The mixed reception to Batman v Superman cranked up the pressure on Suicide Squad. Overnight it went from an odd-ball film about some twisted villains to being held up as the saving grace for DC Films. Studio executives stepped in as they looked to keep their DC Extended Universe in check. If only they were as precise as Deadshot.
The film became a battleground, after it was rated lower than Batman v Superman on Rotten Tomatoes. Fans turned up and supported it at the box office, but many did that in spite of the flaws. Surely even those who enjoyed it can demand better? We know that DC’s characters can work better than this. Each DCEU release doesn’t have to be followed by the critic score dropping faster than our anticipation for Gambit.
While it was more colourful on the surface, Suicide Squad sadly contained many of the same failures haunting the previous two DC entries. Those elements obviously weren’t something director David Ayer would have wanted, but his project was rushed from the start. He was given just six weeks to write the script, according to THR.
One of the main problems with Man of Steel was David Goyer’s script. In retrospect it now looks like the DCEU’s best. The script for Suicide Squad is about as messy as Heath Ledger’s Joker make-up. Constant exposition drags the story along, while each character has about as much depth as an inflatable pool.
The main villains were incredibly underwritten, one of them wasn’t even named. While General Zod avoided that problem, BvS gave us next to no explanation of Lex Luthor’s motivations. The 2016 DC films have taken the one strength of MoS, and completely scrapped it. How can you make a Supervillain movie, yet fail to include any threatening villains? That seems like a genuinely tough thing to pull off.
Not that the film includes any actual heroes, either. Not even Batman. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is an incredible mash of ideals, he’s basically this universe’s Two Face. Everything about the look and how he carries himself is perfect. However, the bodies he drops is unnecessary. Suicide Squad adds to that problem, by connecting Wayne Industries to the bombs in the Squad’s necks. Can we please get away from Batman being a serial killer?
Just like the Dark Knight, Luthor and Joker are far from their comic adaptations. Change can be positive in the jump to the screen, but not like this. Everything those characters embody has basically been carved out, leaving two quality actors as little more than plot devices. Their motivations are about as clear as the Squad’s, who frequently dither between being bad guys and furthering the plot by inexplicably toeing the line.
Those changes could be a result of the awful editing. Ayer’s take on the film was undermined by Trailer Park, the company responsible for the Bohemian Rhapsody trailer. After they cut together a successful teaser, the company was handed control of editing a new version of the film. That doesn’t exactly chime with the Warner Bros. promise of being a “filmmaker driven” studio.
Ayer was reportedly forced to align his vision with the lighter cut, basically because of the trailer below. The director himself said there were, “six or seven cuts.” That’s similar to Snyder’s experience second time around. His three-hour film was hacked down to two and a half hours, cutting out vital story points.
Suicide Squad’s problems are arguably worse, because it gave the film an odd tone. Ayer is rumoured to have wanted a darker film, but he was handcuffed by the success of the second trailer. It was packed with jokes and edge, making it the perfect alternative to the recently released BvS. The end result is an uneven mess, which seems to come from those above Ayer.
This whole adventure takes place in Midway City. For ardent fans that’s a famous DC locale, but it’s also a huge dollop of irony. Suicide Squad itself is a kind of Midway City. Take Marvel’s humour heavy approach, throw in Fox’s big name casting and blend that with the edgy DC Films’ house style. It might make things lighter, but it results in a jarring experience.
This is an odd shift in the universe. A few months ago we saw a clash between “The Bat” and “The Superman” in their heightened reality. Was there really a Crocodile man and a purple Joker-mobile roaming the streets at the same time?
It’s completely fair for people to be against this. It’s not pro-Marvel to demand more from this universe. We want to see a coherent cinematic world, but first DC needs a coherent film. They have taken steps to fix their problem, but will that make a difference? It’s not just the ghosts of films past and present that the DC Scrooges need to worry about. Their problems seem to be repeating in their future slate.
Next up is 2017’s Wonder Woman. While the trailer has been hailed, DC films have never really had a problem with trailers. Of course, those trailers have been so good that the company behind them were invited to edit Suicide Squad. Could this be another let down after an epic teaser? The exact same can be assumed of Justice League.
Wonder Woman might be another victim of the rushed script. Jason Fuchs was seen as the scribe attached to the project. As recently as September 2015 he was still in the frame, just over a month before the film went into production. In July of this year, two months after Wonder Woman had finished filming, Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg were announced as the film’s writers. No sign of Fuchs, or any of the five screenwriters who had penned possible scripts.
The changes at the top of DC Films has somehow avoided the creatives behind-the-scenes. Zack Snyder continues as a producer on all the films, as does Charles Roven. Snyder is still directing Justice League, although he’s been forced to change his approach after the BvS backlash. It sounds like the same approach on throwing humour at the script has carried over from Squad.
The film-maker driven approach meant there was no oversight stopping Snyder producing a bloated follow-up to Man of Steel. Since then, Geoff Johns has been drafted in, and he’s quickly became a messiah like figure. There was a lot of fanfare when he was announced as the new head of DC Films. While he’s done some good work in the comic world, is he the man to fix this mess? By the sounds of things, he was part of the mess in the first place.
Reports suggest that it was Johns’ work on Suicide Squad that got him his promotion. THR wrote, “Sources say it was Suicide Squad that escalated Johns’ involvement in DC movies.” As we’ve established, it suffered all the same problems.
Having someone like Johns on hand to write when necessary is great, but it doesn’t hint at an overarching plan. He’s also not a film-maker by trade, so he’s not going to have a handle on editing and tonal issues. An early schooling in film gave way as he moved into comics, leaving him with little practical experience. Can he stand up to the pressures from those at WB? It’s hard to see him having the status to do that, when the likes of Zack Snyder and David Ayer can’t.
He’s not like Kevin Feige, an experienced producer who wanted to tell comic stories. This is a comic writer parachuted in to appease fans. Their films have trouble in production. Jon Berg is also apparently involved behind-the-scenes to fix things. A man who has been a producer on three films, including Elf and Meet Dave. DC has effectively changed everything and nothing.
While many enjoyed this year’s DCEU films even with their failings, a lot of people want to see changes. The core stuff that people enjoy isn’t what needs to be removed. Their course needs to be steadied by an experience hand, not jittery studio executives. These films have been financial successes, but they’d do a lot better with some proper, experienced oversight. If not, the audience could dwindle, and that’s a problem for anyone who enjoys superhero cinema.
Images via Warner Bros.