Why 'Suicide Squad' Is the Spiritual Sequel to 'Batman & Robin'

That (seriously!) is not meant as an insult to DC's latest film.
Courtesy of Photofest; Courtesy of Warner Bros.

It's now been one week since Suicide Squad hit theaters, far too short a time to assess its legacy. But one of the best tweets about the film puts it in a new light.

Earlier this week, cartoonist Matthew Inman joked that Suicide Squad was actually the missing third chapter in Joel Schumacher's uncompleted trilogy of '90s Batman movies. It wasn't meant as a compliment, but rather a comment on some of Suicide Squad's not-so-great qualities. (For the record, there's plenty of good about it, too.)

Back in 1997, Schumacher was indeed planning a third installment to follow up Batman Forever (1995) and the much-mocked Batman & Robin (1997). "It was going to be very dark," Schumacher told Heat Vision last year for an oral history of Batman Forever. That film never came to be, as Batman & Robin was instantly rejected by fans and critics. It was so toxic that Warner Bros. put The Dark Knight on ice for years (no, that is not a Mr. Freeze pun), with the studio rotating through scripts and directors before ultimately handing the reins to Christopher Nolan for Batman Begins (2005).

Like the best parts of Suicide Squad (which most agree are the first act and its flashback scenes), Schumacher's Batman films were splashy, colorful and loud. The director was obsessed with making his films look like a comic book panel brought to life — and he pushed those who worked for him to make that vision a reality. Schumacher's two Batman films are among the most divisive in comic book history, but two decades later, they are imminently watchable. Even Batman & Robin, with its 11 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, falls into that elusive "so bad it's good" category.

And that brings us to Suicide Squad. The brief scenes featuring Batman (Ben Affleck), The Joker (Jared Leto) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) give the sense that there's a very comic book-y Batman film hidden within it. On set, the Joker scenes were treated like they were a separate movie, and in many ways, its colorful-yet-dark tone feels like a modern update on Schumacher (that is meant to be a compliment).


Left: Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze; Right: Jared Leto as The Joker

The Gotham briefly portrayed in Suicide Squad is very different from Nolan's — which was a corrupt city grounded in contemporary America, not comic books. In Suicide Squad, Gotham feels like a true comic book city. The Joker hangs out in night clubs, Deadshot (Will Smith) walks around with his daughter and Batman gets in car chases with villains (a Schumacher trademark). This all creates a picture of Gotham as a city littered with villains, whom you may just have the misfortune of running into. 

We also get to see what it looks like when these villains are locked up. That's as comic book-y as it gets — something Schumacher explored in Batman & Robin.


Left: The Batmobile scales a wall in 'Batman Forever'; Right: Batman rides atop The Joker's car in 'Suicide Squad.'

Then there's an utterly compelling and twisted relationship between two villains, Harley and The Joker. Though Schumacher's villain team-ups were not romantic, the director was fascinated by the meeting of larger-than-life (and ridiculous) villains like Batman & Robin's Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) or Batman Forever's The Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones).

Even the color pallet for Suicide Squad's flashback scenes has a distinctly comic book feel — stylized in a way that's as individual as those used in Schumacher's or Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films.


Left: Jim Carrey as The Riddler; Right:  Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn  

Then there's Robin. Christian Bale famously said in 2008 he'd refuse to go to work if Robin showed up in Nolan's movies (though Joseph Gordon-Levitt kind of played the character in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises). This year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice established that Robin not only existed in the DC Extended Universe, but also that he was no longer living. One of the most tantalizing tidbits in Suicide Squad comes during Harley's introduction, in which text appears on the screen to say that she was complicit in Robin's murder.

Writer-director David Ayer took things a step further, explaining in an interview with Empire that the reason Joker sports a "damaged" tattoo on his head is that Batman brought down violent vengeance on the villain after The Joker killed Robin, smashing his teeth (thus the grill) and locking him away in Arkham Asylum.

"It’s in the asylum where Joker would have done the ‘damaged’ tattoo as a message to Batman saying, 'You’ve damaged me. I was so beautiful before and now you’ve destroyed my face.' That’s where the grill comes from," Ayer explained.

Left: Chris O'Donnell as Robin; Right: Robin's suit in 'Batman v Superman'

This all sounds more interesting than much of what actually made it into Suicide Squad, and it will make for captivating onscreen drama if we ever get it. Taking Robin and giving him this tragic twist from comic book lore is a dark update to Schumacher's films, which introduced Chris O'Donnell as the boy wonder. 

Batman will next be seen in Justice League, while Robbie and Leto continue to lobby for more appearances from their characters in the future. Though Affleck's upcoming Batman solo outing doesn't necessarily need to continue the tone Ayer established for these flashbacks, letting this backstory pay off is a must, whether that's by properly letting Batman and The Joker fight it, or perhaps by adapting an iconic Robin story from the comics

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