PERHAPS MEL GIBSON wasn’t insulting superhero films last year as much as he was auditioning to land one.
Last fall at the Venice Film Festival, as the director was promoting his Oscar-nominated film “Hacksaw Ridge,” Gibson slammed Warner Bros./DC’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” as “a piece of [expletive]” and added, for good measure, that “real superheroes didn’t wear Spandex.” His strong words to Deadline stirred headlines — especially given the critical drubbing and below-expectations box office that “Batman v Superman” had drawn — and they take on a new light now, as he is shortlisted for WB/DC’s “Suicide Squad” sequel, according to the trades.
Yet his latter statement must be taken in context: Gibson was selling a film about a true-life World War II war hero — Andrew Garfield’s medic character Desmond Doss, who became the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Gibson, never a man to eschew unapologetic rhetoric even when sober, was spotlighting Doss’s heroism in a way that can be easily chalked up to passionate promotion.
As for Gibson’s rant specifically against “Batman v Superman,” his main argument was one of money. Befitting an Oscar-winning director who once proudly returned a $600 million global gross on a $30 million budget (with 2004’s “Passion of the Christ”), Gibson questioned the business model that requires a quarter-billion dollars to be spent on production alone (something that such filmmakers as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have also done).
Asked about superhero-movie economics, Gibson told Deadline: “I’m really baffled by it. I think there’s a lot of waste. … It seems to me that you could do it for less. Wow, I mean if you’re spending outrageous amounts of money, $180 million or more, I don’t know how you make it back after the tax man gets you, and after you give half to the exhibitors.”
In other words, his mini-tirade could be interpreted to mean: “I’ll bet I could make it much cheaper.” (Even as he mock-pleaded ignorance about just how much all those green screens cost — which only serves to highlight Gibson’s love of authentic-looking action beneath naturalistic light.)
Gibson surely also believes he could stage better battle scenes. From “Braveheart” to “Apocalypto” to “Hacksaw Ridge,” the director prides himself on his films’ fight choreography — especially the precise guiding of the viewer’s eye within massive spectacle and rapid action — and he has little patience for the murky mess that passes for great effects in some superhero films.
Now, the mere mention of Gibson’s name in connection with the Suicide Squad franchise stirs the expected curiosity quotient and the deserved outrage factor — as well as the predictable jokes (with his past as director of “Career Suicide Squad” being one of the better ones). The fact that Gibson is actually being shortlisted is also a marker measuring Gibson’s journey along Hollywood’s redemption road. His recorded anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic statements over the past decade will forever follow him. And to many, he will remain a pariah. But the ever-forgiving Hollywood believes in third acts, particularly if you have either an auteur’s sensibility or a gift for major return on movie investment. Gibson, to his good fortune, has a reputation for both.
At first blush, of course, considering Gibson for the gig can sound every bit as bat-crazy as his high-strung “Lethal Weapon” detective character. And there’s always a chance that this is Warner Bros.’s equivalent of the emperor’s summoning a once-dismissive Mitt Romney to Trump Tower. After all, “Zombieland’s” Ruben Fleischer (also shortlisted) would be a smart and much safer pick for this — and fellow candidates Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House”) and Jonathan Levine (“Warm Bodies”) have the requisite track records to be aptly intriguing.
But perhaps Warner Bros. believes it’s not in a great position to play it safe, particularly given the mixed receptions to last year’s “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” Maybe Geoff Johns and his fellow suits at WB/DC want a director who can deliver clear, propulsive story within what would surely be — given his track record — one of the most viscerally viscous superhero films in Hollywood history. There will be blood. And guts. And Gibson’s camera has a fixation on physical sacrifice and heroic cleansing.
Gibson’s “Suicide Squad” would surely be a visual bloodbath. But the one thing it likely wouldn’t bleed is studio money.