Think about how much edgier and sexier you were a year ago. That’s exactly how much edgier and sexier the first trailer to Suicide Squad felt, too. Apparating in a superhero movie landscape dominated by endless iterations of Marvel Franchise and Marvel Franchise Meets Marvel Franchise, DC’s answer to What If the Avengers Joined the Black Parade? looked, at least, intriguing. There was Cara Delevingne looking all model-y in a tub; some scary guy with tattoos; the much-awaited reunion between Will Smith and Margot Robbie that allowed all 12 of us Focus-heads to fantasy-cast a sequel; even Jared Leto Presents Rust Cohle Presents That Weird Kid Who Knew All The Knife Tricks Presents the Joker pulled us in like a car crash.
The logic ran against established wisdom of how to introduce a superpowered team on film, but it seemed counterintuitive enough to work: What if bad guys…weren’t bad? And all on screen at once, after being introduced in a montage? If you held the weed deeply in your lungs, it made sense. As Viola Davis explained, authoritatively: “I want to establish a task force of the most dangerous people on the planet. Maybe they can do some good.”
“They’re bad guys,” her military BFF said, authoritatively.
In July of 2015, Suicide Squad was the Best Movie of 2016. Then, Zack Snyder’s midlife crisis happened. Snyder, who never saw a childhood fantasy he didn’t want to spoil, doubled down on the (exaggerated air quotes) “adult” tone for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a blockbuster most notable for framing a fight between two muscle-bound dudes in spandex in Nietzschean, Freudian, and other totally philosophical terms. What did it mean? I don’t know, and Snyder probably didn’t, either. But it was definitely not some kid shit, and as fathers across the country found themselves forced to explain the ethics of murder to their children, the ugly truth revealed itself at the surprisingly diminished box office: Snyder was a fraud. Movie grumps had always known—I see you, slo-mo fucking to “Halleujah”—but finally, the public had caught wise. Like peak Trump or peak oil, Synder had reached his limit just as the stakes for his stewardship of the DC Universe were higher than ever.
Warner Bros. executives were shook. In the wake of the summer, a cute story emerged: A movie literally titled "SUICIDE SQUAD" was now undergoing expensive reshoots to make it seem more “fun,” so that people wouldn’t stare at the theater marquee and decide to check out a Holocaust drama instead. The director tweeted, huffily, that they were actually just adding more action—more suicides?—but there were definite rumblings of doubt.
It only got worse as we started to hear more about how Leto’s crazily unnecessary method acting allowed him to get inside the Joker’s head: a process that had him mailing live rats and bullets to his co-workers, refusing to answer to anything other than “Mr. J” on set, sleeping in white makeup for six months straight, actually getting those as-designed-by-Affliction tattoos, spending all his free time on Tool message boards, going door-to-door on set trying to shock people, etc. Even Will Smith, father of Jaden Smith, said Leto was a little much. During a show with his mall-core side project 30 Seconds to Mars, Leto bragged that he would be thrown in jail after the movie came out. The reaction was a resounding yuchh.
Maybe owners of Guy Fawkes masks would disagree, but most sane people think it’s just sort of rude to get that deep in the game. When we heard that Viola Davis was exempted from Leto’s antics, on account of her extremely not having it, it made sense: Look past the Oscar shine, and Leto was just a pseud blowing his social capital on radicalizing a fictional clown.
All this would have been fine—or, at least, tolerable—had the subsequent trailers not been set to classic rock covers, or loaded with cornball, zaaaaany banter that sounded like if the Entourage guys made a superhero movie. Margot Robbie looked and sounded increasingly like a Bratz doll as imagined by Hot Topic. Will Smith’s charisma looked sapped by the equal-time mandate of the ensemble. The tease of Batman was ruined by the memory of Ben Affleck staring into the void, the realization apparent that everyone had seen past his Oscar shine. What was once presented as edgy and sexy suddenly looked kind of staid—a transparent appeal to youthful cool as imagined by your dad’s lawyer. And so the fantasy of a cogent DC Universe turned back to reality: This was deemed more necessary than a Wonder Woman movie?
So what happens next? Marvel is riding high as ever, as several years of planning allowed all their franchises to meet in the latest Captain America. The disappointment of Batman v Superman can’t be exaggerated, as a vehicle for two of the biggest and most recognizable pop culture icons ever (Batman and Jesse Eisenberg) were outperformed by one long Ryan Reynolds dick joke. And if Suicide Squad underwhelms, it might force DC to do another soft reboot on their film franchise. That’s not super interesting, really: The drawn-out process of a corporation reorganizing its creative properties will never affect you or me. But it will serve as a warning sign to all: Go full Snyder, and your next summer hit will go from “I can’t wait to see that” to “Jesus, I’m tired of this shit and it’s not even out yet”—before Jared Leto’s even gotten around to knocking on your door.