Why James Gunn Broke His Own Rule for 'The Suicide Squad' Post-Credits Scene

[Redacted] is actually [redacted] at the very end of Gunn's 'The Suicide Squad.'

the suicide squad, joel kinnaman, idris elba, john cena, burning car
A few of the Suicide Squad in 'The Suicide Squad.' | Warner Bros.
A few of the Suicide Squad in 'The Suicide Squad.' | Warner Bros.

This post contains spoilers for The Suicide Squad.

James Gunn kills characters with glee throughout The Suicide Squad, his well-regarded follow-up to the much-panned 2016 Suicide Squad. He blasts through a whole B-team of antiheroes within the first minutes of the movie. Later on, he offs heroes like Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag and David Dastmalchian's Polka-Dot Man, in addition to countless bystanders. But then he does something he swore he wouldn't do: He brings one of his dead back to life. In a post-credits scene, the audience learns that John Cena's Peacemaker survived a bullet to the neck and being crushed by rubble. It's perfect setup for Gunn's Peacemaker-starring TV show set to hit HBO Max.

Needless to say, the near-constant blood spatter is just one facet of Gunn's film, which is packed to the brim with jokes, big ideas, and multiple anthropomorphic creatures. Thrillist spoke to the director, who made the leap to DC after two successful Marvel movies in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise (with a third on the way), about Peacemaker's future, political commentary, and Harley Quinn.

Thrillist: You had huge success with Guardians. This is another team-up movie, what were you most excited to tackle with The Suicide Squad?
James Gunn: Oh man, so much stuff. I was excited being to able to create characters that were in this world so I didn't have to design a toaster. That takes up a lot of time in Guardians. I'm dealing with this now. And to be able to create these huge sets and work with a ton of practical effects was very exciting to me, just the fun of all of that, of shooting. I think I was really excited about working with an ensemble where anything could happen. Yes, I killed characters in Guardians and will continue to kill characters in Guardians, but those basically in the first Guardians movie when Rocket looked at Drax and said, "I'm going to shoot you in the face." You don't see Rocket pulling out his gun and all of a sudden Dave Bautista's face disappears. In this movie when a character says that, they mean it.

Dealing with the moral ambiguity and dealing with the different moral shades of these different characters and sort of revealing like Russian dolls who really has a heart and who doesn't and seeing the different ways they look at the world, and also anything can happen. Playing with that made it really fun for me. I saw how, with some movies, you are kind of telling a story with one hand behind your back because not everything can happen.

The moral ambiguity is something I wanted to get into. You start with a plot about Latin American dictators and it becomes about American interference. How did you think about getting these political ideas into this film and how did you approach that?
One of my favorite writers, one of the most influential guys to me, is Alan Moore. And Alan Moore's comics deal with putting these ridiculous characters in these incredibly intense socio-political situations. Doing that is something that excites me because I don't think it's ever really been done cinematically. Being able to do that with these heroes and putting a sad sack soldier character named Polka-Dot Man in the middle of a black ops operation in a Latin American country where he's sent by the United States of America thinking that he's doing the right thing and ends up not really doing the right thing. That, to me, is interesting. It's just another way to bring these outlandish characters down to earth and to give them meaning. As we hear the characters say at the end of the movie, "Where's the purpose?" I love superheroes. I grew up with them. They are a part of my personal nerd culture.

You've had a lot of experience with them.
But there's a lot of things about them that are questionable ethically. Is it OK for a guy to say: "I'm going to go seek vengeance because my parents were killed by a bad guy and beat the shit out of other people that I think are doing the wrong thing"? Our ability to put these characters on a pedestal who are larger than life and better than we are, like what good does that do us? There's a lot of things that are interesting to me, which is one of the reasons why I think it's fun playing with super villains because you're not putting these people up on a pedestal. These are people that are considered disposable by the United States government. I love all those like Parallax View sort of political conspiracy thrillers.

The sequence where Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Peacemaker are one-upping each other going into Alice Braga's camp killing everyone around is both funny and made me queasy. How did you think about the intended effect of that scene?
To me, one of the main through lines in the story is Bloodsport's relationship to his own masculinity, and that is the ultimate toxic masculinity battle of all time. It's two guys in a big dick swinging competition, coming in and murdering people as if it's a shooting gallery and they are just completely involved in this. Peacemaker brings out the worst in Bloodsport in terms of that negativity about him. And throughout the movie, we start to see Bloodsport break down a little bit.

