Suicide Squad has a lot of weight on its shoulders. It should have been a smaller movie, a fun downbeat between the epic bombast of Justice League-connected blockbusters, but it has somehow become a central point in Warner Bros’ DC Films strategy. This weird movie, featuring a bunch of villains the general audience never heard of, suddenly has to pick up the pieces left behind by Batman v Superman, which made some money but left a bad taste in audience’s mouths.
What’s funny is that Suicide Squad didn’t even begin life as a DC Universe movie. There was still a point just a few years ago where Warner Bros figured they could have all their DC-related films live separately, a notion that went out the window after Man of Steel. While I have heard rumors that some properties in development are being seen as ‘set apart’ from the main DC movieverse, I would bet that by the time they come to the screen (if they do) they’ll have links to the other films.
At any rate, Suicide Squad was never intended to be the big expansion piece for the DC movieverse, but here it is, bringing in a whole slew of new characters and kicking down the doors of magic and mysticism in a world that has been, until now, fairly grounded. Even Wonder Woman’s business in BvS is not ever presented explicitly as magical, but Suicide Squad goes there fairly early with the introduction of Enchantress, a 6000 year old demonic being inhabiting the body of an archeologist who stumbled upon her tomb. It’s big magic, crazy magic, weird magic, and it’s truly unike anything we’ve seen in the DC films or, for that matter, the Marvel movies, which have tried to keep their magical elements as a mysterious extension of known science and quantum physics.
Exploding the boundaries of the DC movieverse would be enough pressure for a film that is based on an obscure comic and that features obscure characters, but now it has to do that in a climate where a lot of people didn’t like BvS. The film is saddled with the need to course-correct the DC movieverse, to present a vision for the future of the franchise that isn’t as grim and po-faced… and it has to do it in a film filled with murderous villains! My review is embargoed until tomorrow, but it is surprising how much more heroic the villains in Suicide Squad are then the “heroes” of BvS.
Financially the movie is in an interesting place as well. I have heard whispers that the actual budget is way, way higher than any budgets that have been officially acknowledged, and that means the movie has a much steeper path to walk to success. The good news for Suicide Squad is that, even with a budget inflated by massive third act reshoots, it’s coming out late in a really shitty summer. People haven’t been to the movies much this year, and the film’s marketing has been extraordinarily strong, which is partially why it’s been tracking so well. The movie should open, and I’m willing to bet it’s going to have a smaller week two drop than BvS did.
Suicide Squad is really the movie that shows the difference in how Marvel and DC are approaching their films. Marvel took a slower path, building up its franchises into blockbusters, before it began getting obscure and weird with Guardians of the Galaxy (to which Suicide Squad owes a massive, incredible debt). By the time we got to Guardians the Marvel brand meant something on its own, and audiences were ready to trust them and go for something very, very different. Suicide Squad, on the other hand, is the third movie in the DC movieverse - Warner Bros isn’t building to anything, they’re just diving right in.
It’s an interesting approach, and I’m curious to see how it pans out. The DC movieverse has a much more in media res feeling to it; while Superman is getting a lot of lip service in the movie as the first metahuman, it’s quite clear from the sheer number of villains in Suicide Squad that the DC movieverse was weird as hell before he showed up (just the casual way that Rick Flagg talks about Katana having a sword that swallows the souls of those it kills indicates that citizens of the DC movieverse are familiar with the bizarre). Where Marvel is unfolding its universe, DC is taking a much bigger approach, saying that a lot of stuff is established before the movies started. It’s a universe already in motion.
Will audiences take to it? I suspect that Marvel did a lot of the heavy lifting in the last nine years, pushing what audiences will accept in a movie towards the more odd. You don’t need scenes where characters justify their code names or outfits anymore - in Suicide Squad Deadshot is just Deadshot, and sometimes he wears his mask. It doesn’t take the audience out of the movie at this point; they’ve come to understand the tropes of the superhero genre. That’s going to benefit the DC movieverse, which needs audiences to hit the ground running.
The DC movieverse will continue on, regardless of Suicide Squad’s reception. But this is the movie where Warner Bros has the chance to start the process of steering the big, lumbering ship that is the DC movieverse towards something that will resonate with a wider audience. It is, in many ways, a pivotal film in the evolution of this comic book movie megafranchise, despite not being built to carry all that weight.