The Suicide Squad: How James Gunn Chose the Returning Characters

James Gunn explains why he picked four characters from the 2016 movie to return for his follow-up, The Suicide Squad.

The Suicide Squad
Photo: Jessica Miglio/DC/Warner Bros.

Arriving today in theaters and on HBO Max is James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, a follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad and also a reboot of the DC property for Warner Bros. Pictures.

If that sounds a little confusing, well, it is. The 2016 origin movie, directed by David Ayer (and subsequently recut by the studio), was a massive box office hit with $747 million worldwide in its coffers when all was said and done.

But critics and even fans were less positive, despite the movie being one of the DCEU’s most lucrative, so Warner Bros. abandoned plans for a direct sequel and eventually corralled Gunn — fresh off his then-dismissal (subsequently retracted) from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — to write and direct a brand new iteration of Task Force X, a request that even Gunn found a little perplexing at first.

“[I] definitely was worried about the whole thing confusing people,” said Gunn during a recent roundtable discussion with Den of Geek and other outlets. “And it does confuse people. But when I first talked to the guys about making the movie, I said, what am I beholden to from the other movie?”

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The 2016 movie starred Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (the film’s clear breakout), Joel Kinnaman as Colonel Rick Flag and Viola Davis as Task Force X supervisor Amanda Waller, with the latter sending the black ops supervillain team on a mission to stop the supernatural menace of the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne).

Other characters included Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc and Karen Fukuhara as Katana. But Gunn was essentially given carte blanche to bring back whoever he wanted from the survivors of the first film.

“Exactly what they said was, ‘Listen, we love Margot. We would love it if she was back in the movie,’” Gunn explained. “’But as long as you’re doing what you want to do and you’re bringing your full self to it, we don’t really care. You can make a whole new team, you can use the exact same team. You can do whatever you want.’ And I happen to love those characters from the comics.”

In the end, while introducing spectacular, colorful new squad members like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone, played on set by Steve Agee), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) — along with a host of others who make relatively brief appearances — Gunn elected to keep four of the originals.

For Gunn, keeping Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was clearly a no-brainer: “Margot Robbie is a fantastic Harley Quinn. I love the character. I know the character very well. I think the way she was originally written by Paul Dini and the old animated series was truly who she still is today. I don’t think I’ve deviated much from that.”

But Gunn added that along with being “excited” to work with Robbie, he wanted to give Harley a fresh character arc in her third live-action appearance. “We get to see other sides of her, but it’s still fully that same character that Paul created,” he continued. “I mean, she’s growing, she’s making choices that for her are healthy. Probably wouldn’t be considered healthy for most people, but for her, they’re healthy.”

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Gunn had similar feelings about bringing back Davis as the entire operation’s puppet master, Amanda Waller: “We can’t, of course, forget Viola Davis,” he said. “To me, The Suicide Squad is about Amanda Waller and she’s the actual antagonist in this film. At the end of the day, she’s the bad guy, right? Which is sad for me because I’m probably most like her because I’m the one that’s killing everybody.”

As for his other two holdovers, Kinnaman’s Rick Flag and Courtney’s Boomerang, Gunn noted, “I’m a big fan of Joel as an actor. I thought we could change up his character a little bit. I thought we could bring a little bit more humor to his character [and] a little bit more of the tortured quality to his character. His ideals getting squashed right in front of his eyes was dramatic to me, so I really wanted that.”

Gunn continued, “I love Jai. I’ve known Jai for a long time. So I brought those characters back because David did an amazing job casting his movie and he did an amazing job prepping those characters. I’m not one to have an ego about any of that. If there’s something that’s good, why fix it? Why change it?”

In the end, Gunn affirmed that his decisions were nearly all creative ones, dictated by the story he wanted to tell and not how this or that character went over with the audiences for the previous film. “I didn’t want to be reacting to the first movie,” he said. “It was about really just taking everything I had at my disposal and making the best movie I possibly could.”

The Suicide Squad opens in theaters and premieres on HBO Max on Thursday (August 5).