James Gunn joins ‘Suicide Squad’ Sequel: What This Means for Marvel and DC

On July 22, 2018, filmmaker James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 and was dismissed from his role as head of Marvel’s ‘Cosmic Universe’ of films that included the upcoming The Eternals. Gunn was fired due to conspiracy theorist and alt-right media personality Mike Cernovich creating a fake outrage campaign against James Gunn due to old tweets where Gunn joked about pedophilia, rape, and other uncomfortable subjects. These were all jokes that Disney knew about when Disney hired Gunn back in 2012 to direct Guardians, and ones he had opened up about and apologized for. Cernovich went after Gunn not because of the content of the tweets, but because Gunn was an outspoken critic of Donald Trump.

Disney failed to see this was a fake smear campaign and got duped into firing James Gunn, a decision that was met with criticism by numerous media outlets, online personalities, and celebrities who expressed support for James Gunn. The entire cast of Guardians of the Galaxy released a signed statement saying they stood by James Gunn and hoped Disney would reconsider. #RehireJamesGunn has been all over Twitter since the firing back in July, with many hoping Disney would correct their mistake. Yet they never did. And now they will pay the price and change the course of both their own superhero universe at Marvel, as well as their biggest competitor DC, in a decision that will have ripple effects for years to come.

According to numerous outlets, James Gunn has been hired to write the script for a new Suicide Squad film with the possibility of directing the film.

It is reported as not quite a sequel, but a new take. This doesn’t necessarily mean reboot. Harley Quinn most likely already won’t be a part of the film since she is on board for Birds of Prey, and the nature of the team means you can bring on a new roster with no real explanation other than ‘new team, new mission.’ Much like the comic books when a new creative team comes on board, it isn’t a reboot but just a new take on the material that is loosely connected by association.

Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant) was originally signed on to direct Suicide Squad 2 but dropped out of the project, due to his pitch being too similar to the upcoming Birds of Prey movie that WB has fast-tracked into production with a release date.

The first Suicide Squad was directed by David Ayer and released on August 6th, 2016. The film was a box office smash but a critical disaster, gaining the worst reviews in the DCEU lineup. The film was notably rushed into release, as Ayer was only given six weeks to write the script. It was announced in late August 2014, just a few weeks after Guardians of the Galaxy opened in theaters. Suicide Squad was envisioned as DC and WB’s answer to the Guardians of the Galaxy, so it is weirdly fitting that the man who launched the Guardians franchise would eventually go on to take over the franchise that wanted to be its counterpoint for the opposing company.

It has a lot in common in the realm of comics when, after years of co-creating some of the most iconic characters in comics, Jack Kirby left Marvel to work with DC and launched the New Gods. Or recently how Brian Michael Bendis, who was known as Marvel’s A-list writer, joined DC Comics as the writer of Superman.

This is actually the second time that WB and DC have gained a director that Marvel Studios parted ways with. First was Patty Jenkins, who departed Thor: The Dark World and eventually moved over to direct Wonder Woman, the one DCEU film that audiences and critics agreed on. Joss Whedon, who directed the highly successful The Avengers and its sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron, was brought on to take over for Zack Snyder on Justice League after he had to step away due to a family tragedy. Whedon was also given Batgirl but has since dropped out of the project.

This decision is a major one for a number of reasons, that will have a major impact on Marvel and DC. Disney has now handed Warner Bros, their biggest competitor in the superhero game, one of their most creative voices that might turn around that division. This will be seen as a key moment in both studios’ superhero divisions.

Safe to say we will see roles for Sean Gunn and Michael Rooker in Suicide Squad 2. Also, Dave Bautista, who has been the most vocal cast member of Guardians of the Galaxy about his displeasure with Disney’s firing of James Gunn, has expressed immediate interest in the project. With how loyal Bautista has been it is safe to say he will get a role written into the film (Solomon Grundy? Lobo? Bane maybe?).

2018/2019 might be the peak of Marvel Studio’s success as THE pop culture institute. With the release of Black Panther and its rumored Oscar consideration (if it does garner a nomination for Best Picture it will be a very big deal for both the studio and superhero movies), the massive box-office and cultural zeitgeist-capturing spirit of Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers 4, Captain Marvel and the X-Men and Fantastic 4 coming home, the studio is certainly on top of the world. Yet nothing lasts forever, and while Marvel Studios won’t be going away and the talk of superhero fatigue seems to be gone, that doesn’t mean Marvel Studios will always be the dominant form of discussion. The firing of James Gunn has created a negative PR cloud for Marvel Studios that has hung around on what otherwise should be a perfect year for them.

