Just three months after being fired from a multimillion-dollar superhero franchise, James Gunn will take the reins of another one. As reported by Deadline on Tuesday afternoon, Gunn, who previously helmed Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, has been tapped to write, and “possibly direct,” a sequel to Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe’s ensemble series centered on villains like the Joker, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and Killer Croc.
The Suicide Squad sequel deal effectively ends any chance for Disney to change course from its decision to fire Gunn in July over a series of old offensive tweets—most pertaining to jokes about rape and pedophilia—that had been unearthed by alt-right talking heads like Mike Cernovich and repackaged as “evidence” that Hollywood was operating an underground pedophile network.
Gunn’s firing did not go over well with members of the Guardians cast, who signed a petition pledging their support for the director and imploring Disney to reconsider the decision. “The character [Gunn] has shown in the wake of his firing is consistent with the man he was every day on set, and his apology, now and from years ago when first addressing these remarks, we believe is from the heart, a heart we all know, trust, and love,” the statement read. “In casting each of us to help him tell the story of misfits who find redemption, he changed our lives forever. We believe the theme of redemption has never been more relevant than now. Each of us looks forward to working with our friend James again in the future.” Disney, meanwhile, remained steadfast in the face of criticism. “The James Gunn decision was brought to me as a unanimous decision of a variety of executives at the studio and I supported it,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told The Hollywood Reporter in September. “I haven’t second-guessed their decision.” It is unclear how the Guardians cast will react to Gunn’s move to the DCEU—though star Dave Bautista has previously expressed that he wouldn’t return for Guardians 3 were Gunn not involved.
For the DCEU, Gunn may come with some obvious PR issues but his résumé suggests he’s a good bet to breathe life into a franchise that, despite its plethora of A-list talent, never got off the ground. The first Suicide Squad, from David Ayer, was plagued by incomprehensible action sequences, a predictable plot, a surprising lack of humor, and Jared Leto doing the most as the-Joker-meets-Tekashi69. Perhaps most criminally, Suicide Squad wasted an entertaining overall premise—a world in which the DCEU’s most iconic villains would take on evils that regular heroes weren’t equipped to tackle, on the way to slowly learning to coexist with one another. That premise is what makes Gunn such a logical choice for Warner Bros.: Essentially, Suicide Squad was positioned to be a grittier version of Guardians of the Galaxy. With Ayer—who would go on to direct the horrific Netflix blockbuster Bright—at the helm, that never manifested.
But with Gunn writing—and possibly directing—the sequel, the Suicide Squad franchise has a chance at a fresh start with a proven wordsmith. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gunn’s Suicide Squad will be a “brand-new take” rather than a conventional sequel. That’s an admittedly vague description of what’s to come, but Warners is clearly giving latitude to a writer who previously mined plenty of laughs from a superhero ensemble that included a space raccoon voiced by Jackson Maine—er, Bradley Cooper. And most importantly, Gunn wasn’t just providing some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest laughs—the first two Guardians films each grossed over $770 million worldwide. While the DCEU movies still make bank, their box office totals are routinely surpassed by those of Marvel films—beyond twisting a knife in Disney’s side or recruiting someone with a knack for giving life to superhero franchises, the decision to hire James Gunn begins and ends with Warners trying to remedy that problem.
The DCEU is still lagging behind the MCU—both commercially, critically, and in the eyes of the majority of comic book fans—but Warner Bros. is doing its best to leave the days of Zack Snyder and David Ayer behind. A Suicide Squad sequel with Gunn suddenly doesn’t sound so terrible; Joaquin Phoenix is doing, uh, something with his stand-alone Joker movie; and, of course, Patty Jenkins’s crown jewel Wonder Woman has a forthcoming sequel set in the ’80s, which is just a great excuse to make Chris Pine wear a fanny pack. Losing Gunn may be only a temporary setback for the MCU, but gaining him might be a considerably greater benefit for the DCEU.