The version of Suicide Squad you may (or may not) see this Friday is reported to be a chaotic mixture of what director David Ayer intended and what the studio thought audiences would pay to see.
The terrible reviews, which often note the film’s muddled tone and confused editing, will likely lead the studio to go back to the drawing board for either a theatrical re-release or an R-rated Blu-ray release.
Or hell, both.
A recent story from The Hollywood Reporter laid out the production issues with the film, from the selection of a director used to working with an R-rating and the compact timeframe in which the movie was written. But key parts of the story explain why the movie we’re seeing may not have been the intended film.
"A key concern for Warners executives was that Suicide Squad didn't deliver on the fun, edgy tone promised in the strong teaser trailer for the film," the Hollywood Reporter said, citing inside sources. "So while Ayer pursued his original vision, Warners set about working on a different cut, with an assist from Trailer Park, the company that had made the teaser."
The story states that two versions of the film were tested with audiences:
In May, Ayer's more somber version and a lighter, studio-favored version were tested with audiences in Northern California. "If there are multiple opinions that aren't in sync, you go down multiple tracks — two tracks at least," says an insider. "That was the case here for a period of time, always trying to get to a place where you have consensus." Those associated with the film insist Ayer agreed to and participated in the process. Once feedback on the two versions was analyzed, it became clear it was possible to get to "a very common-ground place." (The studio-favored version with more characters introduced early in the film and jazzed-up graphics won.) Getting to that place of consensus, however, required millions of dollars' worth of additional photography.
So the studio basically smashed the two versions of the film together, and the audience is left with gruel. Our own review called the film "overproduced, over-edited and largely incoherent," while Vox went into more detail about the editing issues.
"Early in the film, as the villains are setting up their gigantic plot to destroy the world, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you whether it’s day or night at any given moment," Vox explains. "The movie cuts between the two somewhat confusingly, and though I eventually figured out what I think happened (some scenes are set a day later, maybe?), it was unnecessarily hard to understand."
So what does this mean?
It means Warner Bros. has the footage to create another edit of the film, and going after the R-rating may give the studio another round of publicity that could buoy a second theatrical version if the reviews lead to underperforming box office. It’s not like they haven’t done this before after releasing an incoherent film.
This puts Warner Bros. in the interesting position of having both creative and financial incentive to re-edit and re-release the movie, even if the studio enjoys the expected record-setting opening weekend. It's not about those initial numbers; it's about keeping people headed to theaters once the super-fans give Warner their money.
What’s fascinating is that, if Warner Bros. decides to move in this direction, the higher rating may be more about publicity than content. David Ayer has said that he reigned in the use of violence while shooting the film in order to comfortably hit the PG-13 rating.
"On set, I was like my own cop," he told the LA Times. "The special effects guys would be, like, ‘Let’s blow his head off!’ and I was, like, ‘No, chill. We’ve got to hit the rating.’ I couldn’t believe these words were coming out of my mouth."
The film’s editing is reported to have been influenced by the terrible critical performance of Batman v Superman, but ironically that fear may have doomed Suicide Squad to the same fate.
Heck, if you want to more or less vote for an R-rated release, wait to see Suicide Squad at all. The worse it does initially, the more pressure Warner will feel to get another version out.