«Suicide Squad» was supposed to be DC’s version of Marvel Studios’ 2014 surprise hit «Guardians of the Galaxy». A story about a dysfunctional group whose members couldn’t be more different and who will have to overcome their animosity to defeat evil.
Only difference is, the titular «Suicide Squad» are themselves bad guys. The only thing that differentiates them from the actual villains of the movie is that those bad guys are slightly worse. At heart then, the Suicide Squad isn’t that evil. Maybe semi-evil. Sounds interesting. This was reinforced on 1 January 2016, when the first trailer came out. The Queen-laden energetic ad promised us the «worst heroes ever».
This all changed when Warner Brothers, the studio behind the movie, realised director David Ayer’s version would turn out much darker than the shamelessly funny trailer promised. Because here’s a bit of background information: trailers for movies are often cut before the movie itself.
The studio intervened. This according to anonymous insiders who spilled the beans to the Hollywood Reporter. Nothing about this story has been officially confirmed, as those who know the truth either signed non-disclosure agreements or have to put on a straight face and pretend nothing’s wrong. Against their best interests.
July 2014. Marvel just released «Guardians of the Galaxy» and is basking in its glory. Critics and audiences agree: whoever can throw together a solid movie involving a talking raccoon and a tree who can only say «I», «am» and «Groot» – only in that order as well – can do pretty much anything.
Former Warner Brothers CEO Kevin Tsujihara – now former due to a sex scandal – sees this as his chance. With the «Harry Potter» and «Hobbit» franchises both complete, the studio is looking for a new cash cow: DC Comics. Inspired by Marvel’s success, Tsujihara announces ten DC movies in October 2014. Among them is «Suicide Squad», slated for the summer of 2016 with director David Ayer at the helm.
Tsujihara’s ambition would be his downfall, however. Experienced directors best suited for these films decline to join, as they claim projects of this magnitude require more time to produce. Usually four to five years. Too long for Warner Brothers. Inexperienced directors, on the other hand, trust their instincts, signing on just for the opportunity. Something Ayer would later on regret.
The director apparently had six weeks to finish the script. And now that the public knows about the premiere and deals with branding and merchandising partners are going full-force, a change in schedule is impossible.
Chaos is guaranteed.
August 2015. Shooting in Toronto, Canada has wrapped. Post-production begins: the director and editors cut the film, digital effects are created, sound effects added and music composed. At the same time, the marketing machine revs its engine: billboards, trailers, interviews and making-ofs. All the stops. It’s the deciding phase, when hours of filmed material is shaped and the viewing audience enticed.
In January 2016, Trailer Park releases the now fan-favourite Bohemian Rhapsody-filled trailer to «Suicide Squad». All seems well. It’s the quiet before the storm: two months thereafter, «Batman v. Superman» hits cinemas and is critically panned. Too dark. Too serious and edgy. It grosses only 873 million dollars at the worldwide box office, far below expectations.
A PR disaster.
Warner Brothers has their backs against the wall. If «Suicide Squad» fails, Tsujihara’s whole DC strategy will come into question. When it comes to light that David Ayer wants to tell a darker story, going against the anarchic bubble gum-pink tone of Trailer Park’s trailer, the studio acts: Ayer can continue creating his own version, but Trailer Park has to make its own cut, fitting to the trailer. A selected test audience will decide which version shall be screened.
The actors are called back for extensive re-shoots in April 2015. The reason? All jokes filmed by Ayer were already included in the trailer. To create the required light-hearted cut, new jokes need to be written.
A month later, both edits are screened in front of a test audience from California. Their reactions aren’t encouraging, according to the Hollywood Reporter: while Trailer Park’s version seems like a two-hour long trailer, Ayer’s cut has the same problem as «Batman v. Superman»: it’s too dark. Alarm bells ring through Warner Brothers. Three months from the premiere.
It’s going to be a tight squeeze.
Warner Brothers tries to make the best out of the pile of shards that now is «Suicide Squad». After the test screening’s feedback, the studio demands a third version from Trailer Park. A middle ground between Ayer’s and their cut. This is the one that will be in cinemas. Did they strike gold?
No. Critics and audiences agree: the movie is as confused as the production history before it. Rotten Tomatoes, a website that collects and aggregates reviews, gives both films a 27% rating. It’s the same story on IMDb, an online movie databank. «Suicide Squad’s» metascore is even worse than «Batman v. Superman’s» – its 40/100 beating out 44/100.
Things only get worse when an insider blabs to the Hollywood Reporter. They claim that due to the expensive re-shoots and marketing campaign, the movie needs to make 750-800 million dollars just to cover its losses. Warner Brothers has one stroke of luck, however. Maybe thanks to its popular marketing campaign. As of writing, «Suicide Squad» has grossed 747 million dollars. Not the envisioned golden goose, but not a financial flop either.
A godsend for the producers, as they wipe the sweat off their brow.
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