When DC snatched director James Gunn from under Marvel’s nose, one thing was extremely clear: It was the pop culture coup of the new decade. After making the misfit and previously unheard of heroes of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ virtually household names, to have the good fortune of having him be free of Marvel duties at the right time must be the stuff made of fairy tales.
(After a minor kerfuffle, Gunn is back to working on ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 3’.)
And when given the chance to make a story with just about anybody from the DC pantheon of heroes, Gunn zeroed in on the worst of the worst super villains: the Suicide Squad. That the squad had a full-length feature released on them just five years ago (David Ayer’s critical flop but box office hit) was not an issue, especially when you have an auteur like Gunn steering the wheel
“I have loved the Suicide Squad since I was very young,” Gunn says. “They’re one of my favourite groups of comic book anti-heroes. I’m always interested in people who have not lived their best lives and have an opportunity to become something better — a chance at redemption. Some of them take it, some don’t; it’s humanity in all its various degrees of morality, and I get to put it on screen in a really grand, exciting way, with aliens and monsters and a walking shark.”
After just a weekend of revisiting legendary DC writer John Ostrander’s run from the 1980s that reintroduced the Squad, a favourite of Gunn’s as a boy, the auteur’s ideas began to crystallise. “I don’t come at any movie I make thinking how I’m going to set it apart from other movies,” Gunn adds. “I just come from the point of view of telling a story I want to tell as well as I possibly can, and ‘The Suicide Squad’ was exceptionally exciting to me. I was emboldened by everyone’s faith in me to take whatever risks, kill whatever characters, tell the story in whatever outlandish way I wanted… total freedom. I was enlivened by the whole process.”
‘The Suicide Squad’ brings together some already familiar and some deep cuts from the comic books to make the Task Force. The rogues’ gallery includes Bloodsport, Peacemaker, Captain Boomerang, Ratcatcher 2, Savant, King Shark, Blackguard, Javelin and everyone’s favourite psycho, Harley Quinn. Trekking through a jungle teeming with militant adversaries and guerrilla forces at every turn, the Squad is on a search-and-destroy mission with only Colonel Rick Flag on the ground to make them behave… and Amanda Waller’s government techies in their ears. Will anyone survive?
The cast on James Gunn’s vision
Actor Idris Elba, who plays Bloodsport in the movie, dubs Gunn “an artist with a capital A”. “James, you know, he’s the complete story. He’s all vision. So in preparing it’s kind of like walking into an artist’s studio, and the artist says to you, ‘Right, we’re going to do a painting. I want you to help me do it. Here’s my paint brush and here’s my favourite colour’. It was really like stepping into James’s head. And that was different, in a sense. You know, you make a movie sometimes and the director hasn’t written the material, and it can feel a bit cobbled together. But in this case, James had really lived this story and this script. It’s great stepping into his mind.”
Elba is also quick to say that as much as Gunn had a tight control on the story and the resultant script, he was as giving when it came to artistic license with the cast. “He does give you a lot of license. John Cena and I both had a lot of license to allow our characters grow. When I read the script my character didn’t even have a name. It was like, ‘Okay, we don’t know what we’re calling him yet’. So there was a lot of room for growth while making the film, as well.”
Cena, on the other hand, remembers one specific direction from Gunn that really helped him bring the role of Peacemaker to life. The pair had previously discussed the role extensively — Peacemaker’s background, his moral compass, and so forth. Then, on the first day of shooting, everything went out the window when Gunn gave Cena one final note. “On the third pass of the beach sequence, James said, ‘Be like a douchey Captain America who would shoot a kid.’ That summed it up,” says Cena.
Joel Kinnaman, who is returning to play Col. Rick Flag, had this to say about Gunn’s direction, “Originally it was just a very cool project to be a part of, but I didn’t know much about it. I hadn’t heard of the Suicide Squad before I joined the first iteration of the film. Then, this time around, we were all just so stoked that we had James Gunn to jump on board; everyone was suddenly really excited. When I read his script, I really had that feeling that it was what everyone was hoping ‘The Suicide Squad’ would be. It was this chaotic, violent, funny, silly, big movie, but at the same time it had these tender, intimate moments between characters. It was crazy and silly, but it also had a soul.”
A central part and returning riff of the storyline is also the power tussle between Cena’s Peacemaker and Elba’s Bloodsport, both vying to be the leader of their intrepid set of anti-heroes. “John Cena’s a gem of a guy,” says Elba. “I’ve always been a fan of his as a wrestler and as an entertainer, and now as an actor. He’s really good at what he does, yet always learning. Very collaborative, very open, to a point where it’s almost a little uncomfortable how open he can be. [Laughs.] And he’s also an improvisational genius… It was great fun to watch him pull this character together. And James [Gunn], he was feeding the engine and the energy between us the whole time. He’s say, ‘Try this. Try that. What happens if you do this?’ The sets on this film were quite vast, so James would be way over in video village on the mic, and you’d just hear this voice from the gods encouraging us to be sillier and sillier.”
No talk about ‘The Suicide Squad’ is complete without mentioning Margot Robbie, returning to the role of Harley Quinn. Harley, re-incarcerated for making a cash withdrawal with her car, buys her freedom once more by joining the Squad.
Robbie states, “I love playing Harley. I don’t know when I’ll ever get sick of playing Harley, she’s such a catalyst of chaos. And every time a different director approaches the character, I think they gravitate towards certain aspects of the character that they find intriguing or interesting, and then I get to explore all these different angles of Harley.”
On Gunn, Robbie notes, “James is clearly a comic book fan, so reading his script I could see that the character was in the hands of someone who respects the source material and was excited about incorporating whatever he could for the comic book fans. And his humour is incredibly weird and specific, which is perfect for Harley and all of these characters, but there’s also a lot of heart; everyone gets their moment. On top of that, he’s such a visionary director that I could tell the scope of the project was just going to be massive — which it was. He pulls off the bizarre in such a spectacular and cinematic way.”
Actor Iris Elba says: “I just hope people realise that imagination is not dead, you know what I mean? Storytelling is the absolute lifeblood of what we do, it’s why we are who we are as a species on this planet. And so when you’ve got all these great storytellers telling an incredibly imaginative and empathetic story, I think the audience really enjoys that. It’s why we love cinema. You go out and you experience it together. I want people to fall in love with cinema again.”
Don’t miss it!
‘The Suicide Squad’ comes to UAE cinemas on August 5.