The Suicide Squad and Zack Snyder's Justice League
Is DC Finally Back on Track?Written by Renata Martin
I remember getting out of the theater after watching the first David Ayer's Suicide Squad movie thinking that I had just wasted two precious hours of my life and a few dollars – and let me tell you this, that doesn’t happen to me too often mostly because I am fairly easy to entertain. Unfortunately, I can say DC has been responsible for most of the counted times that I’ve felt that way. Batman v Superman and Shazam! (I know, unpopular opinion) didn’t do it for me either.
However, I still invest my time and money in their movies because they’ve also made me cherish. Wonder Woman is arguably my favorite superhero film of all time, it keeps making me cry my eyes out every time I watch it. Besides, I found Aquaman and Birds of Prey were interesting proposals, and the original Justice League wasn’t that bad, I guess. However, the Snyder Cut is all around phenomenal.
If you agree with me in the overall idea that they got something special going on among the imminent disaster, that surely makes us hopeful for once when it comes to this franchise.
For starters, what went wrong with David Ayer’s Suicide Squad?
With a 26% score on Rotten Tomatoes, people and critics called this film everything from “wasted opportunity” to “just another incoherent mess”. And once the public makes its mind collectively designating a movie as bad, there’s no way back.
First round of Suicide Squad was like trying to put together a picture with pieces from different puzzles. You got to know something’s off with your movie when even Will Smith can’t save a role, and it’s not that he – or any other actor, including the widely criticized Jared Leto – was the only one to blame. The depth and development of the characters from the writing simply wasn’t there, with a confusing, cringy script that missed almost every shot it had.
At least, something good was born with the first failed experiment of the world’s worst supervillains portrayal. The only thriving survivor out of Ayer’s version was Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, who even got her own movie and whose acting was praised. One would think it couldn’t be that hard to stand out when everything else in the movie goes undeniably wrong, but she proved it was no coincidence by becoming the face of the Suicide Squad and one of the DCEU true and only icons.
In an interview with Nestor Bentancor, James Gunn seemed pleased with the fact that DC allowed for Harley to have her own 15-minute sequence in the more recent The Suicide Squad movie, with her own style and effects full of colors and flowers and charm. For Gunn, that was an even riskier choice than the major violence presented in most of the movie. And that Harley’s scene may be precisely one of the biggest hints for DC’s future success, because it’s different and original and it hasn’t been seen before in any other superhero production.
That’s partly what made Margot’s role so utterly important for the survival of this storyline, which was a core element in the second edition. And while we're on the subject...
James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad: what went right?
On the other side of the spectrum, Gunn’s portrayal of The Suicide Squad has gotten a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, although this is still volatile because the movie is too recent at the time of writing. However, it is a fact that its final outcome will be way above the achievements of the original.
The Jimmy Kimmel Live show hosted James Gunn, John Cena, and Margot Robbie a few days before the premiere to have a conversation surrounding the movie. One of the opening statements by the director was “I just wanted to do the ultimate all-time comic book movie; create The Suicide Squad based on one of my favorite comic books of all time by John Ostrander about a group of really cr*ppy super villains – some of the worst super villains in the world”.
For us as viewers, this statement is key. The sole fact that the director was so excited about the project, and that he had so much knowledge about the characters and the original story, is crucial for a project to make it in the wilderness of the competitive superhero film industry. Because of that and many other reasons, Gunn was the very best choice to direct this movie.
His anthropomorphistic tendency (i.e., assigning human characteristics to animals and inanimate objects) was another of his treats introduced to this film, and he managed to make these creatures actually…likeable? A shark, a rat, and a weasel sound ridiculous at first, but they turned out to be just what the film needed to counteract so much graphic violence – to be fair, we couldn’t expect less from the man who brought Scooby Doo, Rocket and Groot to life, so this wasn’t really a concern for anyone who knows and admires his work.
By the way, James G may have or may have not watched Amazon Prime’s The Boys… there are crystal clear similarities with all the bloodshed going on and the constant, direct criticism to American society. Whether he did or didn’t take inspiration from that show, it was a wise and bold choice to go full-Tarantino this time.
Also, did anyone else notice that Margot Robbie is obviously having so much more fun now? We can’t blame her, in more comfortable outfits, who wouldn’t? In fact, this movie seems to go more in line with the vibes and style of Birds of Prey than with the first Suicide Squad edition, which suggests that DC has been taking it step by step, year by year into a different direction.
Now, it does have its inconsistencies. Maybe this is a hot take, but Polka-Dot man wasn’t the strongest character. He even reminded me of the original Suicide Squad members, and that’s no-good news. Although they tried to justify his origin story, they didn’t give him the chance to unleash himself before our eyes. He also seemed to have a very cool superpower, which he barely used.
Moreover, there are doubts flying around regarding the role of this movie in relation to the original. In the same Jimmy Kimmel Live interview, the guest host Anthony Anderson poses the question most of us are asking and still haven’t found a clear answer to: “Is this a sequel? A prequel?”, noting that the original version is called Suicide Squad, while this new one is THE Suicide Squad. This, of course, was cleverly avoided by the guests and remained unanswered.
