Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter lends his ear to James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad commentary.
Some people are fans of David Ayer’s 2016 film, Suicide Squad. Others are not. The one thing we can all agree on, though, is that James Gunn‘s The Suicide Squad is a ridiculously entertaining, surprisingly funny, and endlessly bloody good time at the movies. The film is new to 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD this week, and to celebrate we rewatched it, enjoyed all the extras, and then rewatched it *again* with Gunn’s commentary track on. Gunn is a funny guy whose passion for genre fare is never less than infectious.
Now keep reading to see what I heard on James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad commentary!
The Suicide Squad (2021)
Commentator: James Gunn (writer, director)
1. He’s done several commentaries, and he told himself before doing this one to write down some notes for a more focused track. He did not write down some notes for The Suicide Squad commentary.
2. Gunn typically does extensive storyboards for his films, including The Suicide Squad, but the opening shot — rotating out of a puddle’s reflection on the ground to reveal Savant (Michael Rooker) and his ball — was a spontaneous decision on the day. “I saw that it had this cool reflection, I knew that we had this circular camera movement thing out in the truck, and we brought it in and we did that opening shot.”
3. Rooker is “very, very good at bouncing a ball without looking at it.” It’s not the main reason he was hired for this role, though.
4. The doctor implanting Savant with the Snake Plissken special (ie a tiny explosive device) is a cameo by John Ostrander, the creator of the Suicide Squad comics.
5. The film is inspired in part by the war/caper films that Gunn loved as a child including The Dirty Dozen (1967), Where Eagles Dare (1968), and Kelly’s Heroes (1970).
6. The seatbelt bit between T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion) and Blackguard (Pete Davidson) was unscripted.
7. Flo Crawley (Tinashe Kajese) was originally arrested at the end of the film, but the scene was trimmed for numerous reasons. That leaves John Economos (Steve Agee) and Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland) to star in the upcoming Peacemaker television series.
8. Gunn compliments David Ayer for his casting on Suicide Squad (2016), specifically in reference to Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney.
9. Kinnaman was challenged as he’s not typically associated with comedies, but he quickly showed a talent and an affinity for earning laughs.
10. T.D.K. is one of the very few supervillain characters here who aren’t from the comics. He points out that we never actually see him die, “so there’s a world where T.D.K. and Weasel (Sean Gunn) are wandering the jungles of Corto Maltese trying to survive.”
11. He wanted to use The Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died” over the end credits of Dawn of the Dead (2004), but it didn’t come together for various reasons.
12. They had a special camera rig built called Nano that allows a handheld feel without people getting “seasick” while watching.
13. He crafted the character of Bloodsport specifically for Idris Elba even before he was sure the actor would say yes to the film (but after running through numerous other possibilities from the comics). In the comics, Bloodsport can pull weapons from “the netherworld,” but they adapted that for the screen into a special suit instead. That suit ended up being Gunn’s biggest costume challenge.
14. Gunn says John Cena is “probably the most gifted improvisational actor I’ve ever worked with in my life.” Saying tighty-whities is racist was one of Cena’s improvs as was his jerk-off motion at 33:41. “There was also a moment that I wondered about keeping where he did something much, much more foul than that, but it was just too much.”
15. He thinks domesticated rats are a great first pet for a child but makes no mention of the cautionary tale that is Ben (1972).
16. Gunn’s script details most of what happens on the screen, but some sequences were left vague. Bloodsport and Peacemaker’s competitive assault on the rebel camp was one such example, and it didn’t fully come together until Gunn sat down to draw out the storyboards.
17. One of the live rats on the production was named Crisp Rat after the MCU’s least-popular Chris, Pratt.
18. Some of Harley Quinn’s (Robbie) tattoos have changed from her other film appearances, and that includes the erasure of the “Rotten” tat from her face which neither Robbie nor Gunn were fans of.
19. Gunn believes Harley has a little bit of good in her, but Robbie “is a little bit harsher” when it comes to the character.
20. Regarding the film’s violence, Gunn only questioned himself on two scenes. First is when the soldiers light the birdhouse on fire. He knew he didn’t want to show it but decided hearing their screams was okay. The second occurs during Harley’s escape where she slices a soldier’s neck open and stares dead-eyed as he falls to the floor with blood gushing.
21. Rick Flag’s (Kinnaman) yellow tee-shirt is of a character called Ultra Bunny that Gunn created and drew. The sign says “Obstacles are opportunities” which is Gunn’s slogan on set.
