‘The Suicide Squad’ Set Visit: It’s Harley Quinn’s Multiverse, We’re Just Living and Dying In It

In late 2019, which seems a whole world ago, The Nerds Of Color were invited to Atlanta, GA to visit the set of The Suicide Squad, which premieres on HBO Max and in theaters this Friday, August 6. Early reviews of the sequel/not-a-sequel are already out, and here’s a few more things we learned from the set visit about the “shitty supervillain” war caper film, based on the DC Comics.

SPOILERS FOLLOW! Also, possibly, opinions.

  • The Suicide Squad doesn’t really relate to 2016’s Suicide Squad, but it does have Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller, Rick Flagg, and Captain Boomerang in it, played by the same actors. 
  • And see, that’s fine, because Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the nexus point of the DC Cinematic Multiverse, with all its confusing branches and inconsistent mythologies.

(Start Unprompted Margot Robbie Appreciation Rant Here) Dr. Quinn is in both Suicide Squads, which apparently are in parallel dimensions dislodged from each other. In SS ’16, she encountered Batfleck, and in 2021’s Justice League (Snyder Cut) she is spoken of as a pivotal event in the weird dream epilogue, confirming that Harley does, indeed, live in a society. The superlative Birds Of Prey makes little reference to other DCEU films except for the supermarket scene in which Harley rapid-fire summarizes her own canon origin story, along with the events of Suicide Squad ‘16, in a cathartic rant towards Cassandra Cain. My point is, while the “shared” aspect of the DC films has gotten hilariously confused, Robbie as Quinn is the rock at the center of the continuity maelstrom. Somewhere above all the Crises and the recastings, I believe she and Dr. Manhattan have got this all figured out. Robbie’s performance, trademark accent, and character choices have stayed steadily engaging while the rest of the DC folks are not even sure which cut of which movie they’re in. Unlike all of her Justice League counterparts, Harley Quinn the movie character actually has interesting life choices and dilemmas: she’s a doctor, but then she turns to crime, gets in an intense bad relationship, gets out of it, breaks stuff, has several opportunities to do good or do bad, makes conditional friendship with a kid and a bunch of other vigilantes — she’s dramatically active. She has more weirdly-inspiring soliloquies than Batman or Superman. She’s funny. And, to my eye, the ragged red dress she wears in The Suicide Squad gives off a kind of “Evita” vibe. So I’m very much looking forward to watching Robbie work again, not only for the commitment and the witticisms, but because every branching iteration of the Harleyverse (unlike the Snyderverse or the Nolanverse) creates the map of the DC Multiverse that I’m most invested in. TLDR: If they find a way to write Margot Robbie into The Flash, I’ll feel a lot better about The Flash. (End of Quinn/Robbie Appreciation Rant.) 

  • Idris Elba plays Bloodsport, who is NOT Deadshot, Vigilante, Nemesis, Wild Dog, or any of the other DC anti-heroes who are basically guys with big guns. Interestingly, Vigilante/Adrian Chase (played by Freddie Stroma) has an uncredited appearance in The Suicide Squad and is slated to appear in the Peacemaker spinoff.
  • James Gunn said of his approach to the film, as it relates to the original comics:

I’m a huge fan of the original John Ostrander run on Suicide Squad, where he created the whole Dirty-Dozen-as-shitty-supervillains team. And I don’t think of it so much as an interpretation of what he wrote but I do think of it as a continuation of what he did… To me, it’s one of the greatest superhero runs of any comic book series.

Specifically referencing “war caper” genre films of the late 1960s, including The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, and Where Eagles Dare, Gunn aligns with Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell’s early Suicide Squad story arcs: typically, a black ops/G.I. Joe-esque team of specialists assembled to intervene in U.S. foreign policy in areas where respectable superheroes would not dare to go.

Suicide Squad #1 cover by Luke McDonnell, and a tribute to the film cast by Jim Lee.
  • Ratcatcher 2, portrayed by Portuguese actor Daniela Melchior, will be a big breakout star for The Squad, if I was gonna guess. A fairly obscure Batman villain who can control (or at least really gets along with) hordes of rats, the character is gender-bent in this version into “Ratcatcher 2.” At the roundtable interview, Melchior cautiously revealed that Elba and Viola Davis are both “a little bit afraid of rats.”
Ratcatcher from the Batman comics, and Ratcatcher 2 from The Suicide Squad film.
  • John Cena is about as impressive as you may imagine John Cena to be. He plays Peacemaker, another DC Guy With Big Gun who has extremist-droll ideas about keeping the peace via the shooting of people. Peacemaker is already set to appear in his own HBO Max spinoff from the ever-expanding Task-Force-X-Verse. Cena described the “douchebag” character thusly:

You familiar with a band called Van Halen? Not the Van Hagar version, the David Lee Roth Van Halen. Think of him as a fucking awesome Eddie Van Halen.

Of course, “a fucking awesome Eddie Van Halen” is technically redundant because Eddie Van Halen (rest his soul) was the definition of fucking awesome. We can only hope that the Peacemaker show will clear a few Roth-era tunes like “Dance The Night Away” and “Panama” for its soundtrack.

  • “The” Squad will more aggressively grab from the source material for its Easter Egg details, including locations drawn from years of DC lore: The fictional island nation of Corto Maltese (notably featured in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns); Jotunheim, the fortress which served as the target for the Ostrander/McDonnell team’s first mission (Suicide Squad #1, 1987).
  • Gunn also deserves credit for populating this Squad with truly obscure villains from the comics archives. I mean, Polka Dot Man? Mongal? Blackguard? The entirely non-threatening Javelin (he fought a Green Lantern once, I think) is portrayed by German actor Flula Borg, whose in-person personality is exactly what you may glean from this video with the late Kobe Bryant.

The notable exception, of course, is Harley Quinn, who maintains high name recognition factor even among non-comics people; I’ll be a little surprised if they don’t rebrand this one Harley Quinn & The Suicide Squad, as they retinkered the Birds of Prey title. In a sense, every other team member in this Squad is an Easter Egg, because they are all vaguely recognizable and yet are the characters whom no one in all comics fandom were asking for to appear in a live-action movie. And like all Easter Eggs, some of them are probably gonna die.

Wait, that’s not a saying….

  • We got to visit one scene being filmed, involving Harley, Polka-Dot Man, and an enormous wrecked fortress set. It was unclear at the time what was happening in the scene, except that the Squad was facing a very large adversary, attacking from above, capable of shaking a building. To the credit of the film crew and the WB PR team, I’d never have guessed, until the trailer’s debut a year later, that the giant monstrous threat was in fact Starro the Conqueror, a classic DC villain who also happens to be a massive psychic starfish. Conceptually, the Suicide Squad does not often “do” giant monsters; they are more about human-sized run-and-gun operatives, and usually giant monsters are the Justice League’s… kettle of fish.
Martian Manhunter spies Starro the Conqueror, from JLA #22 (1998).

So to speak. As a fan of the kaiju-vs-small-squads subtrope, I’m entirely excited about the audacious debut of Starro into the DC Cinemaverse. And I am very appreciative of WB and HBO Max for offering the option to watch the movie’s premiere at home, given the extraordinary circumstances of the ongoing pandemic.

Anyways, The Suicide Squad premieres on HBO Max and in theaters on August 6, 2021.

I’m known to be quite vexing? I’m just forewarning you.

Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad (2016)