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Why James Gunn Cut the Joker from ‘The Suicide Squad’

Also: why did he bring back Harley Quinn even when Warner Bros. said he didn’t need to.
Suicide Squad Robbie Harley Leto Joker
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on July 20th, 2021

Entering the Discourse is a thrice-weekly column where we dig into who is saying what about new releases and upcoming projects. Today, we discuss James Gunn’s comments about his upcoming DC movie, The Suicide Squad, and the Joker character.

David Ayer’s 2016 entry in the DC Extended Universe was unsuccessful, to say the least. The movie’s action-packed trailer promised badass action sequences and interesting villains. But Suicide Squad delivered a convoluted story with too many characters and a boring interpretation of the Joker by Jared Leto.

So, when Warner Bros. announced that James Gunn was directing a new interpretation of the same DC Comics IP, this time titled The Suicide Squad, it was met with skepticism. We’d just got that story. What could Gunn do to make it better?

In an interview with the New York Times, Gunn shares that he asked the studio what he was allowed to change from the first movie. They told him: anything. He didn’t even need to bring back Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, though they hoped he would.

A Mostly New Suicide Squad

With the creative freedom that Warner Bros. allowed him for their second Suicide Squad movie in just five years, Gunn says:

“I wanted to create what I thought of as the Suicide Squad. For me to react to David’s movie would make it the shadow of David’s movie. I wanted it to be its own thing completely…My mission statement was just to make the most fun film I could and not balk at anything. I knew I had a chance that very few filmmakers have ever had, which is to make a huge-budget film with no holds barred in terms of the plot, the effects, the sets. I felt a responsibility to take chances.”

Gunn was able to come up with new characters, remove characters, keep characters. Whatever he thought would make the movie work. So added characters he did. He brought in a few ridiculous names from the comics to play up the standalone sequel’s humor and over-the-top nature.

The Suicide Squad features returning badasses, including Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. And also newcomers such as Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who is covered in glowing tumors, King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), who is half-human, half-shark, and an evil alien starfish named Starro.

Why the Joker is not in The Suicide Squad

Bringing in new characters into The Suicide Squad did require some cuts to other familiars, however. Including Leto’s interpretation of the Joker and Will Smith as Deadshot. But these were voluntary choices by Gunn. He says:

“I just don’t know why Joker would be in the Suicide Squad. He wouldn’t be helpful in that type of war situation.”

Gunn also explains casting Idris Elba as Bloodsport and the significance of the role:

“I really wanted to work with Idris. It is a multi-protagonist film… But if there’s one protagonist, it’s Idris. And I wanted somebody who had that gruff, ‘Unforgiven’-type feeling about him. This guy who had been reduced from being a bigshot supervillain — he took Superman out of the sky — [to] now scraping gum off the floor at the beginning of the movie. He absolutely doesn’t want any part of it. He just has accepted this is his life. And I just think that character is Idris Elba.”

Why Harley really had to return

No matter the changes, he intended on keeping Robbie as Harley Quinn, if only for the change it brought him. He says:

“For me, Harley Quinn belongs on the wall next to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man, Hulk. Most of my career has been writing characters who existed in the comics but weren’t well-defined personalities, and having to create their cinematic personalities, whether it’s Star-Lord or Drax or Groot, who were all very different in the comics. Harley was pretty incredibly written by Paul Dini from the beginning, and so to be able to capture the essence of that character — her chaotic, sweet nature — and give her her due as the trickster and allow her to go wherever she wants, was surprising even to me as a writer.”

The Suicide Squad — minus the Joker — comes to theaters and HBO Max on August 6th.

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Mary Beth McAndrews thinks found footage is good and will fight you if you say otherwise. When she's not writing, she's searching for Mothman with her two cats. Follow her on Twitter @mbmcandrews. (She/Her)