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Is 'The Suicide Squad' a Sequel or a Reboot? It's Complicated

·3-min read
Is 'The Suicide Squad' a Sequel or a Reboot? It's Complicated

James Gunn was sort of joking when he pitched The Suicide Squad as a title. It did, after all, sound faintly similar to that of its predecessor, 2016's Suicide Squad, but he was on a deadline and just... couldn't think of anything better. At least it wasn't one of those dreary word salads that append most action sequels – Suicide Squad: Dawn of Chaos or something silly like that. "Screw it," the writer/director thought, before handing in his first draft and hoping for the best.

But what The Suicide Squad lacked in originality, it made up in confidence. The added article felt brash and definitive, essentially asking audiences to memory hole David Ayer’s critically-slammed original – the final cut of which he has since disowned – and approach the franchise anew, albeit with a few familiar faces (Margot Robbie, Viola Davis and Joel Kinnaman). Maybe that's why the producers loved the new title so much. Because Gunn’s movie isn’t a sequel in the conventional sense, nor is it technically a reboot. It’s a do-over.

Suicide Squad is not the first comic book adaptation to get hastily scribbled out. That dubious honour belongs to Ang Lee's dialogue-heavy Hulk (2003), which gave way to a new origin story a mere five years after release. But licensing issues were the main driver behind that decision; Marvel wanted to wrestle its AWOL IP back from Universal and induct him into its burgeoning universe of films. The situation surrounding The Suicide Squad was far less convoluted, owing more to the heightened ambition of superhero studios and the unparalleled financial power they wield.

Because nowadays, box office success isn't enough – if the DC/Marvel backlash to Martin Scorsese's criticism of superhero movies proved anything, it's that these studios want respect too. David Ayer’s original Suicide Squad (26% on Rotten Tomatoes) may have recouped its budget four times over and smashed a few records, but the decision-makers at DC were more than happy to immediately ditch most of its A-list cast and their well-established characters when Gunn took over the franchise, just a few years after they debuted. It's the kind of bold, brazen approach that just doesn't happen outside of the comic book world – and so far, it's working. The Suicide Squad has received universal acclaim, and it stands a good chance of becoming the first post-lockdown blockbuster.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

In that sense, superhero franchises have become a lot like their characters: too powerful to fail in any meaningful way. There's no real jeopardy, however big the budget may be. Studios can simply keep plugging away at a comic book adaptation, releasing reboot after redux until they find the right formula. Then, once they’ve cracked it, they can pour millions into straight-to-cloud spin-offs and prequels for their dedicated streaming services. Over the next two years, Marvel and DC plan to release thirteen new films, every single one an inevitably lucrative jumping off point.

Meanwhile, celebrated indie filmmakers like Chloé Zhao, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are being plucked from the arthouse and placed at the helm of sprawling superhero projects, well beyond the scope and consequence of anything they’ve directed before. The studios can afford to gamble because the odds are always in their favour – for better or worse, in a post-Covid landscape where cinemas are relying on superheroes to recoup some serious losses, DC and Marvel’s success has led them to an imperial period where money is seemingly no object. Whatever you think about these films and their pop cultural dominance, at least the studios are putting those riches to good use and taking some risks. If at first you don't succeed, fly, fly again.

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