22. He applauds Warner Bros. for giving him complete freedom and saying he could kill whichever characters he wanted and do whatever he felt right with the narrative.
23. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s Pom Klementieff was in Atlanta filming a different movie (probably Thunder Force) and agreed to swing by for an uncredited cameo here as a dancer.
24. Doctor Who is fine, but it was actually the utterly hilarious In the Loop (2009) that made Gunn want Peter Capaldi as Thinker.
25. Gunn’s friend Mike Escamilla, also a successful BMX rider, plays a soldier here (and does stunts as well), but he’s only credited for the stunt work. He referred to himself as the handsome soldato (soldier) on set, so Gunn would appreciate it if someone could go into IMDB and change his credit to “the ugly soldato.”
26. Elba doesn’t actually smoke, and he has asthma, so the scene where Bloodsport smokes in the back of the van left his eyes watering. “I had to take a tear out of his eye with visual effects because I liked the shot.”
27. Gunn’s favorite day on set was for the filming of Harley’s torture scene while hanging in chains. He’s not sorry. Additionally, her escape and the ensuing slaughter are Gunn’s favorite action sequence.
28. “People are either on board by this time or they’re not,” he says in regard to the hallway scene where Harley slaughters dozens and blood is replaced by flowers. “Obviously seeing it in a way through Harley’s mind. I think it was risky, but I hope people enjoy it.”
29. Cena is afraid of heights.
30. Gunn’s dog Wesley was dying back at home in Atlanta during the filming of Harley’s Panama-shot attempted rescue scene. He returned home with everyone’s blessing but offered notes from afar. Wesley cameos at 1:59:02 in the arms of Gunn’s assistant (at the time).
31. King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) ripping apart the soldier is a practical effect with digital assistance.
32. He goes back and forth between thinking either Amanda Waller (Davis) or Thinker is the film’s biggest villain.
33. The Peacemaker series will be about the character coming to terms with his actions in the film.
34. Gunn mentions that while it looks like they added padding to Cena’s mouth at 1:29:10, his cheeks are actually bigger because he had tooth surgery the day before filming.
35. The shot where the camera goes into Flag’s chest to show his heart being pierced was a subject of debate. Gunn loves it and finds it inspired by the likes of Street Fighter, but others felt it was not nearly as cool.
36. Starro the Conqueror’s color scheme was another subject of debate, but Gunn decided to stick with his bright pink and blue.
37. Most people miss it, but Gunn wants everyone to notice Sebastian the rat at 1:49:04 when he throws his arms in the air to celebrate being right about Bloodsport being a good guy. “I find it hilarious.”
38. Cast and crew rescued several animals from the streets of Panama.
39. Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) survives in Gunn’s first draft, but later rewrites saw him realize that the stakes had to keep rising including the death of another beloved character.
40. Gunn is rightfully proud of Bloodsport’s progression and growth as a character from toxic asshole to a true leader with a sequence that’s the heart of the film. “Bloodsport, our protagonist, is not the guy who stops the creature. It is him allowing the other characters, specifically the women, to save the day. And it is through him confronting his deepest, darkest fear and being vulnerable for the moment, that allows him to make it through all of this.”
41. “I don’t think he actually killed twenty-seven children” says Gunn about Weasel. “I just think he’s in need of a good lawyer.”
42. He says this experience is the “most fun” he’s ever had as a director and features “the greatest cast I ever worked with.” Sorry Chris Pratt!
43. Gunn thanks me for listening to the entire commentary track. Happy to oblige, Mr. Gunn, it’s a great track, and you’re forgiven for not preparing better!
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I have to give a shout out to Michael Rooker, my old friend who’s been in all of my movies, who I’ve killed in many movies.”
“I don’t know what my brother’s penis looks like.”
“I really wanted to make a scene that was a lot like the beginning of Saving Private Ryan.”
“One of the fun things about making this movie was having no rules.”
“Subverting expectations is what this movie is all about.”
“What we call the ‘ratism’ is over, and Bloodsport awakes in a new world.”
“Ending on a happy rat, I couldn’t be happier.”
“Margot Robbie can do anything but sing, but the minute she sang, that’s not her greatest gift.”
The Suicide Squad remains an absolute blast, and even with the commentary track playing the visuals and action beats land like gangbusters. Gunn’s love for the film and its characters is clear throughout, and it’s obvious that he’s no director for hire here — he loves this world, and he loves getting to play in it. His commentary is a great listen and fans should definitely make time for an eventual rewatch with Gunn in their ears.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.