When he becomes a hero is when he acknowledges who he is as a leader, and the way he does that is expressing the knowledge he has about the other people around him, and then through becoming vulnerable, which is what he does when Ratcatcher 2 [Daniela Melchior] is able to pass on her father's love to him, and he goes through what we call the "Ratptism," which is where he faces his fears, embraces his fears, and therefore conquers his fears. And then at the end with Sebastian where he accepts that small amount of him that's good. To me, that last moment with him and Sebastian, there's nothing in the movie that doesn't go to that, whether it's Harley's stuff and her belief in dealing with God or Daniela, it all goes to that little moment.

the suicide squad, polka-dot man david dastmalchian, peacemaker john cena, king shark, bloodsport idris elba, ratcatcher 2 daniela melchior
Additional members of the Suicide Squad in 'The Suicide Squad.' | Warner Bros.

There's a Peacemaker show on the way. How did you want to set him up for future appearances and make him essentially the villain of the entire movie?
Amanda Waller [Viola Davis] is the villain of the entire movie. [Peacemaker]'s doing the bidding. Peacemaker says something to Rick Flag: "I know what they did is wrong. I think that's wrong too, but it's been done. But if people find out, it's going to cause chaos." It's very utilitarian. He's the most utilitarian guy we've ever met. He's almost fetishistically utilitarian.

I killed him. We were very blessed on this movie because I was able to shoot through March of last year, and then came home. I had three days, I was able to go out, and then I went into quarantine. And then I'm stuck in quarantine with nothing to do. I edited the movie pretty quickly. The visual effects took time, but that's a couple of hours a day. So I had time left over, and DC said, "If you ever did a TV show who would you want to do it about?" And John and I had all these conversations about who this character was, and what he did, where he came from. How did he and what made him become such a douchebag? His sexuality, which is something that people are going to I think be surprised by.

He's this very interesting character that John and I created just by talking, and also seeing that moment at the end where he's got that gun aimed at Ratcatcher and the depth in his eyes and where I thought I could push John Cena as an actor into a place people would be totally surprised by. So at that point I said, "God, it would be great if it was a TV show." I did consider doing it as a prequel, and then I was like, I'll just do the thing that I always said I wouldn't do, which is I'm going to bring him back to life. If it was one of the other characters who died in a more traumatic way where there's more meaning to their death, I might feel differently, but because it was that way I decided I could do it.

So you shot the post-credits bit after?
I shot the post-credits bit when we shot the show. So that was one of the first things we shot, and then we cut it and put it together. The show is totally shot. It's already finished.

Harley Quinn has been through a whole evolution since her debut in Suicide Squad. How did you want to approach her?
First of all, I'm a huge Margot fan. I love I, Tonya. I think I saw this side of her that was so interesting, and I also really love Harley Quinn, and I think she's one of the most well-written comic book characters ever. She's so distinct, which is so rare. We know exactly who she is. The idea of bringing her to life, I just wanted to bring out full Harley as started by Paul Dini in the '90s and also give Margot a chance to do something she hadn't done with the character. So it really was giving her full on Harley, chaotic, out of control, but still has the sweetness that we can't really explain, to be able to see her experience growth in her unique Harley way. Her way of growth is something that would be considered horrible by most people's standards. But in her situation, it's growth. The speech that she gives with Luna is one of the very first things I wrote when I was jotting ideas for the movie and it changed very little from that day until the time we shot it.

On the one hand, you have the socio-political side of the story. On the other, you have Starro. How did you think about using him?
I really am attracted aesthetically to contrast, the political aspects of it contrasted with a giant kaiju. It's interesting to me to see this beautifully broken colors of Colón, Panama next to this giant ridiculous starfish. Some of our early art was that and I'm like, "Oh my god, this movie is so fucked up, I can't believe they are letting me do this." I love Starro as a character, he scared the shit out of me as a kid. I realize he's ridiculous because he's pink and bright blue, and walks poorly, but I also think he's scary as hell. I don't like the idea of a thing going up my face and things going in my nostrils controlling my brain and I just become a part of that guy. That's terrible. I like all those contrasts in there and the way he served the story.

What conversations do you have with your brother Sean about what he's going to do in each movie? In this one, he's Weasel. 
It really doesn't go that far. He doesn't expect to be in my movies at all, and then I call him up and say, "I want you to play this guy, he's kind of like Bill the Cat from Bloom County, but a supervillain." He's kind of about as close to a greyhound as any anthropomorphic animal has ever been. I said that to him: "When they take Weasel on that ship and they throw him into the water, you might as well be throwing a German Shepherd into the water." He has no clue what's going on. He is not smart. King Shark is Einstein next to Weasel.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.