It only takes one pulverised face to know The Suicide Squad isn’t your bog-standard comic book movie. For the cast, James Gunn’s ‘dope’, diverse, extraordinarily violent vision is the risk that was always going to pay off.
DC’s troupe of supervillains – some iconic, some goofy – have endured a bumpy ride. They flew high on hype after the 2016 film dropped its first teaser, then the movie came out to middling-to-slaughtering reviews, despite a strong turn at the box office. It was a damp squib for one of the most anticipated movies of the year, and they fell away into the ether to lick their wounds.
Across frenemy lines, Marvel made its biggest goof by ditching its prized Guardian over old jokes – a decision it’d quickly come to regret and resolve – so Warner Bros. swooped him up and offered him the pick of the crop. Gunn said no to Superman and chose to resurrect the ragtag group of misfits for the Dirty Dozen adventure they always deserved.
The cast is ludicrous: Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn; Idris Elba as Bloodsport; John Cena as Peacemaker; David Dastmalchian as Polka Dot Man; Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg; Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang; Flula Borg as Javelin; Peter Capaldi as The Thinker; Sylvester Stallone as King Shark; Alice Braga as Sol Soria; Mayling Ng as Mongal; and many, many more, dropped into the fictional South American island of Corto Maltese for some classic US diplomacy.
Ahead of The Suicide Squad’s release this Friday, July 30, we sat down with many of the stars to discuss the outrageous scale of Gunn’s direction, bold action and the director’s recent comments about comic book movies becoming a bit ‘boring’ right now.
Robbie, Kinnaman and Courtney were assigned to David Ayer’s earlier Suicide Squad, making their grand return with fresh, nasty blood. While the half-sequel, half-reboot, standalone film handover to Gunn perhaps seemed awkward from the outside, but it was smooth and gracious on-set.
‘It was an incredible experience,’ Kinnaman said. ‘I absolutely loved working with James, and to also step into his version of The Suicide Squad was incredibly rewarding. I think we all had that feeling when we read the script, like… this is the tone. I think the first film went through a lot of searching, and when James delivered the first script, we all felt in unison that… this is it.’
While there are likely stories behind the original movie’s production we’re not aware of (campaigning for the ‘Ayer Cut’ has maintained a current since Zack Snyder’s Justice League), blooper reels and tales from the ensemble would have you believe everyone had a wonderful time. For Courtney, any earlier failings are more unfortunate than anything.
‘It’s one of those things. We had such an amazing experience making the first film, the other film… the camaraderie between cast members was something that was echoed in this, we certainly had a great time with this amazing new group. A lot of wonderful energy and talent on set, so I certainly appreciated the process,’ he said.
‘I think this film manages to nail the tone in a way perhaps we didn’t see in the first one. That could be attributed to a lot of things, but I certainly have to hand it to James this time round; he managed to weave together the humour and heart with this amazingly colourful, violent backdrop really, really well. It’s thoroughly entertaining, and something that I would find it hard to imagine not everyone is incredibly proud of.’
Robbie’s Harley is arguably one of DC’s crown jewels, becoming a mega-favourite from the get-go and playing her on three occasions: the two Suicide Squad films; and Birds of Prey. Kathy Yan let her go wild, but Gunn’s take may be the best yet – if only for making good use of that R-rating (it’s a 15 in the UK).
‘I love everyone’s version of Harley and I love that it’s a character that can have so many different versions to herself and still, at the core and in her essence, be the same person people grow to love. I do think the R-rating helps Harley a lot to be honest – it’s really had to put a muzzle on her sometimes and not use swear words, or say things that are… you know… kind of inappropriate for a lesser rating,’ she said.
‘The violence, like you mentioned… these characters are wild, crazy and they’ve been in jail like crazed animals. You let them out, and sh*t the fan. With an R-rating, people are gonna experience this to the full capacity.’
She’s not wrong. We have faces being blown off their skulls, soldiers ripped apart and eaten like human chum (I’ll give you one guess at who does that); all enabled via a glorious combination of VFX and old-school practical work, whether it’s grotesque tricks or immersive, huge sets. ‘It was bigger than what I thought it was, just absolute insanity… a man-made beach, a jungle, 20 shipping containers, a green screen, and I’m walking in like this rock solid alien, like… oh my god, this is amazing,’ Mayling said.
