Suicide Squad, officially the third film in the DC Extended Universe, has finally opened in theaters, but the response is surely not what Warner Bros. was hoping for. Writer/director David Ayer’s villain-centric film has been a highly anticipated one for some time, and even in the wake of disappointment over Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad offered hope that Warner Bros. was going to release something refreshing and exciting for the DC library. The resulting film, unfortunately, is a messy, poorly edited, borderline incoherent superhero pic, and has netted a bevy of harshly negative reviews.
However, according to a story from THR, Suicide Squad may have been the victim of too much second-guessing and rejiggering in post-production, a result of a production that was rushed to begin with, racing towards a release date without a finished script. And as we’re now firmly into the DC Extended Universe without a critically acclaimed hit, it’s time to step back and assess the damage, and admit that Warner Bros. may have rushed into this thing without learning the most important lesson from its most successful DC adaptation: Christopher Nolan’s iconic Dark Knight Trilogy.
When it comes to the DC Extended Universe, it’s not exactly a secret that Warner Bros. has been in a rush to catch up to the folks at Marvel Studios. Marvel took a risk by independently producing Iron Man in 2008, and the risk paid off to the tune of huge box office and glowing reviews. Marvel still had its stumbles to be sure, but Iron Man wasn’t the end of the studio’s “experimenting”, as the studio set about changing the franchise landscape by building an interconnected series of films, all leading up to The Avengers in 2012. That, again, was a gamble, but it also paid off tremendously to the tune of $1.5 billion.
By this point, Warner Bros. was just coming to the end of the Dark Knight trilogy spearheaded by Nolan. The filmmaker was, once and for all, done with the Batman character, and while The Dark Knight Rises scored mostly positive/mixed reviews and $1 billion at the worldwide box office, Warner Bros. suddenly found itself behind the curve in the superhero realm. Marvel had not only successfully pulled off an inter-connected universe and a team-up movie, but they did it with what many considered second-tier characters. Warner Bros., meanwhile, had the best toys in the sandbox—Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, etc.—and nothing to show for it.
And while Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot—produced by Nolan—was already in the works before The Avengers came out, Warner Bros. had been planning on simply moving forward with a new Superman series of films in the wake of Nolan concluding his Batman trilogy. As soon as The Avengers became a smashing success, however, the studio found itself wondering if maybe they too should attempt to create an inter-connected series of superhero movies.
Snyder threaded a couple of DC Universe Easter Eggs into Man of Steel, but by and large that was a standalone film that retroactively served as a backdoor pilot for the DC Extended Universe to come. While Man of Steel didn’t garner near the same critical acclaim as Nolan’s Batman Begins, it was a sizable success and WB felt confident enough to announce Batman v Superman as its next outing.
In the months following that announcement, WB’s plans solidified. They announced an ambitious lineup of DC films extending through 2020 including Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and yes, Suicide Squad. However, in an effort to play “catch up” with Marvel, Warner Bros. lost sight of what made Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy work so well in the first place: development.
When Nolan made Batman Begins, it was with a clear and radical vision for what a superhero movie could be. And while that film was a success, Warner Bros. didn’t pressure the filmmaker to get to work on a sequel immediately. Instead, Nolan went off and made The Prestige, and then returned to work on a Batman follow-up, resulting in the now-classic The Dark Knight. And even as The Dark Knight was hailed as one of the best superhero movies ever made and climbed the box office charts, Warner Bros. still wasn’t coming out and announcing a release date for Batman 3 the Monday after opening weekend. They allowed Nolan to go off and recharge his batteries on an original project, a little movie called Inception that scored $825 million at the box office—for Warner Bros., no less.
The key here is that Nolan never made a new Batman movie until he was good and ready. And even then, he had ample time to develop the script and get it in the right shape before production began. Contrast this to Suicide Squad, which had Ayer writing the screenplay at the same time as he was casting, and which—according to THR’s report—had the studio racing to hit its release date. And then, when Batman v Superman was savaged by critics and had an early drop off at the box office, the studio became nervous and started trying to turn Suicide Squad into a movie that may or may not have been the same one that was shot. Reshoots and multiple cuts of the film ensued, resulting in the Suicide Squad we have today—one that suffers from frustratingly choppy editing and a very messy narrative.
Warner Bros. hails itself as a filmmaker-driven studio, and it is. Say what you want about Batman v Superman, but that is 100% Zack Snyder’s vision. However, simply hiring visionary filmmakers doesn’t make a great movie. The filmmakers must be allowed time to properly develop and shape their movies, not stressfully chasing what may or may not be en vogue.
Looking ahead, Warner Bros.’ slate is strong. The teaser for Snyder’s Justice League instilled confidence that he’s actually crafting a joyful superhero movie, Patty Jenkins was a swell choice to direct Wonder Woman, James Wan is a curious pick for Aquaman, and Rick Famuyiwa is in line to turn The Flash into prime entertainment. It’s an admirably diverse lineup of filmmakers, but these films have also had their development issues as the studio once again was in a rush to churn these things out.
The good news is that the ship appears to be righting itself in the wake of Batman v Superman. While Aquaman was initially on a fast track with multiple scripts being written at the same time, WB recently pulled the throttle back, allowed Wan and newly installed DC Films head Geoff Johns to really nail the story, and then hired a screenwriter to pen the script. And while Seth Grahame-Smith was poised to make his directorial debut with The Flash, Warner Bros. recently changed course, instead opting for a director who they know can already handle a feature film production.
So there’s hope ahead yet, it’s just a shame these first few films out of the gate are suffering from hasty development periods. Perhaps the most highly anticipated on WB’s slate is a new Batman movie directed by Ben Affleck. But Affleck knew full well what he was getting into, and while reports have been swirling for over a year that he’s in line to co-write and direct a new Batman film, the movie doesn’t yet have a release date. Wisely, Affleck is taking his time to develop the script and ensure that the movie is the best it can be before officially moving ahead. Also wisely, Warner Bros. is letting him. Here’s hoping that trend continues.