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What The Suicide Squad And Peacemaker Tell Us About James Gunn's DCU

Building a cinematic universe isn't easy — just ask Alex Kurtzman, the architect behind the ill-fated "Dark Universe," who also attempted to turn "The Amazing Spider-Man" into a sprawling multi-series franchise. He finally had success after taking over the "Star Trek" series of shows, proving that it takes experience to get it right. That's why the appointment of writer and director James Gunn to lead the relaunch of the DC cinematic universe may be the right call, as he has done superheroes and spin-offs before at both Marvel and DC.

But what can we expect from Gunn's new version of the DCU? While the announcement of a new studio head might normally leave fans scrambling for answers, trying to make sense of vague corporate half-speak from incoming studio executives, Gunn's directorial track record and vocal social media presence help to piece together a picture of what might be in store.

In January 2023, Gunn announced the first slate of the DC universe reboot under his watch at a well-publicized press event (per The Hollywood Reporter). While we wait for the first project to be released, let's take a look back at his previous work and see what "The Suicide Squad" and its TV spin-off, "Peacemaker," can tell us about what to expect for the new DCU.

The DCU will bring unexpected oddballs to the forefront

Since Gunn started directing superhero movies — beginning with his indie darling "Super" starring Rainn Wilson and Elliot Page — it's plainly evident that he loves oddball characters. Even as far back as his days working for Troma Entertainment, Gunn has seemed far less interested in the most popular and beloved heroes than in the under-appreciated and lesser-known diamonds in the rough. That's what made him the perfect fit when Marvel enlisted him to write and direct "The Guardians of the Galaxy," and why he worked so well on "The Suicide Squad," two super-teams packed with third-string characters.

So considering Gunn's continued work on "Peacemaker," we'd bet that his reinvented DCU will include plenty of outcasts and also-rans. Sure, the stalwart regulars may still be there — like Superman and Batman — but we're already seeing from his early outline of the new DCU that his slate of projects is going to be much broader than traditional, popular superheroes. From "Booster Gold" to "Swamp Thing," Gunn is following through on his love for DC's most underrated characters, even plucking "Creature Commandos" out of obscurity for its own animated series. 

Don't expect it to stop there, though. If "Peacemaker" and "The Suicide Squad" are anything to go by, even the already-announced "Superman: Legacy" and his Green Lantern series are likely to feature quite a few obscure heroes and villains filling out their supporting cast.

Human drama over godlike power

The first iteration of the DCEU began in 2013 with the release of "Man of Steel," and continued through "Batman v Superman" and "Justice League," all of which were directed by Zack Snyder. The core of these films was built around the idea that superheroes are mythical gods living reluctantly among lesser beings, self-indulgently waxing poetic about their tremendous power. The films are full of religious symbolism, and countless hours have been spent examining the ideas they presented, like the so-called God Complex.

By stark contrast, "The Suicide Squad" and "Peacemaker" show us that Gunn's version of the DCU is going to be quite different, instead focusing on the human drama. While heroes like Superman may be from outer space or have incredible powers far beyond mortal men, Gunn has shown his brilliance in telling smaller, deeper stories based on character and personal conflict, even if they're set against the backdrop of an alien invasion.

In short, Gunn will probably be discarding the emotionally disconnected superheroes who are reluctant to save the world and doing away with biblical metaphors and Christ-like imagery. If we look to "The Suicide Squad" and "Peacemaker" as a blueprint, we can see Gunn's plan to portray a world where heroes struggle as much within themselves as with world-ending threats; where the heart of a story is on personal human drama, not lofty mytho-historical themes and hollow philosophy.

Lots of Amanda Waller

When Gunn took over the "Suicide Squad" franchise started by David Ayer, he had the unique opportunity to wipe the slate clean. But the writer and director kept a few elements from the first film for his follow-up, most notably Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. The fact that he brought the ruthless Task Force X administrator Waller back a second time for his "Peacemaker" spin-off series also tells us just how much he loves the character, and that was our first clue that she might hold an important place in his new DCU.

But this is more than just an educated guess now that Gunn's first slate of projects has been announced. According to what's officially on the drawing board, Davis will indeed return, this time in her own series for HBO Max in 2025, and Gunn even confirmed the return of more "Peacemaker" characters played by the same cast of characters. "We're using the same actors; this is a continuation of Peacemaker," the studio boss said during a press event (via Deadline).

But given Gunn's apparent affection for Waller, we may see more of her than we even know just yet. Whether that means animated appearances in "Creature Commandos" or live-action cameos in "Superman: Legacy" or "Lanterns," we have a feeling Waller will play a major role in Gunn's new DCU if his existing work is anything to go by.

The DCU will be filled with familiar faces

Many directors re-use their favorite actors, from Martin Scorsese repeatedly partnering with Robert De Niro to Quentin Tarantino's obsession with Samuel L. Jackson. But few directors have a penchant for repeatedly working with the same actors like Gunn, who seems to delight in bringing old friends back to his new projects. With that in mind, it's fair to expect to see plenty of familiar faces in the new DCU that have long, close relationships with the filmmaker.

