James Gunn has always made unconventional superhero movies; even before Guardians Of The Galaxy made him a household name with its attempts to put a less serious spin on Marvel’s glossy cinematic universe, Gunn’s resumé was filled with stuff like dysfunctional superteam mockumentary The Specials (which he wrote and co-starred in), and 2010's pitch-black vigilante comedy Super. When your most conventional superhero movie features your hero defeating the universe-level threat by dancing like a goofy moron, it’s probably taken as read that you’re not especially interested in the “Beams and punches and portals in the sky” school of superhero filmmaking.
So it’s not entirely surprising to see Gunn give an interview this week—ahead of the release of Warner Bros.’ The Suicide Squad, which the director is describing mostly in terms of being a war film in supervillain costume—in which he says that the majority of modern superhero movies are “really dumb” and “mostly boring for me right now.” Talking to The Irish Times, Gunn (who’s spoken out before when directors like Martin Scorsese have floated their own dismissal of the superhero machine) seems to be talking mostly from a place of his own rapidly gestating tastes and interests, linking superhero films to the same cycles that have controlled the fortunes of other once-dominant genres:
We know about the way cowboy films went, and the way war films went. I don’t know, I think you don’t have to be a genius to put two and two together and see that there’s a cycle to those sorts of films, and that the only hope for the future of the comic book and superhero films is to change them up. They’re really dumb. And they’re mostly boring for me right now.
Gunn notes that he was as enthused as any comics fan when the MCU kicked off, saying, “When Iron Man came out, I was in. You’re able to make a guy fly around who looks like a guy flying around. And that was a beautiful thing to be able to do. But if the movies don’t change,” he added, “It’s gonna get really, really boring.” Hence the injection of outside genre elements into the formula—which tracks, given that many of the most critically successful modern comic book movies (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: Ragnarok) have been the ones to crib shamelessly from outside genres.
Which wraps us back around to The Suicide Squad, with Gunn enthusing about the film in a way that’s hard not to see as implicit criticism of its contemporaries:
We’re using more practical special effects than we’ve ever used in any movie. And to be able to really build this spectacle war film, having Super Villains as the protagonists gave me a great excuse to be able to create a film in the genre I’ve loved since I was a little kid, and to do it a big huge way, and not have to hold back in any respect. It just makes it more fun to shoot when I’m actually blowing things up as opposed to having silly looking CGI explosions.