2016 is an exciting time. It heralds the long awaited arrival of DC’s newly invigorated Cinematic Universe and excitement around the project is building feverishly. Whilst It’s fair to say that ‘Man Of Steel’ had its critics and perhaps hasn’t stood up as well to repeated viewings as some of its Marvel counterparts, it was certainly a strong enough offering to secure Zack Snyder the centerpiece of the forthcoming Justice League series. With both Batman and Superman finally sharing screen-time in ‘Dawn Of Justice’, that film’s box office success and subsequent sequel projects are pretty much guaranteed. That aside, however, just how much of a gamble have DC elected to take with their somewhat surprise selection for the next movie in their series?
The feedback was relatively positive following the announcement that the studio had chosen not to follow up their opening showpiece with another Justice Leaguer origin story, but had instead opted for the lesser-known and substantially more controversial ‘Suicide Squad’. It’s admittedly a clever and satisfying move. By choosing an ensemble movie it avoids the inevitable comparisons with Marvel’s existing template, and gives the creative team more room to experiment with the overall tone and presentation of their expanding environment. It also scores massive points with the fans, who will take the depth and breadth of the material being sourced by the writers as a sign of understanding and commitment from the filmmakers.
The selection of David Ayer is also a significant gesture by DC. The former Navy-man has built his career on directing edgy and brutally realistic action films, which have received largely positive critical and audience reviews. One blip aside, he hasn’t really put a foot wrong, and given the gritty and violent nature of the subject matter he’ll be working with, it substantially boosts the film’s chances of being a huge hit.
There is a possibility, though, that cinema audiences are starting to go a little bit cold on superhero movies, and that writers need to start considerably upping their game when it comes to their output. The recent car-crash that was the Fantastic Four reboot indicates this, as does the lingering sense of dissatisfaction with ‘Age Of Ultron’. Big names and a few clever set-pieces do not a brilliant movie make. Working off what we know about the ‘Suicide Squad’ so far, how big a risk is the film to DC, and where might the potential mis-steps and pitfalls in the project crop up?
Please, let me be clear. This isn’t a hatchet job, or a fanboy whining about the differences from page to screen. I’m a film fan, just as much as I am a lover of comics. I wrote an article back in June about worrying that Jon Bernthal isn’t up to playing The Punisher in the next series of Daredevil.
I still stand by that article, I don’t think he is. But I don’t feel the same way about David Ayer. Other than the criminally poor ‘Sabotage’, every other piece of work he has put in has been thoroughly engaging, and I fully expect and anticipate Suicide Squad to be a success. But as the recent pervading sense of failure that surrounded Age Of Ulton persists, it shows a decent superhero movie is about more than just box office returns. And that’s the purpose for airing my concerns in this article. I don’t want this project to be Suicide Squad Lite, I want it to guarantee that these characters are around for a long time to come, and not just propping up internet film lists for years to come.
5. The Rating
It was recently announced that the film would be released as a PG-13, the justification for this being given that the studio wanted the film to be “tonally consistent” with the other films in the series. To say this is a disappointment is an understatement, and kind of undermines the whole concept of DC utilizing their edgier material.
Using the 2011 ‘New 52’ version of Task Force X, which is what Ayer’s incarnation appears to be drawing heavily from, the books are bloodily violent. Men, women and children are killed, their lives deemed less relevant than Amanda Waller’s overall game plan. Limbs are lost, a football stadium full of victims are eviscerated and incinerated. There’s no way a PG13 can live up to that, which causes a concern that the characters are all going to be little more than watered down versions of themselves. Ayer’s films have never shied away from showing brutally realistic injuries and deaths, if the studio is affecting his ability to do that, it may well impair the quality of the end product.
4. The Joker
It’s certainly a shrewd move choosing to insert/tease the reboot of Batman’s most famous adversary in this film rather than in ‘Dawn Of Justice’, where it would have risked falling victim to overcrowding.
For any actor to take on a role that Heath Ledger so famously depicted is a challenge, and they needed someone special to bring something very different and unique to the character and pull it away from the inevitable Dark Knight comparisons.
In Jared Leto, the studio seem to have succeeded in this. By his own admission, the actor is as mad as a box of frogs, and initial reactions to his demented depiction of the Crown Prince of Crime have been largely pleasing.
The risk here is the level to which he’s being used to promote the film. Anyone who’s familiar with the story will be aware the scenes we’ve seen him in are all flashbacks to Harley’s past, and that neither the Joker or Batman are likely to play any real role in the main body of this film. By including both of them in the only trailer we’ve seen so far, and also the large PR offensive using shots of Leto in costume, the motivation for a certain percentage of cinemagoers to go and see the movie will be for him, and the film risks disappointing them when he only pops up as a flashback.
A poor ‘word of mouth’ attachment to a project can spell its ultimate doom (hello again, Fantastic Four…) so it’s a gamble pushing his inclusion so hard at this stage of proceedings.
Considering the large number of enemies that Batman has faced over the years it takes something special to stand out from the pack, and in recent years DC have certainly made an effort to showcase the character of Floyd Lawton.
From Michael Rosenbaum’s Spacey-esque appearance in the Justice League cartoons, his Arkham computer game depiction, and Neal McDonaugh’s recent animated outing, the ruthlessly efficient nature of the character has been clearly conveyed.
