Hello. My name is Kyle. I’m a DC Comics fan. It feels increasingly embarrassing to admit that, especially as a film critic and nerd-writer, but I’ve always been a bigger fan of the more mythological exploits of People-Gods than with the bulk of the Marvel universe. And this is increasingly a problem given the state of their two film industries; Marvel has win after win, while DC (and its filmmaking parent studio Warner Bros) have been playing catch-up, and losing. There were a LOT of problems with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which WB has tried to course-correct, but it seems their correction for Suicide Squad has been much more about damage control than making a good movie.
Now I haven’t seen Suicide Squad yet. But our own Dan Casey did, saying it was a jumble of tones and plots, as did Michael Arbeiter, who said it was too all over the place to really land in his review for us—which seems to be the general consensus among critics. According to a new piece from The Hollywood Reporter published on Wednesday, Warners execs were, allegedly, especially scared following the lukewarm response and pretty-big-but-not-as-huge-as-hoped-for box office of BvS. They were also unsure of director David Ayer‘s take on the movie and were working on a different version—a more flashy and “fun” version—at the same time for test audiences to choose between. Ultimately, the studio won and a melding of the two cuts was created, yielding the version critics have seen and audiences will see on the big screen.
One of the big takeaways from the article is that, following the very well-received first teaser for the movie—which showcased a majority of Suicide Squad‘s comedic moments—Warner Bros thought that meant the movie needed to be funnier and spent a huge amount of money, millions and millions, for reshoots to bring the film more in line with that teaser. Which is, to be frank, is a confoundingly reactionary way to make movies. They even brought in Trailer Park (the marketing and creative agency that cut the first teaser) to help with the shaping of the movie. That’s beyond troubling, for a number of reasons.
First, it completely takes away authorship from the director. I’m not so naive as to think that these big studio tentpole movies—ones with nearly a billion dollars riding on the success or failure of any one project—are the vision of one person or even a few people. But Warner Bros hired Ayer—who’s made grittier, smaller pictures up to now—to make a specific version of the Suicide Squad movie and then, because the reception to the previous movie was not what they wanted, they used the next picture as a way to give the people what they assumed the people want.
And, as The Hollywood Reporter also points out, studios that are beholden to massive blockbusters with predetermined/pre-announced release dates don’t have a ton of options. They can’t wait for a big-name, trusted director to have the time to do it, or they don’t want to shell out the money for them, or the director doesn’t want to jump into an assembly line, or any number of other reasons. So studios hire directors who’ve made smaller movies and just hope they can hack it. Sometimes this works (Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World made so much money) and sometimes it doesn’t (Josh Trank’s Fant4stic did not), but they’re all doing it. Marvel has done this by hiring a lot of TV directors to work on their movies—the Russo Bros are basically the directing kings of Marvel Studios right now—and directors of smaller genre pictures. Ayer is an example of this, and if the studio had stuck with the initial idea for the movie, Ayer would have been the perfect guy to do it.
But they didn’t. It seems that they got scared of Zack Snyder’s falling star, hired new heads of production on the movies, brought press out to the set of Justice League to show off that they weren’t making the same mistakes again, and have quietly decided Snyder isn’t their guy. In the case of Suicide Squad, the movie was basically shot, but had a teaser that didn’t reflect the movie at all, so they had to scramble to try to “make everybody happy.” The result is a movie that’s getting poor reaction from critics, even though it’s still garnering buzz from excited fans who want to see a new Joker and Harley Quinn on the big screen. (Side note: the pair of them are getting the most positive mentions from critics).
Back in February, I wrote this piece about the Deadpool movie’s success being about staying true to the source material and taking a chance on the vision of a small group of creators. I stand by this wholeheartedly, and will again mention that the runaway hits from both Marvel Studios and Fox’s X-Men Universe (Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool) were successful because they took chances the rest of their respective universes didn’t — because there was the perception that they weren’t known commodities to the average moviegoer. Suicide Squad could have and should have been this for DC/Warner Bros. Even though the Joker is in it, and Batman is a couple times too: this is a weird title to make into a tentpole. Its triumph should be in NOT conforming to the norm.
It’s absurd to think that these big tentpole movies will ever get to be creator-driven, but doing a quick suturing of problems gleaned from test screenings and teaser reactions is not the answer either, and audiences can tell. Perhaps one day we’ll get to see David Ayer’s original take on Suicide Squad, but we shouldn’t have to keep waiting for directors’ cuts to know what a DC Comics movie was supposed to be.
Let us know your thoughts on all of this in the comments below!
Here’s Dan Casey and Jessica Chobot talking about Suicide Squad!
Images: Warner Bros/DC Comics
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist and, yes, a confirmed DC Comics fanboy. Follow him on Twitter!