James Gunn did a lot of things right with The Suicide Squad, but it appears there was one element that might have been different. The director revealed he originally envisioned the team of mercenary metahumans to face off with the Man of Steel himself, Superman.
Why did Gunn change his mind? Read on for the details of the decision and how the DC Extended Universe film might have turned out differently if Superman was the "villain" of the story.
At the time James Gunn was offered a DCEU project by Warner Bros. in 2018, their cinematic universe was in a perplexing state. Due to the mixed reactions with some of the DCEU entries such as Joss Whedon’s Justice League (2017), the first Suicide Squad film (directed by David Ayer), and later on with Birds of Prey (2020) and Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), there were rumblings that the company would be rebooting the entire line.
Meanwhile, Gunn had a falling out with Marvel Studios (or more specifically, with parent company Disney) due to a controversial series of Twitter posts the director made long before his stint in directing the surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Warner Bros. jumped at the opportunity to offer Gunn a free pass in choosing whatever DC Extended Universe superhero project that he could work on.
At one point James Gunn wanted #TheSuicideSquad to fight Superman instead of Starro 💪
— Fandom (@getFANDOM) August 16, 2021
Gunn ultimately chose The Suicide Squad, but one of the interesting choices he had the option to take was Superman. The middling box office and critical performance of both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice prompted Warner Bros. to consider options in going a different direction than what was originally Zack Snyder’s vision for the character.
However, this was complicated by the fact that fan favorite Superman actor Henry Cavill still had a contract for one more appearance as Superman after Justice League. With Warner Bros. still unsure on what direction it wanted the Superman franchise to go, Gunn declined his option for it. That did, however, give the director an idea to have the Last Son of Krypton be the main threat that the Suicide Squad would be facing.
In an interview with Script Apart, James Gunn said it would be "a very interesting story", had he pushed through with the idea of making Superman go rogue. It would not be unusual, as the Man of Steel has been depicted becoming an anti-hero to full-on villain in comics, animated works, and in video games such as Injustice. Moreover, it would be in line with the plot threads Zack Snyder established in the DCEU, as in the case of the Knightmare sequence in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
However, Gunn found the complicated situation of the DCEU and Superman at large to be part of the deciding factor in not going with Kal-El as The Suicide Squad villain:
At the time, there were a lot of questions like, 'Who is Superman in the DCEU? Is this movie outside the DCEU? I just didn't want to deal with it all that much.
But Gunn still needed a powerful adversary for Amanda Waller to deal with that necessitates sending in Rick Flag, Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker, King Shark, Ratcatcher 2, Captain Boomerang, and the rest of Task Force X to deal with it.
Starro the Conqueror
Although Gunn toyed with the idea of making Superman the film’s primary antagonist, Starro the Conqueror was ultimately chosen to be the Big Bad in The Suicide Squad.
He'll live in your head rent-free. Literally. He has telepathy ⭐️🧠
— DC (@DCComics) August 13, 2021
As Gunn explained, the danger posed of a cosmic starfish was something he fondly remembers in his youth reading comics:
Starro is a character I love from the comics. I think he's a perfect comic book character because he's absolutely ludicrous but he's also very scary in his own way. What he does is scary. He used to scare the crap out of me when I was a child, putting those face-huggers on Superman and Batman and stuff.
Gunn continued by elaborating on why he wanted Starro depicted as close to the original source material as possible:
I thought he was one of the major, major DC villains that was probably never going to be put into another movie. And if they did, they would do it like, the black cloud version of Starro. Not a giant walking starfish, a kaiju that is bright pink and cerulean blue, just ridiculously big, bright bad guy.
Gunn is not wrong in that regard. Live action superhero films have leaned toward revising certain characters to move away from their absurd and silly appearances. Examples of these villains that were turned into clouds include Galactus from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) and Parallax in Green Lantern (2011). Starro’s appearance as a titanic starfish with bright blue and pink hues would have certainly been redesigned under a different director’s watch.
Created in March 1960 by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, Starro the Conqueror is actually the very first villain that challenged the Justice League of America. Appearing in the Brave and the Bold #28, Starro is a cosmic-level threat despite its ridiculous appearance that resembles a giant starfish.
With telepathy, size and mass alteration, energy absorption and projection, regeneration, near invulnerability, and the ability to terraform planets, Starro’s most familiar power is creating smaller extensions of itself that attach to living creature’s faces, taking control of them mentally and physically.
Although The Suicide Squad’s version is very close to the original concept, Gunn did make some modifications. Notably, the miniature Starro drones didn’t just latch into the faces of their victims, but killed them outright, making the mind-controlled bodies more like zombies.
Superman vs. the Suicide Squad still happening?
Despite the showdown between Superman and the Suicide Squad not happening in Gunn’s film, the doors are for this to happen are still open. Idris Elba (The Suicide Squad’s Bloodsport) has expressed his interest in exploring his character’s established rivalry with Superman through a spinoff. After all, Bloodsport putting the Man of Tomorrow in a coma with a Kryptonite bullet was never shown and just shared verbally in the film.
Furthermore, there is still the Suicide Squad video game being developed by Rocksteady Studios. Titled Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, the action-adventure shooter is set for release some time in 2022 to all major consoles and on Windows PC.
And who knows, Gunn may still explore this idea. Although The Suicide Squad had a mediocre box office performance, the film did well in generating revenue and driving subscription to HBO Max. Warner Bros. Pictures has apparently signed Gunn on for more DCEU projects, though the details remain unclear. Still, a potential third Suicide Squad film putting it against not just Superman but the entire Justice League is a possibility.
The Suicide Squad is currently running in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service.