Many of the DC Comics characters appearing in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad made their big screen debuts in David Ayer’s 2016 film, and are portrayed by the same actors. But most everything about the way Warner Bros. has advertised and spoken about the movie has suggested that Gunn and the studio don’t really want audiences to think of the new project as a sequel.
Despite the first Suicide Squad’s initial box office success, its lackluster critical reception left some questioning whether Warner Bros. was interested in pursuing a follow-up. Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey and Jared Leto’s cameo in Zack Snyder’s Justice League both emerged as avenues the studio had to salvage successful (or at least memorable) elements of Ayer’s Suicide Squad. But after Gunn’s sudden dismissal from (and subsequent return to) Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Warner Bros. was seemingly willing to move forward with virtually any project the director was game to helm.
When io9 sat down with producer Peter Safran during a visit to The Suicide Squad’s Atlanta, Georgia set back in 2019, he made a point of detailing how Gunn’s involvement was instrumental in the movie’s conception and the internal logic Warner Bros. was using to draw a line between the new movie and its predecessor. After taking some time to consider whether to take the film on, Gunn’s main concern was whether he would be required to directly address the events in Ayer’s film. “His ultimate reaction was, ‘Ask Warner Bros. if I have to be bound by anything that has occurred before, any characters or anything off-base, or can I just start from scratch?’” Safran described. “And the reaction was, you know, ‘We want Suicide Squad from the mind of James Gunn.’ That’s what it is. So it’s not a sequel, it’s not a reboot. It’s James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.’”
While Warner Bros. might not want to call The Suicide Squad a sequel, Safran explained that returning characters like Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg, and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang do all know one another from somewhere. However, the movie purposefully avoids addressing it “in any tangible form.” “Yes, they’re the characters and the actors who played him in the first movie, but we really wanted to make sure of this stands on its own its own two feet,” Safran said. “It’s why you can’t really call it...it’s not a sequel, but there are some characters that were in the first movie. Right? So it’s not really a full reboot, either, so we just call it, you know, ‘James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.’”
What’s interesting about the mental and semantic gymnastics Warner Bros. is doing to hold Ayer’s Suicide Squad at a not-too-distant distance is how it all speaks to the odd position the studio’s slate of comic book movies were in a few years back. Both Todd Phillips’ Joker and what eventually became Birds of Prey felt like the studio’s attempts at pivoting away from the larger project of “catching up” with the interconnectedness of Disney and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. In different ways, both of those films turned out to be successes for Warner Bros. that renewed interest in their titular characters, and it makes sense that it would want to recreate that kind of magic for the Suicide Squad as a property.
But where Warner Bros. other DC movies were somewhat carefully positioned to make a fiddly kind of sense in relation to one another, The Suicide Squad’s just being dropped into the canon with the goal of keeping things moving forward. As course franchise course corrections go, The Suicide Squad’s is a bold one, but that might just be for the best, particularly if it means setting up a story that does all its characters justice.
The Suicide Squad hits theaters and HBO Max on August 6.
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