canada in April of 2015 and finally wrapped up in August of the same year. Despite the turmoil that would come, the initial filming was uneventful, despite being extremely rushed. Ayer was still able to shoot his dark, dystopic film. If anything, they seemed to be accomplishing their goals, despite their extremely limited lack of time. But that’s when it all came crashing down.
Before the movie was even cut together, footage was assembled for the 2015 San Diego Comic Con by the company Trailer Park. While this was not intended to be seen outside of Hall H, cam videos leaked online, forcing Warner to release a full HD version of the footage. And people went absolutely nuts. This looked to be an absolute blast, with the look of the characters being absolutely perfect.
The biggest issue with this footage getting out and causing such buzz was it didn’t properly represent Ayers movie. Ayers film was dark and gritty, not the fun time at the cinema that the trailer made it out to be. So execs grew increasingly nervous as the buzz increased. John Gilroy originally started as the film’s editor but he left the project in early 2016. Lee Smith was then brought in to cut the film but still not tonally change the film. This cut was approximately 143 minutes long, featured no licensed music and had a tone more akin to that of Black Hawk Down. This is where things continue to circle the drain.
Following the release of Batman v Superman, Warner Brothers were starting to feel the heat for what they perceived as failures. With their Cinematic universe running concurrently with Marvel’s, the box office receipts showed a clear winner and Warner was hoping to tighten up the race. With Zack Snyder at the helm, the DC films had taken on a rather dark and gritty texture with every frame, character and story. Conversely, Marvel was able to bring a bit of levity to their films, while still doing massive world-destroying levels of stakes. Hoping to right the ship, they felt that humor and fun was the key to their success.
Still not entirely confident in Ayers version or their newly edited, lighter version, the studio held screenings of both versions in Northern California. The only issue was that both tested nearly identical. With no clear winner, the studio decided massive reshoots would be done in order to satisfy audiences.
Famed comic writer and now DC Exec Geoff Johns wrote what would become the Suicide Squad reshoots. The main purpose was to lighten the film up. These were anything but minor, totalling nearly $22 Million just for the reshoots alone. They were also able to get Zack Snyder to shoot a brief cameo for the Flash during the filming of Justice League. As expected, these reshoots cobbled together a story that made it even less cohesive and did strange things like introducing the same character three different times. Even still, this is the version that Warner ultimately decided to release, as it had, had the best test screenings of the bunch.
Ayer’s former collaborator Steven Price was brought in to score the film and his score was described as wonderfully moody. But unfortunately, very little of it made it past the cutting room floor, with licensed pop music being used mostly instead.
Suicide Squad released in the United States on August 5th, 2016 and brought in $133,682,248 on its opening weekend. But like Batman v Superman before it, the movie didn’t have the legs that Warner wanted, earning $746 Million worldwide. And while those numbers would be great for most studios, Warner has always had high expectations for their superhero films and needed $800 Million to break even. And the reaction to the film certainly hasn’t helped.
Earning a measly 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film was widely derided from critics and audiences alike, with the critical consensus being that it: “boasts a talented cast and a little more humor than previous DCEU efforts, but they aren’t enough to save the disappointing end result from a muddled plot, thinly written characters, and choppy directing.”
But almost making a billion dollars at the box office is nothing to scoff at so, despite their disappointment, they greenlit a sequel with Ayer returning, as well as Gotham City Sirens, which was supposed to be about the women of DC like Harley and Poison Ivy. Unfortunately, neither of those came to fruition in the forms they started as, but would become Birds of Prey and James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
An Extended Cut of the film was released on Home Video and this added nearly 13 minutes of additional footage. While there was a lot of hope that this would help make the film less disjointed, it consists mostly of the same scenes, only extended with a few lines of dialogue. The basic structure of the film largely stayed in place. Though we do get more of Leto’s Joker and a little bit more character development.
In recent years, with the release of the Snyder Cut, which we’ll touch on all in due time, there has been a movement to get the Ayer Cut released. [#ReleasetheAyerCut] Much like Snyder, Ayer was hoping to be able to recut the film and release it on HBO Max. However, with the Snyder Cut not exactly producing a ton of money for the studio, a new cut of a much less popular film, with a much less fervent fanbase, made the prospect seem unlikely. Which is too bad as Ayer has repeatedly said that the theatrical version is not his own. One of the only ways to see a bit of Ayer’s vision is the novelization from Marv Wolfman.
The cast of Suicide Squad has been quite busy in the world of comic book films. While many of these actors reprised their roles in future movies, some also popped up in others. Jared Leto became Morbius, which somehow became an even bigger meme than Suicide Squad. David Harbour would go onto portray both Hellboy as well as Red Guardian in Black Widow. Karen Fukuhara would show up in the phenomenal Amazon show, The Boys as Kimiko. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje by this time had already shown up as Kurse in Thor: The Dark World, where he was also under a ton of makeup.
The Suicide Squad just seems to be a property that will always be the source of controversy: From this film, to the underperforming reboot just a few years later, all the way to the recent game that had to be delayed a full year due to the negative reaction to its gameplay. This has proven to be a tough IP to get right. Whether we ever see the Ayer Cut is anyone’s guess, but the film we were left with leaves far too much on the table.