So it’s perhaps a little disappointing to see Will Smith (doing what some have dubbed his best ‘Uncle Phil’ impersonation) drafted in as the latest actor to play the character. Not particularly known for playing bad guys, and coming into the project off a recent lack of form, it seems apparent that Smith has been selected to ramp up the accessibility of the film to the wider audience.
The most detailed rendering of Smith in character came in his recent Empire cover shoot. The pair of grip less wrist mounted Glocks are a brilliant touch, as is the red and black functional body armour. But there are some slightly worrying signs about this version of the character. As it’s Will Smith, we can expect very little use of the mask, which is reflected in its poor quality, plastic hockey mask look.
The plastering of the phrase “I am the way, the light” all over his uniform and equipment also suggests a cocky or biblical angle of Lawton’s psyche that the film is going to choose to explore, but then contrast that with the Rocky Balboa hat Smith’s wearing as he interacts with his daughter. It’s all very different to the origins of this hired killer.
Lawton is a hitman. Someone who puts bullets in people. Men. Women. The innocent. His colleagues. Deadshot will do whatever it takes to get his job done. Usually for money. Yes, he’s a character who does have more depth than that, and shows signs of redemption as he develops, but the selection of Smith indicates that the film will be pushing the ‘cuddly family guy’ element rather than the ruthless killer. Is Ayer really going have Will Smith casually headshotting his colleagues as a means of creating a patsy, or ruthlessly blasting his way through a crowd of tragically poisoned sports fans? I don’t think so, and that risks pigeon-holing Deadshot in a tired and clichéd pool of movie hit-men with a heart.
2. Character Choices
As well as Will Smith’s insertion, some of the other character inclusions have raised some questions about where the overall direction of this team of rogues and killers is going.
The most obvious substitution is the replacement of King Shark with Killer Croc. Now, I appreciate that the inclusion of a villain who is in essence the physique of a WWE wrestler with the head of a Great White Shark superimposed on it may not make for a spectacular villain.
His recent cameo in Series 2 of Flash was fairly underwhelming. But in King Shark there is at least some depth to the character. The fact his mental state was manipulated and affected by Waller to suit her needs. That his mind was battling a human intellect with an overwhelming physical animal need.
Killer Croc has never been anything other than hired muscle in the Batman stories. And with a PG13 rating, it’s not like we’ll be seeing him able to let loose and tear some bodies to pieces with his teeth. The make-up makes him look more like a burns victim than a mutated killing machine, and he fact that Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje recently described his signature move as a ‘croc roll’ in interview makes me worry that he’ll just be dropping out cheesy wrestling moves and growling into camera a lot.
The less said about Slipknot being included, the better. He’s got ‘disposable’ written all over him. A bad guy who specializes in the use of ropes? Yawn. Are you telling me that he makes for a better onscreen selection than Black Spider? Surely either another cynical hitman, out to rival Deadshot, or a street vigilante with a link to Batman would make for more compelling viewing than a chap who abseils down buildings and hangs people?
The casting of Cara Delivinge as Enchantress is a big gamble. Again, her make-up isn’t particularly awe-inspiring, she just looks like she needs a good scrub down and a bath, and she’ll be right as rain. Hardly being notable for her acting, it reads like another excuse to try and make the film more accessible. It doesn’t seem like she’ll be a Squad Member, but it’s also not clear if she’ll be an ally or enemy. The character doesn’t have the most illustrious history behind it, and the inclusion of a supernatural element is risky. The recent high-profile failure of ‘Constantine’ to get picked up demonstrates the inability of an audience to buy into the more supernatural and hokey characters that comic books have to offer.
1. The Villains
Whilst we’re fully clued up on who the good guys are (well, you know what I mean…), their opponents have yet to be properly identified, which is a little unusual, and links in with one of my previous issues. No matter how much the trailer might suggest it, the enemy isn’t going to be the Joker, but it is going to need to be something challenging and engaging. And they’re not telling us who.
There’s nothing worse than a lame villain in a comic book movie. Yes, Arnie, I’m thinking of Batman & Robin…. Whilst we probably won’t be looking at something as defined and threatening as Basilisk, we have seen footage of three military chinooks that may be being used to transport the squad being on the receiving end of some major firepower, so there could well be some degree of organised opposition.
The internet rumor mill is in overdrive that Scott Eastwood’s as-yet unnamed character is going to be Slade Wilson. That would be a masterstroke (or Deathstroke), but would that mean that Johnny Frost and the Tattooed Man are going to be working for him in a gang of villains to match the squad? Is this film going to culminate in a ‘villain vs villain’ face/off at the end? Again, this would fly in the face of the Marvel blueprint, but might be less satisfying than one central bad-ass antagonist.
The fact that the production still hasn’t unveiled a bad guy means they can still keep teasing the Joker, and may well indicate that the opposition isn’t up to much. Will it be the Enchantress? Deathstroke? David Harbour’s unidentified character? Will there be a traitor(s) in the squad, causing it to turn on itself? Only time will tell.
Either way, Suicide Squad will be released on August 5th, 2016.
So what do you guys think? Are we worrying about nothing, or are alarm bells ringing? As always, folks, your thoughts and feedback below are greatly appreciated!