This interview is spoiler-free!
From the moment James Gunn stepped in the office of DC Comics and into the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) cinematic universe, one of his most frequently quoted mantras was for fans to not get too attached to the characters of his The Suicide Squad movie.
After all, with a cast of 17 anti-heroes and villains from comic book lore in his standalone movie about career criminals recruited to work for the US government, it was a given that not all of them would make it out alive. As his fans would know, this is the guy who directed Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy and killed off fan-favourite character Groot, and then knocked off father-figure Yondu in the sequel.
It’s too bad that the 55-year director, writer, producer and actor failed to listen to his own advice.
Laughing during a roundtable interview with Geek Culture, Gunn noted that he didn’t exactly plan character deaths while he was writing the script, so when a character does die, the director, who is currently the only person in Hollywood to helm movies from both Marvel and DC, found himself shocked and upset by the outcome. But he credits the results to part of his process and none of the deaths were conscious choices.
“There are a lot of shocking deaths. When I write, I plan things out a little bit but then I sort of just let it be. The story is the master, inspiration is the master. What happens, happens,” revealed Gunn.
“It’s about allowing myself to relax while I’m writing, to just be a conduit for that stuff happening so in a way, I don’t choose those deaths. I’m a journalist of the imagination, I’m just watching what happens and taking it down and sometimes it surprises me. Sometimes it’s very sad. There’s a couple people who got killed and it was really sad for me, and still is! I watched the movie and still there’s a couple of people who die, especially as we get closer to the end who my heart breaks for.”
Still, the switch from Marvel to DC does come with great power and great responsibility, and it will be an uphill task in bringing the likes of Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang and Colonel Rick Flag, Taskmaster, King Shark and other known (and unknown) DC characters to the big screen, including Peacemaker, Weasel, TDK, and Ratcatcher II.
Given the positive reviews, including ours that park this as among the best from the DCEU, it looks like Gunn has done the impossible again, of taking a bunch of lesser-known comic characters, and making a hit movie with them.
“I feel a lot of responsibility when I came to Warner Brothers, they were so cool about me wanting to really make a movie that was a superhero movie, that was a full James Gunn experience,” said Gunn.
Describing the full “James Gunn experience”, the director said it wasn’t about the gore and the dark comedy. In fact, it’s how the movie moves with the characters, how these dysfunctional characters can still share tender moments with each other amidst the chaos, and how audiences will hopefully be able to find themselves in these difficult characters.
“At the end of the day, The Suicide Squad for me is about these characters who are unable to make a connection. They’ve had shitty, terrible lives, and have made even worse choices for their lives and they don’t know how to connect to other people, and they start to just a little bit,” smiled Gunn.
“My movies are made for people like that. People who don’t feel like they belong, for people who have made some terrible choices, for people who are not all good – which none of us are! Most of us are closer to Polka Dot Man than we are to Captain America!”
Whilst The Suicide Squad is built around the concept of building connections, Gunn won’t deny that this is the bloodiest and goriest movie he’s done yet – especially within the superhero genre. Early reviews rave about the bloody action depicted in the DC movie, of which, Gunn is proud to reveal that most of the chaos seen on screen are real.
“CGI is great at some things but CGI is not good at explosions, isn’t good at blood spurts. If you see movies today, it’s always this fake blood. I’m like ‘No, I want squibs’. I know it’s a pain in the ass but I thought for the veracity of the film, we needed to do that and I just think it looks better than CGI,” admitted Gunn.
“I need to have these real sets and these real explosions and I think that it really grounds a movie like this that is so outrageous. Having that realness around you helps to make it believable. It just felt necessary for the movie and honestly, it’s good for the actors too because Margot is really running from explosions. They won’t kill her but they will get dirt in her eye so I think it really adds this intensity to the performances that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”
Apart from introducing new members into the Suicide Squad, Gunn is also bringing a whole new villain to the screen – Starro. Whilst an existing character in the comics, Gunn brought Starro to life in a kaiju-monster-like manner that has never been seen in the history of DCEU. Sure, our heroes in Justice League fought Darkseid, an out-of-the-world non-human being villain, but none of these villains compare to Starro in size and portrayal.
According to Gunn, this portrayal of Starro was largely influenced by Asian cinema and media, especially the popular Japanese character, Ultraman.
“I love the Kaijus! I loved Ultraman since the time I was a very young child so being able to bring this giant ridiculous monster into a very real world – I mean he’s marching through Colón, Panama – is something that excited me from the beginning so Japanese movies and Kaijus was a big influence,” shared an excited Gunn.
“Starro always scared me as a child! As an adult I see the ridiculous aspect of him but as a child it was just the whole idea of this giant starfish with one eye and these little spawns that take over people’s brains was terrifying to me!”
Full of gore, violence, dark comedy and heart, Gunn fears that The Suicide Squad is something people aren’t ready to see. With The Suicide Squad releasing in theatres on 5 August 2021, all the director has to do is wait and see if the “James Gunn experience” is exactly what fans want and need from DC.