Here's What Went Wrong With 'Suicide Squad'

Suicide Squad was supposed to be the hero Warner Bros. needs right now. After the divisive reactions to Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, David Ayer's supervillain team-up promised to bring fun back to the DC universe. But when the first wave of reviews hit yesterday, they weren't pretty. (Mine was one of the few positive ones.) So what exactly went wrong? A new report offers a peek into the Suicide Squad problems behind the scenes. 

The Hollywood Report has a long report about the Suicide Squad problems, and we've compiled some of the main issues for you below.

  • An ambitious release date: Warner Bros. officially announced Suicide Squad in 2014. At the time, a 2016 release date seemed safely distant, but THR's source says Ayer had to hit the ground running. "[Ayer] wrote the script in like, six weeks, and they just went," he said, suggesting that the director would have benefited from additional time.
  • An inexperienced director: Making matters worse, Suicide Squad was new territory for Ayer. Although he's not a rookie director – Suicide Squad is his sixth feature — he is completely untested in the world of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking. All of his previous projects have been smaller, grittier affairs.
  • A struggling franchise: While Ayer did not work on Batman v Superman, the deeply divided reaction to that film had Warner Bros., which was already nervous to begin with, extra jittery about Suicide Squad. Suddenly, it became extremely important that Suicide Squad right the ship after Batman v Superman sent the franchise veering off course.
  • Misleading marketing: Among other things, the studio feared that Suicide Squad wouldn't live up to the "fun, edgy tone" of its marketing. There have been whispers for a while now that Suicide Squad's trailers were overselling the humor, and it seems they were true.
  • Studio intervention: Finally, the anxious studio intervened. Two edits were tested — one from Ayer, and one from Warner Bros. with help from Trailer Park (which had cut the teaser) — and the studio's version won. So the project underwent "millions of dollars worth of additional photography" to get the film closer to the studio's lighter version. It's not as simple as "more jokes," but again, it turns out there was truth in all those rumblings that those Suicide Squad reshoots were meant to make the movie more "fun."
  • It's worth reading their (spoiler-free) article in full, especially if you're a sucker for behind-the-scenes drama.

    Frankly, the scariest thing about all these Suicide Squad problems may be how commonplace they all seem. This isn't even the only story run today about a massive franchise film that went through much-talked-about reshoots and then brought in additional help to finish the movie. We've yet to see how that one will turn out, but it just goes to show these hazards aren't unique to DC movies or even to Warner Bros.

    For starters, it's no longer unusual for studios to schedule releases years down the line, for films they've barely even begun developing. Warner Bros. has its DC universe mapped out through 2020, and competitor Marvel has announced films through 2019. And once those announcements are made, the studio is basically stuck. "It's not just that you've told the public the movie is coming, you've made huge deals around the world with huge branding partners, with merchandise partners," explained a source. "It's a really big deal to move a tentpole date."

    The practice of hiring relatively green directors for expensive, big-budget films is also becoming increasingly common. "A lot of the proven guys are back-to-back with their stuff, or they want to develop it for five years, and there's a machine that has to be fed," said the trade's insider. The advantages are obvious — less experienced filmmakers are cheaper to hire, and might be more malleable than seasoned ones — but so are the disadvantages. Just ask Fox how it worked out for them when they took a gamble on Chronicle director Josh Trank for Fantastic Four.

    And while studio notes are often helpful, overzealous intervention can run an interesting film into the ground. At the same time, studios can't really afford to be risky when these tentpoles cost nine figures to make, and especially when they need to do well enough to keep audiences coming back for more. By one estimate, Suicide Squad needs to make over $750 million just to break even — and it needs to counter the bad buzz from Batman v Superman so fans will return for Wonder WomanJustice League, and so on. Is it any wonder they get skittish about trusting a director's vision?

    To be sure, none of these factors automatically spell trouble. Plenty of films have grappled with similar issues and turned out just fine. It's impossible to know how things would have turned out differently if Ayer had more time or more experience, and since we haven't actually seen his original cut, we don't know how it would have compared to the final version the studio pushed for. (For what it's worth, Ayer is standing by his movie.) It's also worth pointing out that Suicide Squad hasn't actually opened yet, so it may well turn out that general audiences like it a lot more than most critics do.

    But even as someone who liked the film more than most of my colleagues, I have to concede Suicide Squad has some serious issues including sloppy storytelling and some baffling structural issues. Now that we know more about what went down, Suicide Squad starts to feel like a warning about the potential pitfalls of blockbuster filmmaking.