Thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy, the Hollywood studios are more emboldened than ever before to adapt just about anything into a movie. In the past two weeks alone, we’ve heard that Shazam, The Legion of Super-Heroes, Doctor Strange, and Deadpool are definitely in development, with Strange and Deadpool already having release dates. Those run the gamut from fairly well-known to “never heard of it before.” Today was different, though. At least it was for me. This time the comic book being made into a film is one I’ve read before. I even have several volumes of it on my Kindle. It’s The Suicide Squad!
Well, it’s not officially being made into a film. Instead, what we have is a report from Variety claiming Training Day writer David Ayer is nearing a deal to direct a Suicide Squad film from a script by Justin Marks. The Hollywood Reporter later clarified Marks actually wrote his script back in 2011, but it was put on the backburner when Warner Bros. chose to focus entirely on building up to a Justice League film. Well, now that the studio has announced release dates for 9 currently untitled DC films through 2020 Suicide Squad is again a priority, with the search for a director having been underway for several months now.
What’s the Suicide Squad?
Modeled after The Dirty Dozen and Mission Impossible and first introduced in 1959 (but re-introduced as we’ve come to know them in 1987), the Suicide Squad is a team of incarcerated villains who perform dangerous missions with low chances of survival for the U.S. Government in exchange for reduced prison sentences. As a result of this set-up, the team’s roster is in constant flux, though Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, and Captain Boomerang are usually involved. The last time I read the New 52 version the group included Deadshot and Boomerang along with Cheetah, King Shark, Count Vertigo, and Harley Quinn. However, it was re-launched as The New Suicide Squad in July with a team consisting of Joker’s Daughter, Deathstroke, Black Manta along with Deadshot and Quinn. From what I’ve seen, some of the members are presented in a sympathetic light, especially Deadshot and his “doing it all for my daughter” angle whereas others are just no good and never will be. Amanda Waller is historically their government handler, and is pretty much a cold-hearted bitch with a capital “B” (in the best, most ruthless way possible). She’s been behind the group throughout the New 52.
Wait, you mean that group from Arrow?
Yep. Well, technically, the Suicide Squad made their live action debut during the 10th and final season of Smallville as a team consisting of Deadshot, Plastique, Warp, and Rick Flag. However, a lot of us had stopped watching Smallville by that point. The group seems to be most known now for its appearance on Arrow last season where the show threw together 3 of its recurring villains (Deadshot, Shrapnel, Bronze Tiger) with full-time character John Diggle (David Ramsay) and his ex-wife Lyla Michaels. Amanda Waller was around as the boss, and there was even a cameo from Harley Quinn, though we never saw her face.
Aren’t they talking about bringing them back this season on Arrow? Or maybe even doing a spin-off?
David Ramsay let it slip to reporters at Comic-Con that Arrow’s producers are actually talking about doing a Suicide Squad spin-off, like a mini-season which could air during Arrow’s mid-season hiatus (exactly what ABC is doing with Agent Carter to Agents of SHIELD). The reason is mostly because the show’s social media following seems to be begging for it. Stephen Amell recently voiced his strong support for that plan, although he did so while joking that it would probably mean fewer overall episodes of Arrow this season thus giving him some time off for a change. Failing that, the producers would apparently settle for doing 2 to 3 Suicide Squad-centric Arrow episodes.
I feel like I saw them in a cartoon once…
They appeared in Justice League Unlimited’s brilliant episode “Task Force X,” recruited by Rick Flag, Jr. as a team consisting of Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Plastique, and The Clock King. They are charged with infilitrating the Justice League’s insanely fortified Watchtower, and it turns into a fun, Mission Impossible-esque heist except here they don’t really care if one of their members gets left behind.
No, it wasn’t that one….
Then it must be Batman: Assault on Arkham, DC’s most recent direct-to-video animated film. As you can guess by the title, this one wants you to think it’s a Batman movie connected to the insanely popular Arkahm video games. Well, it is set in the same fictional universe as the games, but it’s not really a Batman movie. It’s actually a Suicide Squad movie featuring extended cameos from Batman and The Joker, but if you can get past the bait-and-switch you’ll find an insanely awesome and often hilarious film highlighting just how fun it is to watch a couple of anti-heroes (Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Black Spider) and straight-up villains (King Shark, Killer Frost, Captain Boomerang) infiltrate Arkham Asylum. Multiple Squad members die during the story, and it’s kind of refreshing how little anyone else really cares. At one point, Amanda Waller actually calls Batman a “punk.” It is exactly the type of movie Warner Bros. should be doing more of with its low-risk, direct-to-video animated features, exploiting a somewhat unknown commodity as a market-testing pre-cursor to a potential live-action adaptation. Well, it’s too early to say how well Assault on Arkham is doing financially (it just came out last month), but they must like what they’re seeing because now they’re talking to David Ayer to direct.