This could mean that we'll see Michael Rooker and Nathan Fillion again — probably in new roles after their "The Suicide Squad" characters were killed off — as both have worked with Gunn in every film he's ever directed. The director's brother, Sean, is also likely to return in some way — very likely reprising his role as Weasel. But don't be surprised if the new DCU features more actors from "The Guardians of the Galaxy," whether that be staunch Gunn supporter, Dave Bautista, or Mantis actress Pom Klementieff.

Some fans are already dreaming up new roles for the likes of Chris Pratt, with new hero Booster Gold topping some lists. In fact, Gunn has already teased just that in an interview with Empire back in October of 2022. "[The 'Guardians of the Galaxy'] cast are like my family," Gunn said. "But I also know I will work again with all those people individually again. Probably at my other job." 

It will embrace its ridiculousness

DC has sometimes been seen as a bit more unrealistic than the Marvel universe. This can be traced back to Stan Lee putting an emphasis on flawed heroes who face issues in and out of costume, which he believed helped make them more relatable. As a result, DC's biggest characters are often much larger than life and sometimes even downright goofy. But rather than adapt the DC universe to become something it's not, Gunn's work on "Peacemaker" and "The Suicide Squad" makes it clear that he plans to highlight its differences. 

In his work for DC so far he's been unafraid to exaggerate them further as he infuses them with meta-commentary that pokes fun at how ridiculous the hero really is. In "The Suicide Squad," he leaned into the inherent silliness of characters like King Shark and Arm Fall Off Boy and even took a few good-natured jabs at how similar several characters are to each other. Characters like Ratcatcher and Polka Dot Man — often the butt of jokes in the comics — quickly became the heart of the film. 

When "Peacemaker" landed, it pushed the boundaries of outlandishness even further. By accepting what makes DC heroes so unique, Gunn was able to leverage the over-the-top tone of its characters to bring heart and soul that helped elevate its action-packed excitement, and we think he'll do the same for his wider DCU.

We'll see plenty of CGI characters

Beginning with his work on Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy," Gunn has long incorporated CGI characters into his stories. Thanks to the motion-capture work of his brother, Gunn was able to bring life to extraordinary inhuman characters like Rocket Raccoon, and he brought that over with him when he switched sides and joined the DCEU.

Beginning with "The Suicide Squad," Gunn has turned several completely CGI characters into fan favorites, beginning with King Shark, as played by Steve Agee and voiced by Sylvester Stallone. It also included Weasel, played by his brother once more, and the likes of Eagly, a new character created by Gunn for "Peacemaker," who serves as the hero's animal sidekick. Given Gunn's admitted preference for practical effects (per Yahoo), it might be natural to assume he would want to avoid CGI characters. But Gunn also prefers translating unique, off-the-wall characters faithfully to the screen, and to bring life to such oddballs CGI is a must. 

Thankfully, Gunn knows how to do it right, and if his work so far in the DCEU can be used as any sort of predictive model for his upcoming DCU slate, we suspect this is just the beginning for CGI characters. As for what kind of computer-animated characters we could see in the DCU? It's anyone's guess, but villains like Bat-Mite or Mr. Mxyzptlk are serious possibilities.

The DCU will defy audience expectations

If you've watched "The Suicide Squad" and "Peacemaker," you may have noticed that Gunn's not one to give audiences something safe and expected. The film and its TV spin-off were anything but paint-by-numbers affairs and were truly unpredictable. But it was more than just twists and turns, as their humor, tone, and story were hardly the safe choices we'd come to expect from more recent superhero movies.

Likewise, if you've followed Gunn on social media, you've probably seen first-hand that he is not just concerned with backlash, but flippant towards fans who decry his vision. He admirably refuses to be guided by the audience and does what he thinks is best for his stories. Assuming what we've seen so far from him will hold true for his new DCU plan, it's likely that this same philosophy will guide him as he builds the DC cinematic universe. Already Gunn has waved off the vocal outcry over the dismissal of beloved superstars, Henry Cavill and Dwayne Johnson, and surprised everyone with the announcement that Wildstorm heroes "The Authority" will be a part of the DCU.

Unlike previous studio heads, Gunn seems to know exactly what he wants to do with his new cinematic universe, and he'll be darned if he is going to feel pressure from the expectations of fans. In fact, it's more than likely that what we'll get will defy them in the best ways possible.

Gunn loves taking risks

When a highly-respected filmmaker takes the reigns of a major comic book franchise that belongs to a multinational conglomerate, you might expect them to eschew the daring, bold storytelling of their earlier independent work. But Gunn has shown that he's willing to take big risks even when overseeing a billion-dollar property by killing off franchise characters. Even in his work for Marvel he's offed more than one major character, and contributed to seismic shifts in Marvel's status quo.

In "The Suicide Squad," Gunn showed us just how bold he can be, killing off a half dozen characters in the opening act, and by the end had killed off major stars like Nathan Fillion and Peter Capaldi, and taken characters like Captain Boomerang and breakout star Polka Dot Man off the board. The final act even had franchise lead Rick Flagg (Joel Kinneman) murdered in cold blood by the very character who was already announced to be turning hero in his own TV spin-off.

