They’re the bad guys, that’s for sure, but the criminals, outlaws and various ne’er-do-wells of Task Force X are having an exceedingly bad day even for them.
It’s a cool July night on the set of Suicide Squad (in theaters Friday), the supervillain-filled follow-up to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and director David Ayer’s group of antagonistic protagonists is on a seriously bad streak. On the way to a rescue mission in Midway City, their Blackhawk helicopter was shot down; they’ve had to slice and shoot their way through an army of weird humanoid creatures; and they’ve finally made it to the roof of a federal building for their ride home.
Then they realize somebody has stolen their chopper — namely the Joker (Jared Leto), clad in a tux and cackling madly as he opens fire with a machine gun.
“If The Avengers are The Beatles, then Suicide Squad is the Rolling Stones,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. It’s a hotly anticipated anti-superhero story, an “antidote to the mostly light and bright family fare that have provided most of the hits this season.”
Since the premiere of first footage at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, pop culture has gradually come to adore these oddballs and outsiders. In June, Suicide Squad was the most-tweeted-about upcoming movie, according to Twitter, and it could be a massive late-summer hit just like Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014.
The connection that folks have with the group is “a deep, powerful thing,” Ayer says. “There’s something about them that resonates, that people seem to instantly understand.”
Like how unfortunate it is when the Clown Prince of Crime commandeers your Chinook.
“Our bird’s been jacked! Light it up!” screams Joel Kinnaman, playing team leader and military man Rick Flag. Lethal assassin Deadshot (Will Smith) has just enough time to look perturbed before engaging the enemy with his nifty wrist guns. And Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Arkham Asylum psychiatrist turned Gotham City psycho, does what you’d imagine she would: She puts a finger in each ear, chomping on bubble gum and seemingly enjoying the complete chaos in front of her.
While things have gone south for the squad before, “this is the most south,” Ayer says with a laugh in front of a crew of monitors huddled away from the war zone above. “When you write a script, you can always throw problems at the heroes. When you throw solutions at them, people tend to get mad.”
Issues abound for this group in Suicide Squad. With the rise of metahumans and otherworldly threats (see: BvS), intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) persuades the government to let her put together “the worst of the worst” so that they might be able to do some good.
Alongside Flag, Deadshot and Harley, the recruits include Australian nuisance Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), human reptile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), pyrokinetic gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), 6,373-year-old witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and ropemaster Slipknot (Adam Beach).
But there’s a catch to joining this black-ops group housed at Louisiana’s Belle Reve Penitentiary (its slogan? “Till death do us part”): Live through a mission and get time taken off your sentence; if you don’t, too bad; and if you get out of line, the Wayne Enterprises nanite bomb in your neck goes off.
Whereas such groups as the Justice League and Avengers offer A-list comic-book types, the Suicide Squad features more obscure personalities; they came into their own in the 1980s in DC Comics lore and have been a cult success ever since. “Very rarely do you get to do a film that has so much history and so much backstory and so much character and so much goodwill coming in, but that hasn’t been mined,” Smith says.
The idea of creating a whole movie around a group of supervillains and its theme of bad vs. evil comes from a personal place for Ayer, who grew up in a gang neighborhood in Los Angeles.
“I watched people make really bad decisions that ruined their lives,” explains the filmmaker, who wroteTraining Day and directed End of Watch and Fury. “But when that’s all you’re presented, when those are your options, when you can join the local team and maybe get some kind of success and prestige and esteem, I understand how good people make really bad decisions that destroy their lives.”
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