Last summer's Suicide Squad should probably be considered a box office success but critics were not impressed. It had serious third act problems, a nonsensical plot (even by the standards of comic book movies), a goofy gyrating villain, terrible pacing and clumsy character development. Jared Leto, who went Full Method as the Joker and featured heavily in the marketing, was cut from much of the film.
Most of the film's problems can be traced back to a skittish studio (still burning from the vitriol generated by the locomotive of garbage known as Batman v Superman) demanding extensive re-shoots and changes at the last minute. Before the studio started meddling with it, Suicide Squad was probably exactly what you would have expected from David Ayer: a mediocre film helmed by a mediocre director who only had six weeks to write a script and a long record of obsessing over a single, narrow theme. Ayer only has one kind of story in him: his characters are always somewhere in the moral grey area between Good and Bad, usually because the dehumanizing circumstances of war or police work require even the best of them to bend the rules in the pursuit of a greater good. In the end, though, the Good Guys do the right thing and the Bad are punished - but for a while he likes to have the Good Guys scratch around in the dirt.
That was obviously the film he was going to make when Warner Bros hired him to direct a movie about a team of criminal misfits assembled by the government to fight an evil greater than themselves. The film would have had the Squad do some bad things (they are bad guys, after all) but then redeem themselves in the end. It probably would have been a simplistic and mediocre film, but I bet it at least would have made sense, which is more than you can say for what was actually released. The word is that once the studio saw Ayer's original cut, which featured a demented, cruel Joker and various other unpalatable acts committed by the main characters, they got scared and had a trailer company re-cut it with a bouncier tone and this is why the whole thing ends up feeling like the inside of a schizophrenic mind scream and why many scenes appear not to fit together at all.
Had Warner Bros never seen a David Ayer film before? Because he left a trail of breadcrumbs, in the form of every movie he has ever made, that should have tipped the studio off as to what kind of film he was going to make when they signed him up:
Training Day (2001). Ayer didn't direct Training Day, he merely wrote it. Antoine Fuqua directed, and if there is any doubt that Fuqua is a terrible filmmaker, his incredibly boring remake of The Magnificent Seven last year should put those doubts to rest. I have always hated this movie, but many people seem to think Denzel Washington climbing on top of a car and shouting "King Kong ain't got nothin' on me" is the height of cinema. Either way it was, at best, an average film about Los Angeles police officers who cross all sorts of lines in order to get the bad guys. Personally, I thought it fell apart in the third act.
Street Kings (2008). This Keanu Reeves vehicle is also about Los Angeles police officers who aren't afraid to act outside the limits of the law, as long as the bad guys are really bad. It opens with a scene in which Keanu Reeves shoots an Asian gang member sitting on a toilet in order to save some child prostitutes. I'm not sure how it ends, because it was so bad I had to turn it off after twenty minutes.
End of Watch (2012). This is probably Ayer's best movie. Shot on a shoestring budget it uses bodycam and dashcam footage very effectively to chronicle the work of two gung-ho Los Angeles police officers working a beat in Compton or South Central or some other place that is often mentioned in NWA songs. This time, Ayer is a bit more thoughtful in his exploration of the Thin Blue Line that separates Bad Men from those who pursue them. It's pretty good at pushing the idea that everyone loses some of their humanity when they swim in the muck. Mostly, the movie is carried by the great acting and chemistry between Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal, and the brisk pacing. The third act more or less falls apart, but endings are hard and when it comes to David Ayer this film should be considered his Lawrence of fucking Arabia.
Fury (2014). I will give Ayer credit. Instead of police, he throws us a curve-ball, making this one about soldiers and the awful things that they are forced to do during war as they navigate the line between their humanity and their survival. He does this by taking a team of A-list actors and sticking them in a tank during World War II. Everyone has what I presume are supposed to be cool nick-names: Bible, War Daddy, Machine, Coon-Ass and they are meant to have the same kind of easy camaraderie that Pena and Gyllenhall had in End of Watch but it never really materializes. In what should be a familiar refrain by now, the movie completely falls apart in the third act as a single tank crew kills something like three hundred German soldiers in an embarrassing display of jingoistic war porn. I could not believe that this scene went on for as long as it did, or that it was as bad and ridiculous as it was. By the end the main characters have more or less redeemed their previous inhuman behavior.
Clearly, anyone who looked at this filmography would know exactly what they were getting with David Ayer. His Suicide Squad was going to be a film about a team of interesting misfits who do some bad shit, strike up a compelling chemistry with each other, and then go on a mission to take down an even worse villain. If history is any guide, it was destined to fall apart in the third act, and who knows if the chemistry between the team would have worked, but nobody can act like Ayer was not a known commodity. Maybe his cut would not have been a very good movie. But we at least know exactly what kind of movie it would have tried to be and Warner Bros should have known too.