For Gunn, there was one horrific moment that didn’t make the cut. ‘There’s one scene with a character who dies – I don’t wanna spoil it but he gets thrown against a wall with some glass. That actually went on for much longer in my first cut,’ he said.
‘A lot of time I’m just going off instinct, it seemed a little bit too much. But it was also too long in the wrong space, I wanted to keep things moving. There were other things, there were things I worried about that I kept in the movie, I wasn’t sure if it was going too far or not. Harley slitting that guy’s throat is pretty violent, and I got worried about it.’
It should also be said: don’t get attached to any one character too much. ‘Rules don’t apply here, it’s its own thing. The action, the violence, the comedy – everything is mixed up, you watch it and it makes total sense,’ Juan Diego Botto said, the actor behind Silvio Luna, the dictator of Corto Maltese.
Now, about Gunn’s recent remarks: he basically said the superhero sub-genre feels a little stale. ‘We know about the way cowboy films went, and the way war films went. I don’t know, I think you don’t have to be a genius to put two and two together and see that there’s a cycle to those sorts of films, and that the only hope for the future of the comic book and superhero films is to change them up. They’re really dumb. And they’re mostly boring for me right now,’ he told The Irish Times.
The Suicide Squad definitely doesn’t fall into this ‘boring’ category, for a multitude of reasons. We put Gunn’s comments to the cast to see what they thought about the state of modern comic book movies. ‘I really love what James brought because it’s a superhero film… there’s so much fun in it, so much comedy,’ Braga said.
‘Once we create that environment, that storyline, you open doors for the possibility or bringing death, bringing soul, interesting actors like Flula with Nathan Fillion, then Mayling and then suddenly there’s me, a Latina, and Daniela Melchior from Portugal – you can really create that environment, which not only people from all over the world they relate, you have the comedy and heart of it,’ she added.
Mayling isn’t convinced they’re getting old. ‘Especially with young kids, they can look at different representation. Not everyone’s the blonde, Supergirl normal type, we’re going into LGBTQ+, different ethnicities, different sizes. DC and The CW are more open to bring representation for those kids, so I think it’s just the start,’ she said.
Flula’s response was unequivocal: a superhero film will never be boring in the hands of Gunn. ‘I feel like if you hand this man anything it just turns into dope magic. He just happens to be making a film that’s based on a comic book. That’s what I love about this. Yes, it’s based on this, but who cares?’ he said.
‘We’ve got dope characters you care about, amazing action. They say some curse words, which I enjoy – I like a little f-bomb, a little p-bomb, a little d-bomb, all the bomb-bombs. All of these things happen in this film, and James makes it dope. The other movies, you know what, I don’t know… who cares? The Suicide Squad is dope, I can tell you this!’
Kinnaman agreed. ‘I think it’s because James has such a handle on the genre. He knows comics so deeply, so he knows how and where to take licence, where to be true to canon. I think he’s so immersed in that world, I think he very instinctively knows what it needs and what the audience needs. I think he intimately knows them very well,’ he said.
Cena – who will reprise his role in the Peacemaker HBO series – was far and away the most diplomatic. ‘Superhero movies tend to have the biggest price tag in terms of production, and when you go in big on something, you want to invest safely. By investing safely, you have to reach a large audience around the world. So, you cleave off the risks you’re able to take,’ he said.
‘The transformation of the WWE has been very similar – we were an Attitude Era program that was TV-14, and then we switched to reach a broader audience to TV-PG. It upset a lot of people, a lot of fans… no, we just have another set of rules. I see where James is coming from, because he’s an unbelievably creative and brilliant adult, who wants to see more out of these movies. He sees the potential in these characters.
‘But at the same time, I can get why a studio would be cautious in crafting their tale: one, because of the core values of the studio; two, because of the return on investment. What I’m truly really grateful for is you can get an insane mind like James, and quite frankly an insane studio like Warner Bros., who’s like… yeah let’s just give this guy money!
‘They took an enormous risk on this property, and you know, no risk, no reward. I think moviegoers around the world will enjoy this for all the right reasons, but it took a nice little aligning of the stars to happen. It’s not the norm, this movie is an anomaly. So I think there’s some value to what James said but I also see the other side of the argument.’
Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge breath of fresh air for the MCU. Seven years later, The Suicide Squad is a tonic for the stream of PG-13, streamlined superhero ‘content’; wild, unpredictable and unlike anything you’ve really seen before. A bloodbath to die for, indeed.
The Suicide Squad hits cinemas on Friday, July 30.
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