Next summer’s supervillain extravaganza Suicide Squad is looking to capitalize on the formula that worked for The Avengers in 2012: Throw a bunch of super-beings together, band their dysfunctional Rat Pack against a common enemy, and let the good times roll. That’s all very well, but they’re missing the crucial part of why this worked for The Avengers. Quite simply, you cared what happened in the movie because Marvel spent years developing its characters.
Of the six heroes who made up the Avengers, four already had standalone movies that preceded The Avengers. Iron Man had multiple movies; Thor and Captain America had one in the books and another in the works. Audiences were already familiar more than half of the heroes, so the film didn’t have to do much heavy lifting to get us vested in their fates. This was key to establishing a group ensemble that had great chemistry. To wit:
This scene works because we have clear ideas of who Loki and Iron Man are, making their personality clash feel earned. Otherwise they’re just two dudes who dress like latchkey 8-year-olds fighting over a magical McGuffin. Nobody would care. Suicide Squad writer and director David Ayer is on the record trumpeting that his film will be superior to other entries in the superhero genre because, “You know, all these movies are about defeating the evil alien robot from fucking Planet X before it destroys the world with its ticking clock. And who the fuck cares?” But Ayer misses the most emotionally resonant moment of the Avengers climax. It wasn’t when New York was getting pulverized by a horde of invading space monsters. It was when everyone thought Tony Stark might’ve died somewhere out in space, sacrificing himself to protect his friends.
Now, you could argue that Guardians of the Galaxy was an ensemble movie that works, even though its characters are all introduced together in that film. But Guardians has a primary cast of five characters, a small enough number to devote time to developing them over the course of the film, when you consider that one was a monosyllabic tree. Suicide Squad’s whopping cast has enough members to form their own soccer team.
And sure, Game of Thrones also has a huge cast, but it’s had five seasons and countless hours to let us get to know everyone in-depth. With Suicide Squad’s numbers, it just isn’t feasible to explore each character with much marrow. And since we’ll be meeting them all for the first time, this gives the film a tremendous amount of heavy lifting to do. Not only do they have to band together in their squad, but they have to show us why we should care and what makes their group dynamic interesting.
Comic book readers already care, having been closely acquainted with the likes of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and the Enchantress for ages. But part of what made the Avengers such a smash hit was its accessibility to comic book fans and newbies alike. Suicide Squad is doing itself no favors if it can’t draw in the n00bs.
There’s no doubt that Suicide Squad will make, like, a giant flaming pile of money at the box office. But can it knit together critics, fanboys, and casual viewers? Marvel played the slow game for years to arrive at the impact of The Avengers. The clock will be ticking for Suicide Squad, in full sprint mode, at the title screen.