There was a time when the greatest comic book movie to ever be released was considered by many (if not most) to be Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Casting off the neon, the gadgets, and instead sticking to cerebral drama, audiences of die-hard comic book fans and casual moviegoers alike all thanked Nolan for finally taking the Batman seriously. But just as the implied call for more grounded, gritty, intense, and ‘mature’ comic book movies echoed around the world, the backlash came almost immediately. With Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (produced by Nolan) and Batman V Superman criticized for being “too serious” or “not much fun,” those entrusted with the future of the DCEU took a moment to regroup – with the Suicide Squad already barreling toward completion.
To a large part, critics and bloggers saw what they wanted to see. Rumors that David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, itself viewed as a gritty, street-level crime film were going in for reshoots had only one explanation to those who believed Warner Bros.’ leadership was scrambling: the reshoots would add more humor, more jokes, as a direct reaction to the BvS criticism. While David Ayer came out and dismissed that rumor immediately, we couldn’t yet share what we learned on the set of Suicide Squad, having asked Ayer how he saw his film compared to the “serious” tone the DCEU was establishing, with so much oddball humor already evident.
It’s not an easy question to ask a writer or director while filming, since any behind-the-scenes Blu-ray featurette or director commentary usually reveals that some of a movie’s funniest moments are unscripted or chance. But when we asked Ayer if his tale of screwball supervillains was going to be as dark as the first trailer implied (with the most unnerving take on the Joker yet), his response went far, far deeper than classifying his particular story or cast as “serious” or “funny”:
“It’s both. I think it’s both. Drama - you know, the Greek symbol for drama is happy mask, sad mask. If you have too much of one, it’s imbalanced. And I think the best movies are the ones that can make you double over in laughter and cry. Which I hope this will do for the audience. I think people will be really surprised by how much humor is in the movie. But at the same time, it’s honest, situational, character-based humor versus like, the low hanging fruit, You know? You really believe it, it’s really germane to these characters.”
Although his description of the movie’s tone can’t convey the impression of energy, attitude or personality of the finished film (or at least the one that’s been so successfully marketed to this point), it’s a much-needed reminder that those referring to the budding DCEU as “too serious” aren’t hitting the real issue. Fans can get behind a serious story, with serious issues (we sincerely, hope) if executed to their liking. But if it lacks the balance Ayer is pursuing, the wear and tear star to show.
It works in either direction, too. Frankly, the claim by some that the upcoming Justice League movie will be moving things in the right direction by “adding more jokes” could be just as worrying – unless there were critics who actually longed for “more jokes” instead of a more compelling story or character work. But as the first writer and director not connected to a Zack Snyder film who will be placing a new brick in the foundations of the DC Extended Universe, the launch of Suicide Squad could completely change the game. After all, when it’s released, people may realize that “a DC movie” and “a Zack Snyder movie” are no longer synonymous.
Going by the impressions on set, the grim tone of Snyder’s films may just be a sign of the filmmaker-driven approach being followed by WB, in that it was simply Snyder’s way of telling the story he had to tell (by comparison, the producers believe the next chapter was always going to change the structure). That doesn’t fall to other creators, and perhaps most surprisingly, the mind behind stories like Training Day, Harsh Times, Sabotage and Fury already knew that his film wouldn’t be what people expected before production had even wrapped.
And while Ayer may not praise his own writing, his producers Richard Suckle and Andy Horwitz felt the comedy would be a surprising feature for most audiences:
Richard Suckle: The movie has a fantastic sense of humor, all the while being serious when it needs to be serious. It delivers on the action, but the sense of humor is something that I found... It really went well in the script, but now you see it on camera. It's a great cocktail, I guess, is the way to describe it. In order to have outrageous characters, I think they have to be able to say outrageous things. I always find films, whether they be comic book movies or not, when you have a serious situation it really accentuates the drama and the tension when you can offset it with a joke, if that joke fits within the tone and the context of the movie. It happened naturally. You look at a movie like Man of Steel, of course it's going to have its dramatic qualities and a seriousness, but this film really actually does allow for there to be a sense of humor.
Andy Horwitz: Look at the characters that are all together. I think just organically, the comedy just comes out of these people being together and having such different temperaments and different attitudes and different outlooks on life… It's amazing how the delivery of lines and how much fun they’re having. And David, of course, is coming up with things on set, and throwing lines at them. Everyone laughs about it, and of course will probably be some of the funnier stuff in the movie, at the end of the day.
If you still have doubts, David Ayer delivers the one summary that may be most surprising:
“I think that it’s going to be a lot more accessible than people think. I really believe that. And I’ve got kids, I want my kids to see this.”
If that isn’t a relief – albeit a little surprising, given the conversation surrounding an R-Rating in recent months – then we don’t know what is. Still, we might recommend parents see what thrills Joker has in store before taking their children… just to be safe.
Are you relieved to hear that the Suicide Squad will be funnier, and more accessible than Ayer’s track record of hard-hitting street stories might imply? Or are you disappointed that the story won’t be as dark, violent, or “mature” as you had hoped?
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016; Wonder Woman is slated for release on June 2, 2017; followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash is currently without a release date.