James Gunn and the Future of DC After ‘The Suicide Squad’

[This story contains spoilers for The Suicide Squad.]

James Gunn has made his mark and given his heart to the DCEU with The Suicide Squad. The filmmaker brought his trademark emotional sensibilities, love for the more outlandish comic book ideas, and a new energy to a cinematic universe still navigating its path forward. Even as the DCEU lines up its future projects and attempts greater connectivity while also exploring the multiverse, one thing seems certain: Gunn will be playing in the world of DC properties for some time to come.

The Suicide Squad spin-off series, Peacemaker, starring John Cena, is set to hit HBO Max early next year, and there have been teases of other projects to come. At the premiere of The Suicide Squad, DC Films president, Walter Hamada said, “He’ll be back. We have more stuff planned.” Even after the pandemic saddled opening weekend box office results for The Suicide Squad, the film was a clear win for the brand, opening the door for new characters, concepts, and stories. The big question is: what will Gunn tackle next?

The thing that makes Gunn such a fascinating filmmaker, who has proved integral to both the MCU and DCEU, is that he doesn’t shy away from the fictional elements that make comic books what they are. For him, grounded comes in the form of emotional sincerity, instead of overly complicated explanations as to how Ratcatcher II’s (Daniela Melchior) technology works, or working overtime to translate every utterance of “I am Groot,” to an audience that already gets it. In a superhero movie space where, regardless of the quality of the film, it still feels like some filmmakers are embarrassed by the source material and only look at it for imagery or try too hard to make the magic of comics feel like a science project in order to make certain themes land, Gunn stands apart. This is so much the case that when The Suicide Squad introduces a political coup that interrogates America’s culpability in foreign polices, and a starfish kaiju that shoots replicas of itself out of its armpit, they make absolute sense on screen together.

So far, Gunn’s superhero projects have consisted of characters that the general public doesn’t know much about, if anything, beforehand and don’t have preconceived notions, or previous iterations of the characters in their heads. Everyone has an opinion about how Superman should be as Zack Snyder could surely attest, but no one, hopefully, is fretting over a change to the Polka-Dot-Man’s (David Dastmalchian) origin story. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s a luxury Gunn looks forward to continuing to have as a he tells more stories in the DCEU, or if he’ll make the leap to tackle some of DC’s A-listers.

Given the close friendships Gunn seems to develop with his actors, it’s likely that we’ll see Ratcatcher II, Bloodsport (Idris Elba), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone/Steve Agee) again. But will that be in the form of a sequel to The Suicide Squad? Obviously, there’d be very few complaints from critics or comic fans if Gunn came back and did another Suicide Squad movie with those characters and some new faces. There’s certainly enough John Ostrander comics to pull from, and hundreds of weird and obscure characters that Gunn could make audiences fall in love with: Killer Frost, Clayface, Doctor Light, Punch and Jewelee, Clock King, Chemo and so on. But perhaps, the Suicide Squad would be better served through television going forward, as Gunn has expressed enthusiasm for what television offers him as a storyteller, and The Suicide Squad plays around with an episodic format by way of its structure and title cards.

While the outcome of Peacemaker will likely be the deciding factor, it seems like HBO Max will be a good home for DC projects that aren’t necessarily destined to be blockbusters. As the entertainment industry rapidly shifts, in part because of the pandemic, and in part because of the streaming wave that was already in the works, it makes sense for films like Batgirl and Blue Beetle to be smaller-budgeted HBO Max exclusives. And hopefully, with box office no longer serving as the chief concern, more directors will be able to take risks and have creative freedom with their projects. Gunn could certainly fit into the world of $80 to $100 million DC passion projects tackling characters like Detective Chimp, Blue Devil or Deadman.

But as Gunn recently told THR, he likes making big movies, and whether you watched The Suicide Squad at home or in theaters, the film, shot in IMAX, definitely feels like a big movie. So, on the bigger side of things, not that Gunn couldn’t make an amazing $200 million Blue Devil movie, because he definitely could, there could certainly be more Harley Quinn in his future. There have been rumblings of a Gotham City Sirens film since Suicide Squad (2016). David Ayer was originally set to do it, and after Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) there was online buzz about Cathy Yan taking on the project. But Gunn may be the one to actually bring it to fruition. In that same chat with THR, Gunn said that he felt he had a knack for writing Harley Quinn and that Margot Robbie was his favorite actress he’s worked with. Robbie expressed similar enthusiasm for Gunn at the premiere. Another team-up between the two seems like the natural answer.

Gotham City Sirens, created by Paul Dini and Guillem March, features Harley, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman, who with the help of the Riddler, take on Hush. Although Catwoman and the Riddler will be appearing in non-DCEU film The Batman, portrayed by Zoe Kravitz and Paul Dano respectively, the multiverse would allow for other iterations of those characters to appear within the DCEU. Fans have been waiting a long time to see Harley and Ivy’s romance on screen, and Gunn, so adept at telling unexpected love stories, could be the director for the job.

Call it wishful thinking, but perhaps Gunn could even manage to get Ben Affleck back for a small role as Batman, and a larger role as Hush, given that the opportunity would be something out of Affleck’s wheelhouse. Gunn recently said he’d be willing to take a stab at a Batman film if Matt Reeves wasn’t already doing one. So, if not Batman, Gotham is at least on the table. If there is any lingering concern about Gunn being able to draw in theatrical audiences with DC’s lesser-known characters, then the combination of Harley, Ivy, Catwoman, and maybe Batman alongside a few familiar Gotham Rogues like the recent Punchline would certainly be a draw.

Another possibility to keep on the back burner of potential projects is Justice League. I know. I know. But hear it out. While a new film is likely a ways off, Gunn recently responded to CNA’s Genevieve Loh about a potential Justice League vs. Suicide Squad film. That confrontation is also the basis for Rocksteady’s upcoming video game, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, and comic companies do love synergy between brands. Gunn admitted it wasn’t a bad idea, before saying that he’d have to figure out who’s on the Justice League first, noting the complicated nature of who’s still playing which roles. While it certainly wouldn’t be the Justice League narrative that Snyder set up, those characters are too great to never see come together again. And a movie told through the Suicide Squad’s perspective, rather than the Justice League, that would also allow Gunn to tap into the more irreverent side of DC as well has his penchant for underdogs. Where else are we ever going to see The Condiment King face off against Batman, Harley Quinn fight Wonder Woman, or a rematch between Bloodsport and Superman?

Whatever Gunn chooses to do next in the DCEU, there’s no doubt that it will be additive to the franchise and bring forth characters and concepts many comic fans never imagined they’d see on screen. We already got Starro in Gunn’s first DCEU film, so it’s only going to get bigger and weirder from there. Creatively speaking, The Suicide Squad feels like round 2 of the DCEU, one free from limitations and studio cuts, and all in on celebrating every character in DC’s vast pantheon of characters from Batman to Ratcatcher II with equal significance

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