James Gunn Insists The Suicide Squad Isn't a Sequel, Even Though It 'Kinda' Is

Polka-Dot Man, Peacemaker, Bloodsport, and Ratcatcher
Polka-Dot Man, Peacemaker, Bloodsport, and Ratcatcher
Photo: Warner Bros. via Empire

Much as Warner Bros. might not want to admit it, David Ayers’ Suicide Squad is a stunningly bad—though ambitious—narrative flop of a film that it has to take credit for. But it also knows that the Squad branding’s too strong to simply toss away. With James Gunn’s imaginatively-named The Suicide Squad, the studio hopes to win audiences back, and it just might pull that off.

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Just from looking at it, it’s obvious that Gunn’s wartime, more on the ground take on the Suicide Squad is meant to have a drastically different energy than Ayers’, who ended up pitching the team against a neigh-immortal witch—despite the fact that the team wasn’t exactly stacked with members with proper powers to deal with magic. At the same time, however, there are a number of characters like Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag, returning in the new movie, which makes it seem The Suicide Squad’s meant to be a sequel and not quite the standalone film that Gunn and Warner Bros. made it out to be when it was first announced.

In a recent interview Empire, Gunn insisted that The Suicide Squad doesn’t exactly clash with its predecessor, as his primary focus was telling the story he wanted to. But he also hedged a bit, admitting that in small ways, it has the potential to touch Suicide Squad to a certain extent, which makes sense because these are all a bunch of the same characters.

“Um, it’s its own thing,” Gunn said. “It does not contradict the first movie, I don’t think. It might in some small ways… I don’t know.”

Gunn also made a point of acknowledging Suicide Squad’s less-than-stellar reputation while giving Ayer credit for putting together at least some of a template, character-wise, to work with, which factors into The Suicide Squad.

“I know [Suicide Squad] didn’t come out how David wanted it to come out,” Gunn said. “But he did one really, really great thing, and that is he picked fantastic actors to work with, and he dealt with these actors in building their characters in a really deep and fearless way. It’s something David definitely deserves to be lauded for, and it’s definitely added to this movie.”

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In all likelihood, Gunn’s being at least somewhat honest when he suggests that The Suicide Squad isn’t a full-on sequel in the sense that events of the previous film won’t really be addressed, or weigh down on any of the characters who experienced them. But in Gunn’s statement is an interesting look at how Warner Bros. is still trying to figure out how it wants to build out its portfolio of superhero movies, a great undertaking that it’s struggled with to varying degrees in the past.

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Though Suicide Squad was one of the DCEU’s less impressive endeavors, Warner Bros. is clearly invested in making Robbie’s Harley Quinn a mainstay of its films, and recasting the character doesn’t seem like something the studio’s particularly interested in. The Suicide Squad seems to be Warner Bros.’ attempt at taking the best bits of a so-so movie from its past and pulling them into its future in order to tell a solid story.

As all this is happening, Warner Bros. is also sinking an ungodly amount of money Zack Snyder’s remake of his Justice League movie, which makes one question just how committed the studio can be to its bold new future, when it can’t seem to let the past go. The Suicide Squad is currently slated for an August 6, 2021 release date but we’ll be keeping an eye on that.

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Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.

DISCUSSION

killa-k
Killa K

This “not a sequel” sequel talk always makes my head spin. I get from a PR perspective that you want people to go see the movie even though people didn’t really like the last movie, so you have to dance the delicate line of “it’s not a SEQUEL. But, you know, it’s also not NOT a sequel.”

This would make more sense if it was an entirely new squad of characters with Viola Davis making a surprise, unpromoted appearance. But... you have several actors returning as the same characters. What makes it not a sequel? They don’t mention, or address, the events of the first film? Okay. That’s not actually uncommon, especially for genre films. We’re familiar with the “further adventures of” template for sequels.

What’s more, I actually really liked the (surviving) cast of the first Suicide Squad, and if there’s one thing that irritates me about studios’ trigger-happy reboot button is that too often they throw out something that works (like a stellar cast) when you could easily throw out everything else that didn’t and build upon whatever did work. It sounds like they did EXACTLY that with The Suicide Squad. WB wanted DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy so they just went out, got James Gunn, kept the cast, and made the film they wanted the first movie to be. They shouldn’t be ashamed to call this a sequel if it just works.

At the very least, they should stop insulting my intelligence by calling it “not a sequel.” Say it stands alone, you don’t have to see the first movie to understand it, whatever.