Suffice it to say, Gunn is undaunted by the reaction of big studio executives who might hand down mandates for his story. Instead, he's never afraid to take enormous risks in his stories, and now he's freer than he's ever been as the head of DC Studios. At this point, nobody is safe in Gunn's DCU. Don't think he'd have the stones to kill off Batman or Superman or make Lex Luthor a superhero? Think again.

It won't be a copy of Marvel

As the unprecedented success of the MCU unfolded in the early 2010s, DC tried to catch up with 2011's "Green Lantern," but had to start over after that movie didn't perform to expectations. In a rush to meet audience demand, they leaped headfirst into Snyder's arms, handing him near-total control, but things never quite gelled. Instead, their movies were met with mixed responses from critics and at the box office, and their shared universe was seen as a mess.

With a new regime headed by Gunn, the logical assumption might be for him to pattern the new DCU after the success of Marvel. But if "The Suicide Squad" and "Peacemaker" can teach us anything, it's that Gunn had no intention of copying an existing winning formula, but creating a totally new one. This is something Gunn himself confirmed during the press event that unveiled the first phase projects. "A lot of people think [it] is going to be Marvel 2.0," Gunn said (via SlashFilm). "And definitely, I learned a lot of stuff at Marvel. [But] I think that we have a lot of differences."

In addition to highlighting the unique narrative opportunities that the DC affords that aren't present at Marvel, the new studio head believes his plan is even better and smarter.  "I think that we're a lot more planned out than Marvel did from the beginning, because we've gotten a group of writers together to work that story out completely." 

The DCU won't always be for kids

It would be foolish to think that the DCU will be turned into an adults-only cinematic universe just because "The Suicide Squad" was R-rated and "Peacemaker" was categorized as TV-MA. After all, one of the downfalls of the previous attempt at a shared universe for the DC characters was its decidedly gloomy tone. But while Gunn will almost certainly be making the new DCU something for a wider audience, his previous projects indicate that it won't always be for kids.

As a matter of fact, Gunn has already confirmed that some projects may get an R-rating. "It depends on the story. We're going to give every story what it deserves," Gunn told DC.com. "Some things we know. 'Superman' is definitely something we know we'd like to be PG-13, so I'm going to make sure it is. Other things, like the 'Waller' TV show, are a little bit more mature. And we have other things that are aimed a bit more at young women or at kids that are still within this world."

This makes sense for Gunn, who's proven he's more than capable of making fun, family-friendly adventure, and weaving dark, adult-oriented stories into a shared world, as he did with "The Suicide Squad." And if there's anyone we trust to be able to do just that with the likes of the decidedly adult-skewing super-team, "The Authority," it's Gunn.

Even the villains will be relatable

In the history of superhero films, the villains are often the highlight of the story, from Jack Nicholson's Joker to Josh Brolin's Thanos. But more often than not, these villains are crazed, psychotic madmen with little motivation other than destruction and chaos, a force of nature for the heroes to thwart. Even in those instances where they have understandable motivation, it's not often that the villains are portrayed as sympathetic figures, and this was particularly true in the previous incarnation of the DCEU.

But if we are to learn from what we've seen in "The Suicide Squad" and "Peacemaker," the villains in the new DC movie universe will be far more than cookie-cutter baddies. The alien invader Starro is ostensibly the villain of "The Suicide Squad," only for us to learn that it was a prisoner on Earth, and subjected to brutal experiments. Likewise in "Peacemaker," the alien 'butterflies' that were believed to be trying to take over the Earth and destroy mankind are revealed to be trying to save it in their own twisted way, because of what had happened to their own world.

Since his entry into DC movies, Gunn has put a focus on villains with more than just understandable motives, but who are so compelling and deep that they can even elicit an audience's sympathies. Thinking about the many projects already announced, fans should be excited about the prospect of Gunn adding this touch to DC's pantheon of classic villains.

Gunn is going to amp up the fun factor

If the former version of the DC movie universe had a massive flaw that needed a correction, it was its often dreary, sometimes downright depressing atmosphere. Later movies in the DCEU attempted to course correct, with Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman" and David F. Sandberg's "Shazam!" ably stepping up as brighter, more hopeful superhero sagas. But despite their efforts to turn away from their reputation, they just couldn't escape the smell of doom and gloom infused by franchise starter Snyder.

With Gunn taking over DC studios, however, it goes without saying that the next version of their cinematic universe will make for more vibrant, more exciting entertainment. While Gunn is no stranger to violence and adult themes and even darker moments, he's always been able to deftly fuse those elements into his films without sacrificing the sheer fun factor that DC superheroes deserve.

From the darkness of "Peacemaker" and its story of an abusive father, to "The Suicide Squad" killing off half its roster of stars, Gunn still manages to turn otherwise gritty, violent stories into films that are fun and diverting, with moments to get audiences off their feet and cheering, and that's the biggest lesson we can take from his work so far.