(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a new weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in!)
It’s still a little too early to tell how Warner Bros. plans for a DC Cinematic Universe will compete with Marvel as only one (1) movie in that canon has been released, but you have to give them credit for trying. WB is putting their weight behind DC movies in a big way over the next five years and they’re betting heavy on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which not only introduces Batman and Wonder Woman into the world but countless other characters. But what happens after the big team extravaganza of 2016? Back to more solo films? Nope, another team, which is smart planning.
The first DC movie following “Dawn of Justice” is David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, which certainly seems like a big risk. It’s like Marvel making Iron Man, jumping to The Avengers, and then Guardians of the Galaxy in the span of three movies instead of ten. There’s a lot more riding on Suicide Squad than just another big budget comic book movie though. In fact, I’ll argue it’s equally as important to the mythology they’re establishing on screen as “Batman v Superman.”
One of the main players in the Suicide Squad is Deadshot, the defacto field leader of Task Force X. What I love, in theory, about this film is that it has huge implications for the stories and characters of the DCCU as a whole. Deadshot is primarily a Batman villain in DC comics and in order to be a member of the Suicide Squad, he has to have been arrested and imprisoned. Will Ben Affleck’s Batman be the one who put him there? We already know that as “Dawn of Justice” starts, Affleck’s Dark Knight has been operating for a number of years and is “tired and weary,” so how many run ins has he had with Deadshot? Heroes fighting the same villain over and over again is a trope that is very common in comics but hasn’t really made its way to the big screen. Maybe we’ll hear Will Smith’s Deadshot tell the tales of the times he and Batman have faced each other.
Another character with an implied history we’re getting is The Joker, significant not only because it means Ben Affleck’s Batman has gone toe-to-toe with him, but a new face will be wearing that smile for the first time since Heath Ledger in 2008. Jared Leto will take on the role of the Clown Prince of Crime in the film, which has certainly drawn the ire of many fans, but here’s the thing: The Joker is too important to Batman to leave him out. No one can deny that Ledger’s performance was incredible, but to think of the character as sacred ground is detrimental to the entire structure of comic book movies. If one good performance made a character off limits, we would have no more Joker, no more Superman, and no more Catwoman. If you’re building a DCCU with Batman as an integral structure, then The Joker is a key pillar.
(Speculation note: I think Joker will end up being the big bad of the film, leaving Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn with the choice of going with her beloved Mr. J or her new friends in the final act.)
A third character quite important to the foundation being laid in Suicide Squad is the inclusion of The Enchantress, albeit for different reasons. The character has a history of being on the Suicide Squad and in a certain light can be portrayed as the most sympathetic member of the group (a young girl overcome with magical powers that she can’t control). What is interesting about this character’s inclusion, however, is the implications it leaves pointed at Marvel, who also has a character named The Enchantress. Suicide Squad blasts into theaters in August of 2016 and Marvel will follow it in November 2016 with Doctor Strange, which means Suicide Squad and its magical character will beat Marvel to the punch by three whole months.
The summer after Suicide Squad, Marvel Studios will release Thor: Ragnarok, and though there has been zero rumor or confirmation of including their Enchantress in the film, it’s certainly a possibility, but is it really after DC introduces their own version? Marvel had no qualms of putting Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron after his stellar appearance in X-Men: Days of Future Past, so it’s safe to say Marvel won’t be bothered, but it seems to show effort on WB’s part to partake in mind games with the competition (lest you forgot the game of chicken they played with the release date of BvS).
A final member of the fine cast assembled for Suicide Squad is Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. A character that will no doubt be called DC’s Nick Fury by some, Waller is an important voice to the DCCU franchises because she’s a powerful, strong, boisterous African American woman. This puts a character in the DC films that Marvel doesn’t have, a character that can bring in a segment of the audience that doesn’t have someone to root for yet. In fact, WB is building the entire roster of their DCCU around multicultural casting – see the Israeli Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Hawaiian-born Jason Momoa (Aquaman), and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White.
Departing from the notion of stories and characters intrinsic to DC continuity, there’s a big facet of Suicide Squad‘s importance that branches out into other studios movies. After Suicide Squad is released in August 2016, two more movies of a similar nature are set to follow: Sony’s The Sinister Six in November (if the film is even made) and the first Star Wars spin-off film, rumored to be a heist movie focusing on bounty hunters. If Suicide Squad fails, it can spell doom or at least damage for at least one of those movies (let’s face it though, not the one with “Star Wars” in the title). Should audiences accept Suicide Squad, however, that could be a good sign for these following pictures.
Suicide Squad is the first DCCU movie not directed by Zack Snyder, plus it’s loaded with characters the general public has never heard of, albeit played by actors they’re tangentially familiar with. The movie itself seems like a risk to many, and if it doesn’t meet the set-too-high expectations of the studio (like Man of Steel) it could result in shoehorning proven characters into future films or no more risky movies by WB. The success of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy helped pave the way not only for a sequel but Captain Marvel and Inhumans – imagine what the success of Suicide Squad could bring about? Demon Knights? Deathstroke? Guillermo del Toro’s Dark Universe?
This film is important to the landscape of comic book movies because of story, because it’s aiming for difference, because it’s developing important characters, and because it’s not just another hero team up. I hope this movie is a seed that can allow the DCCU to be just as eccentric and comic bookey as its counterparts. Fingers crossed that seed grows into a big, crazy man-eating plant.