Comics on Film: In James Gunn, Marvel's Loss Is DC's Gain

Comics on Film: In James Gunn, Marvel's Loss Is DC's Gain

Oct 12, 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy

In this column over the years, we’ve spoken a number of times about how Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 was one of the most delightfully unexpected successes to ever come along in the history of comic book cinema. Everything aligned for it: a writer and director who got inside the material, a studio who gave it the resources it needed, and a studio head who understood how these characters could potentially connect with people.

History may not have fully repeated itself with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 last year, but it was certainly one of the better sequels to come along in a while, largely continuing what people loved and expected from the characters they’d been introduced to a few years prior.

This past July, Marvel Studios and the Walt Disney Company parted ways with writer/director James Gunn, who had taken characters that people didn’t really know about outside the walls of comic shops and made them movie stars. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures is all too happy to open a new door for him into the DC Universe.

 

Confirmed: Gunn Will Write and Possibly Direct a New Suicide Squad Film

Suicide SquadAfter initial rumors had hit the web, Deadline later confirmed that Warner Bros. had announced their hiring of James Gunn to write a new Suicide Squad film, and may also offer him the director's chair. While the original Suicide Squad performed reasonably well from a financial perspective – it was the ninth highest-grossing film of 2016, taking nearly $750 million on a reported production budget of roughly $175 million, before marketing costs – it was hammered on the critical front.

This column has spoken in the past about how WB apparently reoriented the film significantly after the critical reception to that March's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was so poor, with other reports still claiming multiple editors created a final cut out of two very different philosophies for how the film should come across to audiences.

Still, critical success in tentpole films also generally yields more monetary success, with positive word-of-mouth often leading to fans encouraging repeat viewings and sustained acclaim on social media channels and elsewhere. The only recent DC Comics film that really accomplished that kind of critical acclaim was Wonder Woman, which currently sits as the domestically highest-grossing film in the current series that began with Man of Steel, while also being the only real sole critical darling the series has produced.

Going to a filmmaker who has a solid history in creating comics-based stories that resonate with people is likely to go a long way in terms of Warner Bros. orienting future DC films in a more positive creative direction. Still, if they want to increase the likelihood of success for whatever form Gunn’s Suicide Squad film takes, they’re going to have to do something they haven’t really demonstrated an ability to do in the past: keep their hands to themselves.

 

Let Gunn Be Gunn

Suicide Squad

Gunn’s track record at Marvel is encouraging, but it’s also not a guarantee of replicability. Both Suicide Squad and, most especially, Justice League have demonstrated that Warner Bros. Pictures is more than willing to move directors out of the way and take more firm creative control over their tentpole projects, perhaps in order to mitigate potential financial losses. Oftentimes, though, this appears to just lead to more disaster in the affected films’ critical reception and box office receipts.

At Marvel Studios, Gunn collaborated with the higher-ups there to create films that represented the stories he wanted to tell with the ensemble he helped firmly establish in the minds of global audiences. Having an opportunity to do that again, in a new universe, is undoubtedly enticing for him. It should be especially enticing because, as the Deadline article emphasizes, Gunn’s project may or may not be a sequel to the 2016 Suicide Squad film. It may go in a totally different direction.

The fate of the shared universe is a bit of a toss-up right now, and we’ll likely have to wait and see how the dust settles after the likes of Aquaman, Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984 all take their respective bows. A 'new take' could either be inclusive of events we’ve seen in that world before, or it could be totally separate, like the currently-shooting Joker film. Still, Gunn needs to be given proper creative freedom to tell the story he wants to tell with these characters, otherwise he’ll end up being yet another embarrassing pockmark on the list of former collaborators who left over 'creative differences.'

Regardless of how you may feel about him, Gunn has a visible and demonstrable talent in telling stories on film, especially where comics characters are concerned. James Gunn’s potential foray into the DC Universe is extremely encouraging, so at this point – once again – it’s WB's game to lose.


Chris Clow is a comics expert/former retailer, and pop culture critic/commentator. He hosts two podcasts: Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. Find his column "Comics on Film" weekly at Movies.com, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Features, Geek
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