There’s never been a better time to be a fan of comic book superheroes, with the heaviest hitters from Marvel and DC dominating the box office, and smaller, indie graphic novels being optioned left and right for films, TV shows, or miniseries. But as the comic book initiated feel the vindication of seeing these modern myths get the recognition they deserve, some continue to ask if the clock is ticking on ‘comic book movies.’ Everyone will have their own opinion, but for the director of Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad, the answer is an emphatic ‘no.’
It’s one thing to talk about superheroes as gods, myths or legendary human icons when you’re dealing with the likes of Batman and Superman, but what if your movie follows a pyromancer, an assassin, a foul-mouthed Aussie, and a human crocodile? The same rules apply, since comic fans can add David Ayer’s name to the list of directors who feel they’re not just trying their hand at the latest fad in blockbuster movie-making, but embracing the superheroes they grew up reading on a truly epic, mythic level.
The group that already includes Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck (among others), having referred to DC’s biggest heroes as godlike or American mythological heroes. It’s hard to argue, too, since more kids these days have probably heard of the exploits of Spider-Man and Batman than those of classic myths like Hercules, or folk legends like Paul Bunyan.
Still, being a fan of comic books doesn’t mean you’re uniquely equipped to make a movie exploring them - a fact many fans have seen proven already.
So when we visited the set of Suicide Squad, we made sure to ask Ayer what convinced him to tackle not just a DC Comics movie, but one focusing on some of the most broken, mentally-troubled characters in the publisher’s universe. After explaining how his World War II epic Fury showed him the potential in building a film’s universe from the ground up, he offered a more personal reason for taking on the job of both writing and directing the tale of DC’s fan-favorite villains:
"As a storyteller, there’s a mythological power in comic books. And in a lot of ways, comic book characters are really avatars for gods. You know, they’re very much of the Greek and Roman pantheon. There’s something about the epic quality of that, of that kind of character, of these characters that are avatars and almost have these superhuman powers - and some do have superhuman powers. And then to reverse engineer that into a psychologically realistic space and execution is just, I mean it’s like the perfect assignment for me."
The topic of reverse-engineering came up later, when the question of the source material he turned to for his Squad homework was raised. As evidence that digging deep - deep - into the psychological motivations of these characters is a job Ayer jumped at, he explained that no comic story was, or is written in a vacuum - but as a product of the times. That means that to truly understand where a story fits, or what it's trying to say... you've got a lot of homework to do:
"You almost have to go back to the beginnings to look at Batman and look at the origins of Superman and start there, you know? And then work your way through the canon and how it’s evolved as society’s changed. Certain elements haven’t changed, and certain elements have. The revolution going into the ‘90s, and then the graphic novel and then [Frank] Miller’s work… you sort of have to look at all that.
That’s already more devotion than most fans expect (most would be happy with a dose of fun adapting their favorite comic arc), but it’s proof of Ayer’s commitment, if nothing else. And if our suspicions prove true about which single comic book issue from the first “Suicide Squad” run Ayer has adapted for the film, a majority of the story and themes will be fleshed out by his imagination. And as tempting as it may be to be captivated by the weird brilliance of Jared Leto’s Joker, Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress, or Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the cast isn’t keeping quiet about the freedom given to their director to help them find those sweet spots.
Still, with great opportunity comes great pressure. And if the stakes were high or the odds seemed long when Suicide Squad was first announced, the rough reception of Batman V Superman means Warner Bros. and DC Films needs a certified hit to get momentum on their side. The marketing may have helped ensure success already, but as the movie was being shot, Ayer was already channeling the blockbuster pressure into the smartest direction:
"It’s impetus to not f*** it up. But look, I’m a fan too. So you know, I believe in canon, and I believe in being respectful to how storylines and characters interlock and understanding how not to break things, I think is the number one thing. Like how not to break a character, how not to do something that encroaches on the storylines and histories that have come before. I think you have to be really… yeah, it’s like archeology."
Those are the words that comic fans eager to see their favorite characters treated respectfully love to hear. It remains to be seen if any of Ayer’s changes will encroach on some beloved character traits or storylines, but given the cast’s enthusiasm to keep making sequels, we’d say the odds have shifted in his favor – which is good news for everybody.
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 without release date.