One big question remains for summer movie season 2016.
“This movie is probably going to be bad.”
“Nah, I think it looks fun.”
These are the deep philosophical discussions that occur here at Reject HQ between myself and Theo Broxson after we’ve seen the same Suicide Squad TV spot for the 11th time during Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. I’m not a big baseball person, but he certainly is. Which means that while he’s tracking Madison Bumgarner’s curveball, I’m tracking commercials and observing the marketing strategies of Hollywood’s summer offerings. All of this because there was no Game of Thrones last night.
Back to the philosophical question at hand: Is Suicide Squad going to be a fun, exciting film to close out a rather dismal summer movie season? Or will my good friend Theo’s skepticism ‐ likely a product of the disappointment of Batman v Superman ‐ be confirmed? With the summer’s big midseason question ‐ Is Ghostbusters good? ‐ answered this week, I believe Suicide Squad to be the big remaining mystery of summer movie season. That’s not to discount movies like Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne,or Kubo and the Two Strings. All of those made our list of must see summer movies for a reason. But while Suicide Squad also made the list, it remains an interesting question. Let’s explore.
What The Marketing Tells Us
Recent trailers paint David Ayer’s movie as a romp. Set to “Ballroom Blitz,” this third domestic trailer is a ballet of hyper-stylized violence and self-aware humor. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the clear central presence of the film, while everyone else gets a little moment. You can see plenty of evidence that Will Smith is hamming it up a bit and in a twisted way, Jared Leto’s Joker looks like an entertaining bad guy.
From a marketing standpoint, Warner Bros. is going out of its way to show us that Suicide Squad has a personality. This is in contrast to the high stakes grim-dark of Batman v Superman. Which, at the time, didn’t seem like such a bad thing. In fact, the trailers for BvS were pretty slick and they matched the tone of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Whether or not that’s your cup of tea is one thing, but at least they were consistent. There’s a concerted effort with Squad to deliver something that might exist in the same aesthetic universe, but is more charming because hey, bad guys can be fun.
Let’s compare the above trailer with the one from Comic-Con 2015 ‐ which will be a year old in two days. This is the way Warner Bros. presented this movie for the first time to any audience. We can call this the original vision:
The original vision for this movie is far different than the most recent trailer. The mood ‐ created, again, by the music ‐ is far more serious, sinister, and we get a sense that there is real weight and nuance to these characters. This tone matches that of Batman v Superman far more closely, building on the raw, gritty aesthetic of the DC Cinematic Universe. In the trailers released since BvS, we’re seeing the same footage set to a different rhythm.
This all coincides with two things: the reaction to Batman v Superman and the reported reshoots on Suicide Squad. In April, right after BvS was pummeled with negative reviews and failed to meet WB’s expectations, it was reported that Suicide Squad was going through reshoots to “add more fun.” It led to director David Ayer taking to Twitter to defend his original vision:
SuicideSquad "reshoots for humor" is silly. When a studio loves your movie and asks what else you want, go for it! #ThanksWB #moreaction
Fast forward to June, when a large group of journalists ‐ many of whom were highly critical of BvS — were invited to the set of Justice League in a move that was clearly about damage control. It’s part of a full-court press to ensure that everyone knows its Cinematic Universe has a personality. It’s the Steve Buscemi “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme come to life: “Hey fun people, look at how fun we can be when we try hard.” Every bit of brightly colored marketing works against David Ayer’s claim that the reshoots weren’t done to bring more humor to the film. That is, unless there really was humor in the film and WB’s marketing team was trying to match the tone of what they thought was going to be a big hit in BvS.
What My Gut Tells Me
My gut ‐ and years of experience in the field of reading between the lines of studio marketing ‐ tells me that Warner Bros. wanted Suicide Squad to match Batman v Superman, as they were under the impression that Zack Snyder’s grimdark is exactly what would play well with (a) their base and (b) the wider mainstream audience. Their estimation was that people would be interested in big name heroes and a tone that was diametrically opposed to the very popular movies of Marvel Studios. In March, they learned that they were half right. Batman v Superman played well to the entrenched base of DC fans, raised on a healthy diet of grit and existential darkness with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It didn’t quite stick with mainstream audiences, as evidence by its huge dropoff at the box office in its second week.
So they pivoted to something a little more mainstream-friendly. It’s still going to be plenty violent, but it’s also going to be a fun bad guy party. What’s encouraging is that even if they are playing up the humor, that’s still in-line with these characters. They’re a group of superpowered psychopaths and sociopaths. They’re not going to be the kinds of characters who are burdened by the weight of the world (or their public image, as was the case with Superman in BvS). It’s possible that what David Ayer meant with his Tweet was this: “Warner Bros. liked the humor that was already in the movie, so they asked us to play it up a little bit in the reshoots.”
And that’s okay. To answer the big question: it’s likely that Suicide Squad will be as fun as its most recent trailer promises. It might be a little disjointed due to all the late-in-game changes to play up humor, but it can’t possibly be more scattershot than the first half of Batman v Superman. David Ayer is a filmmaker that makes frenetic action movies. We should expect some fast-and-loose plotting, either way.
With all that said, my cautiously optimistic predictions for Suicide Squad are as follows:
- Margot Robbie will emerge as a legit star.
- The movie will be very silly (especially once the villain is revealed).
- It will be better-reviewed than Batman v Superman (27% on Rotten Tomatoes is a low bar).
- It will exceed WB’s more modest box office expectations.
- Instead of getting a sequel, it will get that Harley Quinn spinoff movie because Margot Robbie forever.
Needless to say, despite my disappointment with Batman v Superman and my skepticism about Zack Snyder’s damage control parade, I remain optimistic about Suicide Squad.