James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad set out to merge the wild world of DC Comics with that of a gritty war movie and does so by utilising a wide variety of practical effects rather than CGI.
However, what may surprise viewers is that most of the action scenes featured in the blood-soaked blockbuster opted for ambitious constructed sets rather than real-world locations.
The production moved to Trilith Studios (formerly Pinewood) in Atlanta, Georgia for much of its shoot, the same studio where most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe projects since 2015 have been filmed.
In total, The Suicide Squad’s interior and exterior sets took up a total of 250,000 square feet of space, with producer Peter Safran describing it as “the largest construction project” on any movie in Warner Bros history.
If you’re wondering where you can find the tropical beach and nearby jungle of fictional island Corto Maltese in the real world, prepare to be shocked: both are highly convincing soundstages at Trilith.
For the beach, Gunn and his team did consider finding a real location in South or Central America, but ultimately struggled to find one that would fit the spatial and safety requirements.
Instead, they spent 17 weeks building a replica on a backlot at Trilith Studios, measuring a whopping 250 feet by 250 feet, positioning it next to an existing tree line to give the jungle effect.
Constructing an artificial ocean was also a huge undertaking, requiring a 60 feet by 125 feet excavation, which dropped more than six feet at its deepest point.
Several hundred kilograms of sand were hauled onto set by trucks to complete the look, with the bottom of the “ocean” painted to allow for convincing aerial shots.
As for the neighbouring jungle, that was another 17-week construction effort using real trees to populate an enormous 40,000 square feet stage large enough to be used for three completely different scenes, with distinct areas including a running creek, paved road and several huts.
So real was the jungle set that actual families of lizards began to call it home, while the vegetation shipped in continued to flourish throughout the shoot.
But while Atlanta was a pivotal location in the production of The Suicide Squad, the cast and crew did fly out to Panama during principal photography, shooting in Panama City and Colón.
Gunn chose Panama as a location since it had areas that looked aged and “war-ravaged” as well as others that looked pristine and new, playing into an overall look of both decline and grandeur.
Production designer Beth Mickle said: “We ended up going to Panama — Colón in particular — because it actually looked like a bomb had gone off and the townsfolk just walked away from the crumbling buildings, but under the dirt and debris are these really vibrant colours.”
Only outdoor scenes were filmed on-location in Panama, with the interior of Luna’s palace being another Trilith soundstage, while the nightclub that Peter Capaldi’s Thinker frequents was actually Atlanta’s own Clermont Lounge.
“It’s a strip club, run by a group of older women, that’s been in business for decades and is a mainstay of the tourist scene,” explains Mickle. “It has great textures and this giant circular bar, a dance floor, some seating… all these different components.
“And though the ceilings weren’t quite as high as may have been ideal for us, it had a layout that really worked with James’ script, and that’s one of the reasons it was a slam dunk.”
The looming scientific facility of Jotunheim was also a Trilith job, with the production building a 100 foot tall brutalist structure layered with dirt and moss for the scenes at the entrance to the building.
The Suicide Squad is a soft reboot of the divisive 2016 film, with only Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney reprising their roles, while Idris Elba, John Cena and Sylvester Stallone are among the newcomers.