In Marvel Studios’ early years, while it was successful, was met with some skepticism. Some pop culture critics pointed to Marvel Studios being a producer-driven corporate mass-produced form of entertainment, not helped by the public’s already troubled relationship with its parent company The Walt Disney Corporation. The director was less important than the brand and could be easily replaced by anyone. The one above all was the producer; in this case, Kevin Feige. This perception wasn’t helped due to fallouts with Patty Jenkins over Thor: The Dark World, Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, and Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yet in 2015, shortly before the release of Captain America: Civil War, Marvel Studios disbanded its creative committee and became its own entity separate from Marvel Comics and now answered solely to Alan Horn. The creative committee, a collection of Marvel Comics writers who gave notes on the films, seems to have been the sticking point for a lot of the behind-the-scenes trouble at Marvel, and with it gone it ushered in an exciting new era for Marvel Studios.

The Phase 3 line up, which was crafted after the committee was disbanded, has garnered stronger reviews across the board than the previous two phases. Part of that was because they hired fresh exciting filmmakers like Taikia Waititi, Ryan Coogler, the Russo Brothers, and even James Gunn, who within the context of a superhero film were able to make deeply personal author-driven projects. Marvel Studios had positioned themselves as a United Artist-type venue, while also being an arm of a major studio. Yet now the firing has revealed that the talent is disposable, shattering the image they crafted.

Much like Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, now a big cloud hangs over Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. If the film does happen (which realistically it still will, because Disney is not going to give up on a mega-franchise like the Guardians) fans will always be left wondering what might have been. The firing and news story will constantly hang over this film. Now, will general audiences care? Probably not right away. But when they see the film there is a good chance they will notice something missing, that spark that made the first two films so popular. Unlike Jon Favreau departing the Iron Man series and Shane Black taking over, the Guardians films were very much James Gunn’s story. Taking him out of the property changes it forever.

They have now let go one of their best voices and given it to their biggest competitor, who is in need of some help and going through their own transition period.

The DCEU (or Worlds of DC, nobody has really decided what to call these films) has had a much different path. Man of Steel was met with mixed reviews, and after a three-year wait to get the universe going the two films released in 2016 (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad) were box-office hits but critics savaged them and fans were split. 2017’s Justice League, the big team-up film that WB was building to, came and went with little to no fanfair. The only bright spot DC had was Wonder Woman. DC has now reevaluated its strategy moving forward.

The division has undergone serious management and leadership change. Walter Hamada, who made a name producing horror films like The Conjuring for WB, was promoted to the head of DC films and has been shifting the focus. They are moving far away from the aesthetic of the previous films (dark, self-serious) to very different films with Aquaman, Shazam, and Birds of Prey. Wonder Woman 1984 itself looks very different than its predecessor.

WB is cultivating some high-end talent for their feature films. Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman 1984), James Wan (Aquaman), David F. Sanberg (Shazam), John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (The Flash), Matt Reeves (Batman), Cathy Yan (Birds of Prey), Ava DuVernay (New Gods), and even legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg (Blackhawks) are a very eclectic lineup. James Gunn now adds to that eclectic and odd collection of talent. DC has gone big before with a line up of directors and lost them (Rick Famiuyuwa, Ben Affleck), but that was under different leadership.

DC films may have started out on a bumpy road, but now it appears they have learned from their mistakes. Warner Bros. originally did pitch themselves as the filmmaker-friendly studio, and to an extent that is true. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Wonder Woman are very much products of their respective filmmakers. Suicide Squad and Justice League started out that way, yet the studio got cold feet after the polarized reaction to BVS. WB may now go back to its original plan, focusing less on how it all connects together and letting bold directors take their IP’s in exciting directions. If audiences respond positively, DC can figure out the crossovers later.

Outside of this arms race of superhero films, there’s a discussion of what this means for the film industry. Firing James Gunn set a dangerous precedent for alt-right smear campaigns. If they could take down Gunn, who else could they take down? Would Disney now have to reconsider their stance on hiring other comedians that have past with unsavory jokes? Disney now can’t reverse their decision.

Nobody knows the status of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, but Suicide Squad 2 has certainly climbed to the top of a lot of people’s radar, even those who hated the first film. That’s the best PR WB/DC have had in a long time, and probably the worst news Disney/Marvel has had in a while.