What James Gunn Can Bring to 'Suicide Squad' Sequel

The 'Guardians of the Galaxy' writer-director is moving to Warner Bros. after his firing from Marvel.
DC Entertainment; Inset: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney
Margot Robbie in 'Suicide Squad' (Inset: James Gunn)

Not content with pulling Joss Whedon from the first two Avengers movies to work on Justice League, Warner Bros. has lured another Marvel alumnus — the fired James Gunn — to rework the Suicide Squad sequel, writing and potentially directing the second movie to feature the criminal superteam. It’s a pairing that is almost certain to work.

In many ways, Suicide Squad is the ideal property for Gunn to take on at DC. After all, he’s already told a variation of this story in his Guardians of the Galaxy movies; it should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen 2014’s first installment of that franchise that Gunn is interested in a story of a group of disparate ne’er-do-wells coming together despite their differences to save the day almost despite themselves. If anything, Suicide Squad is arguably more in tune with Gunn’s sensibilities because there’s nothing in the property’s comic book history that demands that the protagonists learn to become heroes in the process. They’re literally villains who end up doing the right thing against their wills, coerced by the U.S. government, their own self-interest and the threat of having their heads explode if they don’t do the right thing.

This isn’t something that has escaped those who have handled the Suicide Squad in comics, with Rob Williams — who has written the series since 2016 — tweeting the following after the news broke:

Gunn also inherits a movie series that, like the non-superheroic Mission: Impossible movies, is constructed to allow (or, perhaps, reward) reinvention and recreation with each successive film. The Squad isn’t the makeshift family of Marvel’s Guardians; in theory, at least, it’s a mission-specific group where the only constant really has to be Amanda Waller, pulling the strings behind the scenes — and, really, who wouldn’t want Viola Davis to return after the first movie? (Even Rick Flag, the ostensible leader of the team from the first pic, isn’t a constant in the Squad’s comic book mythology; he’s been killed off twice, although both cases were undone by later storylines. Sorry, Joel Kinnaman.)

What Gunn inherits from the first movie’s David Ayer, then, is more or less a clean slate, with the cliffhanger ending from the first film being either ignored altogether — does anyone really expect to see Jared Leto’s Joker again, especially with Leto playing Morbius for Sony? — or wrapped up in the Margot Robbie-produced Birds of Prey in 2020, which sees Robbie reprise her Harley Quinn role entirely separate from the Suicide Squad team. All he really has to deal with is the very simple, very flexible format of “Bad Guys Forced to Do Things for the Greater Good, Maybe” that serves as the property’s core idea in every version to date.

That “maybe” could offer a lot of potential if Gunn wished to pursue it; the morally dubious, politically murky element of many of Suicide Squad comic missions was an entirely unexplored area in the original movie, and offers a lot of opportunity for stories if Gunn is looking to make a statement about the genre post-Marvel.

Gunn could also make a number of Squad comic book fans happy by adding any of the mainstays from the various comic book runs into the movie, whether it's Bronze Tiger, Nightshade or Vixen. (If he wants to be particularly ambitious, he could even add in iconic Superman villain General Zod, who was briefly part of the group in the current run... but that didn't end too well for anyone involved.)

Bringing Gunn onboard also gives Warner Bros. an unexpected opportunity to seem… well, cooler than Marvel in the eyes of many fans. Disney’s decision to fire the director over tweets from years before he was working for Marvel — and failure to subsequently backtrack in the face of fan outcry — was an oddity in that it’s something that the majority of Marvel fans seemed upset by, and reinforced the conservative nature of the studio’s decision-making in an unusually blunt manner. Warners signing him up could make that studio seem more daring — or, at least, less likely to bend to reactionary forces and more willing to stand up for creative talent.

Ultimately, Gunn taking control of the Suicide Squad property is an idea that makes more and more sense the longer it’s considered, playing to the strengths of both and allowing Warner Bros. the chance to take advantage of a rare misstep from Marvel to bolster one of its most high-profile DC concepts. What’s next? The team behind the Captain America movies to take over the Superman series…?