Comic book news comes and comic book news goes, but sometimes something is announced that’s just a little too big to ignore. Yesterday, news outlets reported that primary casting for Warner Brothers’ DC Comics adaptation SUICIDE SQUAD had been completed. The film, which follows a group of supervillains on a government-sponsored suicide mission for redemption, is scheduled to open in 2016. Quoth the Hollywood Reporter:
Will Smith, Tom Hardy, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto are officially set to star in SUICIDE SQUAD, Warner Bros. announced Tuesday… Smith will play Deadshot, best known as a Batman villain, while Hardy plays the group’s leader, Rick Flagg. Leto will take on the Joker, while Robbie will play Harley Quinn, his on-and-off girlfriend.
Let’s start with the obvious: there’s no denying that cast. When rumors first began circulating about the Warner Brothers wish list, back in October, a list of Academy Award winners and rising stars made sense, because everyone would choose an established name if money and creative choices were no object. Sure, Smith, Hardy, and Robbie were mentioned by name in those reports, but compare this to how many times the role of Dr. Strange has “absolutely” been cast in the Marvel universe and it’s easy to see SUICIDE SQUAD as Warner’s attempt to make a statement with their property. We have to assume that the studio threw an ungodly amount of money out to prove themselves a player in the realm of comic book adaptations.
Which makes SUICIDE SQUAD a statement film, but an odd one at best. Admittedly, I have not spent any real time with the Suicide Squad of the DC Comics. My knowledge of the series comes from my unapologetic love for all things ARROW, where the Suicide Squad has appeared in a series of cameos and one-offs over the first two seasons. Still, I feel fairly comfortable saying that Warner is putting an odd number of eggs in their SUICIDE SQUAD-shaped basket. Even if an actor is interested in joining a comic book franchise, how do you convince them to be part of an ensemble cast, especially one that does not feature a single superhero from the DC Comic oeuvre? Why break open the piggybank for a second-tier title populated by unlikable characters?
In fact, most of SUICIDE SQUAD’s production process has been a little unconventional. David Ayer is not the obvious choice as a blockbuster director, but his filmography demonstrates his affinity for antiheroes, characters who dominate the running time without conforming to the traditional narrative growth of heroes. Ayer described SUICIDE SQUAD as a “DIRTY DOZEN with supervillains,” which – if delivered upon properly – could fit neatly next to TRAINING DAY and END OF WATCH on Ayer’s list of movies about morally compromised professionals. A title like SUICIDE SQUAD also allows the studio to step away from unfair comparisons to its source material – as the average movie fan will not be familiar with the characters – and could give Ayer a shot at creating something that runs contrary to the established blockbuster format. Think a dimmer GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, only this time Jai Courtney is the talking tree.
All of which would be exciting enough if it weren’t for the inclusion of Jared Leto as the Joker. There’s just no other way around it – the Joker is the most interesting person in the DC universe. Each author has found a way to bring out the complexity of the character, either by giving him an origin story he can’t quite remember or by alternating his motives towards Batman and Gotham. While his evolution from the Clown Prince of Crime to sadistic killer may seem to make him an index of his era, there is something to be said for the ease with which the Joker flips between these two personalities. The character is as likely to squirt you with a lapel flower as he is to carve your face off and wear it; if the SUICIDE SQUAD wanted to make up for its lack of recognizable superheroes, the Joker is a pretty excellent start.
And Jared Leto is probably just the guy to make it happen. Leto has always shined the most when free to work in the periphery of a film; while his Academy Award from last year may have been a pretty obvious selection, it did demonstrate that Leto is better suited to let someone else play the straight man. Smith, Hardy, and Courtney bring an intrinsic amount of gruff stoicism to the characters that they play; if Leto find his way into the character, he and Robbie could run circles around their fellow performers in roles created to steal the show. Leto also represents a drastically different style from both Nicholson and Ledger, which should allow him to find his own voice for the character.
It’s still a bit too early to say whether SUICIDE SQUAD will be any good, but there is one final point worth making: in building up a group of A-list actors for SUICIDE SQUAD, Warner has managed a temporary media victory of their rivals at Marvel Studios. They have also completely overshadowed their own lineup of films. You’d be pretty hard-pressed to convince anyone that the cast of BATMAN v SUPERMAN is more impressive than that of SUICIDE SQUAD; finally managing to put a win on the board and still finding a way to mess up their own properties is somehow the most Warner Brothers moment in all of this comic book madness.
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