When word first broke that, having rebooted the Batman series to great success with Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros. was looking to do the same with Superman, the skeptics showed up immediately. Claiming that there was simply no way of adding an alien superhero into the world of The Dark Knight, the doubters were right: and neither Zack Snyder nor the studio wanted to try. The answer was a brand new Man of Steel, designed with Nolan's grounded, 'serious' approach in mind. Only later was it revealed that the world had been created with an entire DC Extended Universe in mind. And with aliens down, it seems the studio is moving onto the next hurdle, and it's one that seems even higher: magic.
Even when Suicide Squad was first announced, it seemed a long shot that the supernatural/magical 'powers' of the team may be downgraded to keep Superman as the top dog in the DCEU. But from the first look at Enchantress, it was clear that writer/director David Ayer was going all the way with the mysticism and occult magic behind the heroine/antagonist. With apprehension or outright concern that adding magic to the DCEU may cause undesirable ripples, we had the chance to find out more about the decision to fully embrace the supernatural (and what form it will take) while visiting the movie's set.
During our visit on set, we first had the opportunity to talk to producer Richard Suckle about the film's cast, with the dark, brooding, unsettling image of Cara Delevingne's Enchantress looming over the proceedings. And as we learned about her new "witch" design, it became clear that she, Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and the villain of the film, the mysterious 'Adversary' weren't shying away from the occult at all.
As we shifted the conversation towards the scene of the Squad's mission, the devastation wrought by the Adversary and his mysterious "Eyes," Suckle confirmed that the strange aspects of the movie weren't being kept a secret, just that the nature of magic in the film is something audiences will need to see play out for themselves:
"There's magic in this movie. There’s things that are happening that are unexplainable. Some of them may be attributed to magic. Some of them may be attributed to other things. Maybe they're scientific, but, yes, it's not just someone coming into the city and laying waste. This obviously is clearly... Something has happened, and the Squad is sent into Midway City to try and fix a problem, but that problem is something that you learn more and more about as the movie unfolds."
Fair enough. But that still raises the question of exactly how David Ayer intends to get people to buy into magical lore, when the movie is set in a (at least on the surface) 'serious' cinematic universe. That, and it's not exactly been his field of expertise given his filmography. But Ayer is a fan of the harshest, most realistic sides of the world, telling stories of crime, order, desperation, and corruption in areas people tend not to look for them.
According to costume designer Kate Hawley, those same motivations informed the shape of Suicide Squad's world, including its take on magic. Stating the director's overall message to be "chasing the real," that also means this version of magic will be real, not "fantasy." Later, we had the chance to hear Ayer explain it himself:
“Think of it this way: religion, mythology, magic is something that’s been through human history, throughout human history. The belief in the supernatural, belief in transformative abilities and everything. So if you look to the past, how did people understand and think of things, and even today there’s people of incredible faith who believe in miracles, and there’s a pantheon of world gods, all with these amazing inspired abilities. So all the answers are there."
It's encouraging to hear that Ayer has turned to human history for the mythology and power behind some of DC's more outlandish characters (or in the case of Katana, the mystic elements of an otherwise traditional Japanese hero). After all, Kryptonian, Amazonian, and Apokoliptian history is expected to inform half of the Justice League - why can't humans get their time in the archaeological spotlight?
It may seem like the kind of decision that millions, if not billions of dollars could depend upon for Warner Bros., since magic could - could - be the wild card that brings the house tumbling down. Again, it's not as if the DCEU is off to a universally praised start, but that would be even more of a reason to weigh the risks.
But there wasn't an ounce of studio pressure, or even compromise implied when discussing that decision with Richard Suckle. Apparently, the oft-mentioned "filmmaker driven approach" being followed by WB meant David Ayer's idea led the way, based on the success and potential of making this film the best it could be, not thinking of what lay ahead:
"I don't think it was a hard choice. It was just, once we decided, and David felt that the Enchantress should be part of the movie, part and parcel of having that character meant you're embracing what comes along with her. It just sort of naturally happened. I know I sound like a broken record saying that, but you know the fact is, magic is a part of this movie. Magic is a part of the movie because, of course, the Enchantress is in it. And David completely embraced it. And it’s something we felt hadn’t been done. At least I don't think... it hasn't been done in a DC movie and I can't say I know every single Marvel film… but it was something that really just naturally evolved, and as soon as David said I want her to be a part of the movie, the qualities and the attributes and the abilities that she has come along with her.
"I don't think it's pressure [speaking on potential DCEU films that may follow their lead]. I think it just pushes the envelope. You know, there’s so much entertainment out there and there are so many choices beyond comic book films. You need to come up with ways that you feel that you're giving audiences new and different things. You're not just inventing them. They're actually there for the taking. These characters have these abilities, they have these qualities. So to be able to cherry-pick, let's say, and pick ones that actually can show aspects that haven't necessarily been captured on film before, I think is really exciting. And that was really exciting to David, I know, because we discussed it."
As if those excited for the film's release needed any more reason to hope it succeeds, it sounds like a success for Suicide Squad may give future DCEU filmmakers even more freedom - even in establishing areas of the DCEU that other writers and directors may need to adapt.
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.