Monday Morning Critic – Will Smith and the Curious Franchise Choicing of Suicide Squad and Independence Day


One of the more curious things of the past couple years was when Will Smith declared he didn’t want to be “sequel guy” in 2012. Smith, who maintained his A-list status over the years with a number of high profile sequels, curiously has’t made one since MIB 3 and turned down a role in the flop that was an Independence Day sequel. That seemed to be a no brainer; it was a film that helped move him into stardom from merely being a television star and big budget disaster films are pretty safe from box office failure.

One could argue that everyone returning but him almost guaranteed it would flop as hard it did. If Will Smith couldn’t be convinced to come back, and the focus would be onto Thor’s little brother and an ensemble cast saving the day, the thinking was that it must be a stinker. Smith’s career choices have always been safe ones; even his more riskier roles, ala Seven Pounds or Concussion, weren’t really all that risky. They were small budgeted, adult fare that yearned for Oscar glory.

It wasn’t quite a “GIVE ME ALL THE OSCARS” Jim Carrey type of career turn but Smith was at least trying to move in a different direction.

His choices from then to Suicide Squad were one of an actor trying to pull a Bill Murray, of moving away from big budget blockbusters and into more star powered affairs. Murray moved from commercial fare into more critical fare, chasing quality parts and moving away from being the guy who headlined some of the biggest (and funniest) films of a decade. Smith tried to go more of the Clooney route, of being able to headline fare that’d find its way into a wide release that didn’t involve aliens or explosions, but none of his choices wound up having that same majestic box office you could bank on from a Smith film.

Even After Earth couldn’t out draw the stench of its word of mouth, Smith seemed to be in an interesting place as an actor. And when he was announced in a comic book film it felt off for all the wrong reasons.

It’s why he was a curious choice for Deadshot in Suicide Squad when the role of Rick Flag seemed more up his alley. The marketing campaign almost writes itself if Smith viewed this as a vehicle for his starring power: “Will Smith leads the Suicide Squad.” Deadshot is a high profile character but he’s the type of character that’s replaceable in a film like this.

Smith is always the good guy, never the villain, and Deadshot is an anti-hero in the film (and comic book) and decidedly not a good guy. He’s a good father but he has no qualms with murder. He would’ve made a perfectly acceptable villain in a Batman film based on Smith’s star power as opposed to Deadshot’s role in the gallery of rogues that are the ire of Bruce Wayne’s costumed alter-ego. Him taking even this tiny risk is something that tells us a lot about how we views his career at this point to a certain degree. An actor’s choices allow you to take a look at where they are going, and where they’ve been, and Smith’s career at this point seems to be pointing one way.

Interesting roles … and blockbusters for the right part, not the right check.

It’s why him not returning to the Independence Day sequel makes sense in retrospect and not because it turned out be a terrible film that was a sequel to another terrible film. The role didn’t make sense for what Smith wants, which is a character that at least is challenging on some level. Coming back as Captain Steven Hiller against playing Deadshot was a choice he had to made, scheduling wise, and a role he could do in his sleep against a green screen …. against a role that at least challenges him a little bit in front of a green screen.

ML Kennedy wrote another book. Buy it … with your money.

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Scott Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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