Warner Bros. Reportedly Wrestled With Two ‘Suicide Squad’ Cuts
What the heck went wrong with Suicide Squad? It’s a question that will be plaguing critics for a while.
Anyone who’s been on the internet this week knows the reviews of the latest film in DC Cinematic Universe are not good. The film is currently 36 percent rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, and critics have been describing it as a “mess,” “muddled,” and “chopped and diced and tossed up on the screen.” Could that have something to do with the film's rumored reshoots? We’ve known for months that David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was undergoing reshoots to make the film reportedly more fun with a lighter tone, and now a new report from The Hollywood Reporter claims Warner Bros. had two competing cuts of Suicide Squad.
According to the trade, a source close to Warner Bros. claims the studio was anxious about Suicide Squad from the start, mainly about disagreements over tone. When the first teaser trailer was released, the one that made the film look like a playful madcap fest of fun, a source claims the studio was concerned it was nothing like the footage Ayer had delivered.
A source describes Ayer’s initial version of the movie as “somber,” which makes sense for the guy who made Fury and wrote Training Day, both intensely dark movies with serious, gritty tones. But a source says the studio wanted their supervillain movie to feel like the teaser, something fun, light and edgy. To get that, they apparently began working on an alternate version of Ayer’s footage, and in a bizarre twist, the studio reportedly brought on the editors of that trailer from the company Trailer Park to help work on an alternate cut. For those who don’t know, the people who edit movie trailers are not traditionally the people who edit movies, so this would be a very unorthodox decision. While multiple editors were brought on and only John Gilroy (Pacific Rim) was credited in the final film, THR reports that he left near the end and Michael Tronick (Straight Outta Compton) was the final editor.
The two competing cuts of Suicide Squad, Ayer’s darker one and the lighter studio version, were both screened for test audiences in May, according to the site. One of the big changes in the studio version was reportedly the addition of jazzed-up graphics and a character introduction in the opening of the movie – the latter is something our own Matt Singer mentioned in his review, saying the characters get two repetitive intros. The studio version ended up winning the test screening, and then Warner Bros. and the filmmaker reportedly worked towards reaching what a source called “a very common-ground place” between the two cuts. And thus, that also meant reshooting “millions of dollars of additional photography,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
It’s clear from the critical reaction of the film that repackaging Ayer’s vision with new footage to readjust the tone doesn’t exactly work – if you are patching together various pieces, that probably shouldn’t be apparent to a viewer. But for critics, including our own Matt Singer, it certainly was. In his review he wrote: “From the first scene to the last, it’s an absolute mess, one whose harried pacing, jumbled narrative, and blaring soundtrack of radio hits suggests a desperate post-production attempt to reconfigure what Ayer got on set into something palatable and poppy.”
Others have also noted the film’s soundtrack and how the use of music cues feel like the studio’s attempt to stitch together disparate footage to create something cheerier and brighter.
One of the big problems though seems to be the lack of time. A source claims the studio didn’t want to push back the release despite issues over the competing cuts. One source told the trade that there was “a lot of panic and ego instead of calmly addressing the tonal issue.” If Warner Bros. had more time and pushed back the date, could they have come up with a better hybrid of both visions? Or did the problems originate in the clash of ideas?
This clash of visions is something we’ve been hearing a lot about when studios bring on filmmakers to direct their first tentpole films. Just look at all the talk surrounding Rogue One: A Star Wars story, where the studio reportedly also ordered reshoots to lighten the mood of the Gareth Edwards film. And while reshoots aren’t uncommon for tentpole movies, there does seem to be a similar theme of the studio and filmmakers not seeing eye to eye, and a rush to cobble those disparate ideas together. Would Suicide Squad has gotten better reviews had Warner Bros. stuck it out with Ayer’s darker vision? Is trying to make a film mimic a trailer inherently problematic? The critics have spoken, but the fate of Suicide Squad will depend on how audiences receive it this weekend, and whether or not it will drop like Batman v Superman at the box office.