Who’s David Ayer?
Ayer seems to be mostly regarded as a rather intense fella best known for cop or WWII movies not a lot of people actually see. His more commercially successful efforts include U571, Training Day, the first Fast and the Furious, Street Kings, and End of Watch whereas his somewhat critically admired but criminally underseen efforts include Dark Blue (about the Rodney King riots), Harsh Times, and Sabotage (actually, critics hated that one). His next film is the mid-October release Fury, a WWII flick starring Brad Pitt and Shia Lebouf.
If you want to know why Ayer’s being considered to direct Suicide Squad, just look at the plot of 2003’s S.W.A.T., for which he adapted the script from an old 1970’s TV show:
Six months after an unfortunate incident with a gang of bank robbers and their hostages, the chief of police calls on Sergeant Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson) to help re-organize the SWAT division. Hondo puts together a diverse team, including himself, former U.S. Navy Seal Jim Street (Colin Farrell), Christina Sánchez (Michelle Rodriguez), Deacon Kaye (LL Cool J), TJ McCabe (Josh Charles), and Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt). The team members train together, eventually forging bonds of friendship. As a result, their first mission to subdue an unstable gunman is a success.
Okay, right up until that last part where the team becomes genuine friends that could all easily translate to a Suicide Squad movie. Ayer showcased a similar team dynamic among special ops soldiers in Sabotage, which he both wrote and directed.
It’s not hard, then, to see why he’s being considered for the job. The only problem is that Ayer’s film’s tend to be ultra-serious whereas part of the appeal of the Suicide Squad in the comics is the black comedy inherit to a group of bad guys forced to work together, often times paired with characters not so much bad but criminally insane, like the delightfully nutty Harley Quinn. Her interactions with Deadshot in the New 52 run of the group has been particularly enjoyable. However, Warner Bros. does apparently have a rule about “no jokes” in their DC films, to best carve out an identity counter to Marvel’s more joke-y approach. That would kind of miss out on what makes the Suicide Squad so much fun, though. There’s actually a slight Guardians of the Galaxy quality to them, a team of criminals and thugs and what-not.
Could this actually work as a film?
This sounds like a potential Expendables team-up action flick or perhaps even a Now You See Me caper story, both of which cost between $75-80 million to make. That would make Suicide Squad one of those lower budget DC movies Warner Bros. has rumored to be considering since last December, and the real question would be whether they’d let it be as R-rated as the comics (Batman: Assault on Arkham is a pretty hard PG-13).
However, it will have to deal with most of the same challenges as the Sinister Six, Spider-Man’s supergroup of bad guys currently being turned into a film at Sony. Can a movie about a bunch of bad guys really work? How many of the characters do you introduce in separate films, and how many do you just drop into your own movie? What kind of conflict can you have if your main characters are all a bunch of bad guys (easy: you give them something even more evil to fight)? Moreover, in the case of Suicide Squad what team members do you use? Harley Quinn is super popular right now, but is she off limits since she’s so connected to the Batman universe? Even if she’s not off-limits for a non-Batman film, how do you seriously explain The Joker’s girlfriend without first giving us her origin story in a Batman film?
The reality is that in the comics a lot of the times publishers like to create ensemble casts out of characters they may not have any individual story ideas at the moment, and one such option is to simply lump a bunch of your lesser villains together. Part of what makes it fun and interesting in The Suicide Squad is it allows the characters to be seen in a different light, not defined by being placed in opposition to a notable hero like Batman or The Flash. Invariably, in this set-up certain characters emerge as anti-heroes and others are just rotten, and the conflict between the two groups as well as their eventual efforts to unite against Amanda Waller makes for compelling reading when done well. However, a lot of this is possible because as a team-up of established characters there is little need for exposition.
A live-action film wouldn’t have that benefit. Even Arrow‘s version had established each and every member of its Squad in prior individual episodes before teaming them together. Plus, while the guy they might pick to direct it certainly has an interesting track record as far as building up teams of crimefighters he also doesn’t have much in the way of the inventiveness or visual humor which characterizes the comics. Still, as a fan of the comics I am intrigued to see what becomes of this movie going forward, if, in fact, it ever makes it past its current development stage.
What about you? What do you think of the idea of a Suicide Squad movie? Just love Harley Quinn? Let me know in the comments.