I'm pretty sure that, in the eyes of many readers, just the title of my post is blatant heresy. 2015's #FantasticFour was critically condemned and disliked by fans, while - in spite of critical reviews - Suicide Squad is still getting a lot of love. So putting these two films side-by-side? Surely that's heretical!
Let me first of all state that I'm not here suggesting that Fantastic Four and Suicide Squad are somehow of equal quality. Rather, what I want to do here is to look at how those two films were made, to identify a common thread, and point out an important principle that studios desperately need to learn.
What Went Wrong for Fantastic Four
The script for Fantastic Four was completed in January 2014, and hit problems within a month. A plot synopsis - featuring a focus on body-horror for the central characters, and Doctor Doom reinvented as a computer hacker - leaked on to the internet. Fox denied that it was legitimate, and then - to nobody's surprise - started throwing legal weight around to get the synopsis pulled from the internet. As a result of the social media outcry, though, the script was completely rewritten during filming; the most notable difference was the entire second half of the film was pretty much redone from scratch.
Watching the film, it's not hard to see evidence of the two versions. The first half is deep psychological body-horror; then there's an abrupt "one year later" time-jump, and suddenly we're essentially in the realm of a slightly cliched superhero film. The two halves do not sit comfortably together. Here was Josh Trank's famous (swiftly deleted) tweet:
Some analysts believe that tweet alone may have shaved $5-10 million off Fantastic Four's first weekend performance.
So What About Suicide Squad?
If The Hollywood Reporter's behind-the-scenes exclusive is right, Suicide Squad suffered from a similar level of studio interference. In this case, it was the poor response to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that spooked Warner Bros., and execs were deeply concerned that the tone of the film really didn't match the trailers. While producer David Ayer continued his version of the film, Warner Bros. hired Trailer Park - the company who made the trailers - to help produce a different cut.
In May 2016, the two versions were tested with audiences in California. The finished version is essentially two versions of the same film, stitched together by the editors. Unfortunately, again, it shows. The introductory sequence of Suicide Squad introduces us to a swathe of characters through some beautiful flashbacks, interspersed with the kind of fun graphics you got in the trailers. Those graphics are then ditched completely for the rest of the film. The film then takes the time to show us two scenes of Viola Davis's Amanda Waller arguing the case for setting up the Suicide Squad in the first place.
Most disappointingly, a large number of key scenes from the trailers aren't even in the finished product. Jared Leto's Joker - a major presence in the marketing - was largely cut. The much-loved image of Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn using her baseball bat as a gun? It never showed up in the film. Enough of the bar scene had been shown in the trailers to know that had been massively reduced. Over on Reddit, an insider has leaked the scenes that were cut. Although we can't be sure these are reliable, they all seem likely, and are supported by marketing.
Why were these key scenes cut? At a guess, largely so as to allow the film to have the extended introduction created by Trailer Park - which was frankly unnecessary, and stood out jarringly from the rest of the film.
The Common Thread...
Both Suicide Squad and Fantastic Four suffered because, partway through the process, the studio panicked and forced dramatic revisions. I'm not going to argue that Josh Trank's original version of Fantastic Four would have been a classic of the superhero genre. But I do strongly suspect it would have been a lot better than the oddly-mismatched finished product. Meanwhile, a lot of the poor critical response to Suicide Squad has focused on the sloppy editing, on the unnecessarily long opening scenes, and on the strange tonal shifts in the film. All of which seem to be at least partly the fault of the studio, rather than the director.
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I can understand that a studio is under pressure. A studio invests a lot of money in a superhero film - Fantastic Four reportedly had a budget of $120 million, exceeded by Suicide Squad's $175 million. But when the studio gets involved like this, all too often the result is a mess. The studio would be far wiser to simply hire a director and a producer, and then sit back and let the creative team get on with the job. It's a basic matter of trusting your staff.
In the case of Suicide Squad, I have to confess that I think a larger-scale problem is that DC Film is still trying to decide what the #DCEU should really look like. When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice misfired, I think the studio lost faith in its own vision, and panicked. I can understand that. I was devastated by the critical response to Batman v Superman, a film I dearly wanted to love a lot more than I did. But that panic has done real damage to the finished product.
Let Fantastic Four and Suicide Squad stand as cautionary tales to the studios of the world. Don't undermine your creators; trust them. You may not get the best films you've ever imagined, but the finished product will still be a lot better than it would have been had you meddled.
What did you think of Suicide Squad? Let me know in the comments!