Speaking of glow-ups: Justice League vs the Snyder Cut
If we stick solely on the Rotten Tomatoes statistics, we can see once again that the second version of the movie went beyond and above the first one. While Justice League was given a 40% score, the Snyder Cut reached up to 71% – so much better considering that, compared to round two of The Suicide Squad, Zack Snyder didn’t re-shot this completely but rather worked with the original footage and a completely different editing approach.
As I mentioned previously, I didn’t hate the first movie, but it was simply not enough. This crew is one of the most iconic superhero groups in history, maybe even more than the Avengers, so the stakes couldn’t have been higher. That’s why it was so important for Snyder to tell his side of the story, and we’re so grateful he did.
He also lowkey made justice to one of DCEU most overlooked actors, Ben Affleck. It was pretty unfair for him to play Batman in two films that were such failures because of DC’s poor execution, especially because he did showcase great acting skills and evident knowledge of his character – for the doubters, the Snyder Cut proved this point. He did a good job, but the circumstances were unfortunate. Ultimately, he stated that he decided to drop the role for personal reasons, although fans speculated at first that it was because he wasn’t satisfied with the results.
On the bright side, he still gets to portray the Dark Knight in the upcoming The Flash, and many of us will agree that this is good news. After all, no one likes to see a character portrayed by a new actor when the rest of the context remains the same. It’s always awkward for the viewer.
While on the subject – isn’t Ezra Miller character one of the biggest accomplishments within the DCEU? Considering the revindication that DC has been showing and the amazing job that Miller’s done so far, this next movie is bringing the fandom’s hopes up, and all indications are that they will not be disappointed this time.
The new era of DC: what have they learnt?
Improved and finally believable visuals, smoother and natural dialogues, and deeper, more authentic characters. Now we know Ben Affleck, Jared Leto and Will Smith weren’t quite the problem (although, may I brag, some of us knew all along!). DCEU’s kryptonite was mostly the writing of the previous movies – to this day, I don’t think anybody understands how they got away with that Martha thing, nor how they managed to get approved by producers for it to see the light of day.
But currently, things are starting to change. On Gunn’s The Suicide Squad I personally noticed special effects that were, by far, the best that DC’s produced until now. Credible explosions, textures, and sounds. Hey DC, was it too much to ask?
Ultimately, they’re doing better. The thing is that they lost credibility and fans along the way, and although the response for these new movies was mostly positive and taken as a nice surprise (according, at least, to a wide range of Twitter superheroes’ enthusiasts), you can’t remotely compare it to the hype that Marvel tends to provoke – just as an example, the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer single handedly evoked a worldwide reaction that generated 4.5 million mentions across social media with 355.5 million views in just 24 hours after coming out. These numbers are insane, and a wake-up call for DC to notice that it has a long road ahead if it aims to achieve this level of impact.
Maybe DC’s response will be its new spin-off series, also written by Gunn and starring Peacemaker. For those who don’t know, this is the character that was recently introduced to the DC Extended Universe. He is portrayed by arguably the world’s most famous wrestler, John Cena.
With this show, it appears like DC is trying to connect the dots between their different assets – similarly to what Marvel is intending to do with their Disney Plus-exclusive productions. This may be one of the things where DC seems to be following Marvel’s steps, instead of coming up with different types of narratives.
But, for the most part, I have to give credit to DC for trying to find their own formula instead of just copying their competitor and for sticking to a more adult approach with certain products like the newest The Suicide Squad – which could end up being their main differentiator from Marvel eventually. It’s obvious they haven’t quite found a recognizable, distinctive method to build their universe, but at least they seem to be making the right questions and formulating their very own, unique answers.
James Gunn seems to agree with this way of thinking according to his interview with Bentancor, while stating the importance of playing with different tones and making movies to different audiences. He couldn’t have expressed this better: “If you don’t keep things alive and continue to take chances, then it [the movie] will die”.
Some book- or comic-based franchises choose to disappear before righting their wrongs, let alone changing their ways. In that sense, big kudos for DC.
In the same interview, Gunn even mentioned that The Suicide Squad is his favorite movie he’s ever done, “with the best cast of all time”, in his very own words. And just in case you were wondering if there’s anything that Gunn likes more about DC than Marvel (not to say it’s the only thing), is that every place is fictional; from Metropolis and Gotham to Corto Maltese. That allows them to create cultures that suit them, giving them infinite possibilities that they may have not taken full advantage on.
So yes, DC has a competitive advantage against Marvel. But they need to realize it and explore its full potential ASAP, before someone else does.
I am certain that if they keep exploring new paths, we as fans will keep watching and encouraging whatever they’re doing now. Even if they don't get it right, their proposal is still exciting and refreshing, and that’s undoubtedly the best way to start again.
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About The Author
Monterrey Institute of Technology
Bachelor's Degree in Communication and Digital Media
with certificates in Film Studies, Directing and Film Production