ON SET WITH THE SUICIDE SQUAD
Dc’s most wanted on why it’s good to be bad
When Batman V Superman was released earlier this year it didn’t just promise an epic clash of the titans, it was also the launch pad for an Extended Universe road-mapped right through to 2020. Things didn’t exactly go to plan. After a critical beatdown and toxic word of mouth, BvS made a relatively underwhelming $872 million at the box office, well short of the expected billion dollar benchmark, leading many to wonder what DC could do to earn back the goodwill they squandered. The answer was already in the can.
joker in the pack?
It’s July 2015 and SFX is at Pinewood Toronto Studios, base of operations for David Ayer’s big-screen Suicide Squad adaptation. The facility’s humongous soundstages are currently home to several of the tailor-made cells for Belle Reve penitentiary’s notorious inmates, as well as a full-size train station entrance modelled on New York’s Penn Station. A massive battle between Task Force X – the supervillains forced to fight for their government – and a mysterious, otherworldly threat known as the Eyes of the Adversary is due to be shot here later in the week, but today filming has moved to Buttonville Municipal Airport where the Squad, recently released from prison and freshly implanted with coercive nanite bombs in their necks, are reunited with the gear confiscated when they were thrown in the slammer.
While Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) hacks away at her long hair with a pair of scissors and reptilian cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) tears open his prison-regulation vest like a late ’80s Hulk Hogan, Will Smith’s Floyd Lawton, aka master marksman Deadshot, has a moment of introspection when strapping on his wrist-mounted magnums. “Every time I put this on somebody dies,” he muses. “And?” comes the response. “I like putting it on.” Though the Squad boasts its fair share of psychotics, sociopaths and straight-up nutjobs, Deadshot serves as the group’s level-headed leader. In practice if not on paper, at least, with Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and her man-in-the-field Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) still pulling the real strings. “[Deadshot’s] the rational one of the group,” writer/ director David Ayer tells SFX during a brief pause between filming. “Trustworthy isn’t the word, but he’s the one that you could sit down and have a beer with. He’s sort of an axis to build the squad around.”
In building the Squad Ayer went back
to the ’80s – namely John Ostrander’s highly influential run on the Suicide Squad comics. “I really studied the Ostrander series,” Ayer says. “I love the sense of Cold War paranoia and the manipulation of the Suicide Squad by the powers that be; how they’re caught between these millstones of government and truly more impressive villains. It’s such a rich world. I mean, any one comic issue can almost be three films.
“And then you have the New 52,” Ayer continues, “Which introduces some fantastic new characters, like El Diablo and King Shark. I think [fans] are going to be surprised by how much orthodoxy is in there, and how faithful this is to the DC canon, which I think is very important. You want to be loyal to the people that have really built the DC universe, which is the readers.”
i think fans are going to be surprised by how faithful this is to canon
the joker is probably the best-known villain in the world
But with the Squad’s membership constantly in flux thanks to a sky-high mortality rate, how did Ayer settle on the final line-up, including sharpshooter Deadshot, psychotic pixie dream girl Harley Quinn, military man Rick Flag, Flag’s samurai bodyguard Katana, antipodean assassin Captain Boomerang, firestarter Diablo, ancient witch Enchantress and master of ropes Slipknot? “It’s more of a gut thing. Like, ‘Wow, I want to see these characters together.’” Ayer explains. “Obviously, I drew on the New 52. And a lot of them were Batman villains, so everything neatly tied together.”
To that end Ayer enlisted the ultimate Batman villain – the Joker. Jared Leto’s Clown Prince of Crime has been subjected to incessant scrutiny since his radical makeover was first revealed. The Joker isn’t part of Task Force X, however. Appropriately, he’ll act as the film’s wildcard, appearing predominantly in flashbacks which chronicle the Joker’s corruption of Dr Harleen Quinzel and their ascension to king and queen of Gotham’s criminal underworld. As you might expect, it was the character Ayer had the toughest time writing.
“The Joker is probably the best-known villain in the world,” Ayer says. “If you look at him in terms of what he represents mythologically – a force of chaos, a prankster, a trickster, evil with a smile – there’s something universal about him. The idea is what are the universal qualities? And then come up with a fresh version that’s not different just to be different, but is the Joker and is that character, with a bit of a different wrapper and a little bit of a different execution. He has to be very respectful and elegantly crafted, because you really are following in the footsteps of giants.
“He’s very much in the canon, but with some modern twists,” Ayer continues. “He’s a bit of a modern villain. He dresses contemporarily. He obviously has tattoos. Yet at the same time, I went to great lengths to honour his look and his history. I think it’s
important that when people see the film, they will see the Joker. He’s almost bigger than the film, bigger than the comics. There’s something really transcendent about what he represents, and I feel like that definitely came through.”
His and hers
Alongside a new Joker, the film also marks the big-screen debut of a live-action Harley Quinn. As well as injecting a much-needed sense of fun into the DCEU, Harley’s twisted relationship with Mistah J will power the film’s most important subplot. “He loves her, but he can never admit it,” says Ayer. “And he hates that he needs her, and it drives him even crazier. And she loves him. It really is this epic romance. And then it’s just this jockeying of control. Was she created by him? Or did she create herself to be with him? There’s all these interesting questions.” With Amanda Waller recruiting the worst of the worst from supermax slammer Belle Reve to embark on a suicide mission against a mythical adversary unearthed by archeologist June Moone (Cara Delevigne, who also plays Enchantress), the million dollar question is: why should we sympathise with a ragtag collection of ruinous reprobates? “The fact that it’s not just another cookie cutter comic book movie. That it’s about bad guys, and you can go in and explore their lives and explore a different morality,” Ayer responds. “You automatically like the good guy because the good guy saves the kitten from the tree. But with the bad guys, it’s more of a creative challenge. How do you get an audience to like a villain? That was the fun of the challenge for me.”
As for building on DC’s fledgling cinematic universe, Suicide Squad will incorporate elements for future films to pick up on – including a cameo from Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight, who’s responsible for putting most of the Squad behind bars – but Ayer is focused on his film first, which may come as a relief after BvS’s heavy-handed sequel set-ups. “There’s talk about how to mount a franchise and the business stuff and everything like that. I’m not worried about that,” Ayer bluntly states. “I just want to tell a story about broken people who want to come together, who discover that they can have friendships and they can form a family and that they can love each other. I just want to make an amazing movie.”
Suicide Squad opens on 5 August.
i just want to tell a story about broken people who want to come together
Maybe not the superheroes we need, but the ones we deserve…
“Look, I thought you were great in Independence Day.” Cara Delevingne plays the Enchantress. Getting in some muchneeded therapy.
Clearly a veteran of WWE cage fights.
You can bet Captain Boomerang will be back one day… Joel Kinnaman plays Rick Flag, Waller’s man-in-the-field.