As the slate of DC Films at Warner Bros. continues to reshape itself yet again, another change of direction is looming, this time thanks to the arrival of James Gunn.
Gunn, who made two blockbusters in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise at Marvel before being fired by the Walt Disney Company for a series of years-old offensive tweets, is joining the DC Extended Universe with The Suicide Squad, more of a soft relaunch than a sequel to David Ayer's 2016 Suicide Squad film that will allow Gunn to play with a new take and a new team of characters. According to a new report, Gunn's take is different enough from Ayer's that it apparently won't feature one of the first film's most popular characters.
In a lengthy new piece of analysis and reporting over at Forbes, Mark Hughes breaks down the optimistic state of the DCEU as it stands right now, in the wake of Aquaman's massive box office success and subsequent sequel and spinoff development announcements. Yes, huge chunks of the DCEU remain in flux — Superman is on the back burner to make room for a Supergirl movie, director Matt Reeves is presently hunting for a new Batman, and that long-promised Flash movie still doesn't have anything resembling a release date — but the overall box office take of the franchise has been buoyed by Aquaman, and the various projects we have heading our way in the coming years make things look very promising indeed.
In the middle of discussing those future projects, Hughes gets in Gunn's Suicide Squad take, and notes that the film is not expected to feature the return of Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, who along with Will Smith's Deadshot was widely praised as one of the best parts of Ayer's film. So popular was Harley in the film that she was granted the development of two spinoffs: A Birds of Prey girl gang team-up and a Harley/Joker team-up in the vein of the comic story Mad Love that would see Robbie reteaming with Jared Leto's Joker.
The first of those spinoffs — now titled Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) — is very much alive, and moving toward a 2020 release date under director Cathy Yan. According to Hughes, though, the second film has been shelved, as has any development on a solo Joker flick for Leto (who is at the moment over at Sony playing Morbius the Living Vampire). So, while Ayer's Squad set up both of those characters as major potential future DCEU stars that could continue within the franchise, that's not the path they'll be taking. Harley is still a star, but she'll be heading in a different direction, while Leto's Joker might not be heading anywhere at all for the time being.
Gunn, for his part, isn't interested in carrying on the story set out by the first film. He'd rather avoid connections to it wherever possible and, according to Hughes, craft "a new approach and rethinking of the property" with a new cast of characters. That could make a lot of sense for Suicide Squad as a sub-franchise for the DCEU, and it allows Harley (who wasn't a part of the classic Suicide Squad lineup anyway, because she didn't exist yet in the 1980s) to remain a major player in her own right.
Oh, and another interesting thing to note: Gunn was apparently not, as previously reported, offered a Superman film before he stepped behind the wheel of The Suicide Squad. Or at least, Gunn wasn't offered the character in the sense that Warner Bros. is actively trying to get another Superman film off the ground. According to Hughes, Superman is just one of many DC Comics characters "on the table" for negotiations with potential filmmakers. If someone comes in with a great idea for the character, the studio is game, but that doesn't mean they're pushing for another movie starring the Man of Steel. For the moment, the character is on the back burner.
So, that's the latest major development in the state of the DCEU, and there may be more major developments to come after Shazam! arrives in theaters later this spring. In the meantime, the studio has a proven superhero filmmaker in its corner, and they seem prepared to let him go his own way.