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David Ayer’s Suicide Squad: What Went Wrong?

In light of recent developments at Warner Bros, namely the success of Zack Snyder releasing his director’s cut on HBO Max in 2021, this is a look at the production issues of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016) movie, preceding Justice League, to look at the events that took place for the Theatrical Cut (TC) to gain traction over the Ayer Cut (AC) at such an early stage.

The Battlefield

It is worth noting that the movie drew harsh early reviews, and with the benefit of hindsight, opinions of critics would have been heavily skewed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) dominance over the genre. By the time Batman V Superman (BVS) came out in 2016, we had already had 13 MCU movies, the latest being Captain America Civil War (Captain America V Iron Man) which Disney Marvel, according to Business Insider and others, was rushed out in response to BVS. A ubiquitous tone was set by Marvel, so viewers and reviewers expectations were set to expect their heroes to be dressed colourfully, quip often, and keep realistic, dark adult themes and feelings out of the limelight. Obviously this would make sense as Disney were catering for wide appeal. However it is unprofessional for critics and bloggers to be narrow-minded in their reviews. Especially so soon after production had finished on SS.

Protect the Brand At All Costs

It is understandable, from a corporate standpoint, that the studio executives at the time SS was being produced were highly anxious and keen to course correct director David Ayer. They did this at any point they had concerns their highly coveted brand had potential diversions from the current hero movie norms. The benefit of having a not-so-well known director is they are easier to control, and potentially blame if a movie doesn’t perform. However there must be a point when they go too far, as it was reported by THR that the intervention was so aggressive that it was unclear that Mr Ayer was the director. It is important to note that studios propagate the narrative that the director is absolutely in charge, and it is wise for the director to play along with this narrative, no matter how loose it is. Basically the director reluctantly agrees to be thrown under the bus.

Putting Out Fires

THR reported a source said Warners executives were nervous from the beginning of production, and even more so after the reception of BVS. Kevin Tsujihara was angry about the brand being damaged. I doubt he accepted any responsibility for this even though he greenlit the BVS TC which, being 30 minutes shorter than the director’s cut (Ultimate Edition), created plot holes that would cause the bad reviews. Their new concerns were of their own making, and therefore were engaged in an exercise of putting out fires they themselves had lit.

Incoherent Tease

The AC did not cohere to the fun and edgy tone of the teaser trailer, causing even more concern for the Warner executives. If you can see a pattern emerging, I am with you. Why did the execs release a trailer that didn’t match the tone of the film they had so heavily directed?

Too Many Cooks

Warners decided to pursue a completely different tone in a different cut to David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. They actually hired the company that made the trailer to edit a version of the movie that more closely matched their trailer. Many editors were involved in the process. John Gilroy was given the credit, however THR reported the final editor was Michael Tronick. The studios no longer trusted the old way of one editor and one assistant editor.

Version Competition

By May 2016 there were two cuts being presented to the test audiences. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (Ayer’s somber version), and the version favoured by the studio. We know which one apparently won. And we can assume why it won at the time, but what is noteworthy here is that David Ayer’s finished cut was tested as a comparison to the TC, proving that it is, or is close to being a complete movie. Sans flashy graphics and quippy comedy.

Box Office Success and Critical Failure

It was also reported that Ayer found the processing of all the conflicting ideas exhausting, amid the panic and egotistical atmosphere at the studio. Luckily the film was seen as a box office success, even if it wasn’t a critical one. And this was a win for the studio’s erratic process. However, critically, David Ayer was thrown under the bus in light of his forced complicity. It is understandable, in today’s climate, that he would want to release his real cut.

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