When Gangster Squad hits theaters this Friday, it will join a long history of movies whose roads to release have been bumpy and draped in controversy. The film was originally slated for Sep. 7, 2012, but after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado last July, Warner Bros. Pictures and the producers of the film opted to push its release to 2013. On top of the large amount of gun violence depicted in the movie — Gangster Squad follows a team of cops who abandon protocol to rid the streets of crime by gunning down mobsters — there was also pressure to reshoot a sequence that depicted a massacre set in a movie theater. After four months of tinkering, the stylized crime drama is finally ready for public consumption.
Despite the turbulent post-production process, early reviews for Gangster Squad are mostly positive. The Hollywood Reporter cautiously praises the movie, saying “there is incident and plenty of it, all portrayed in a brutal modern fashion rather than in a style one would ever associate with the noirish films of the era itself or with the more recent tangy, nostalgic evocations of it.” They add the mixed note that, “Gangster Squad is all about instant gratification, almost as much for the characters as for the viewer.” Variety praises Josh Brolin, who stands out amongst a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, and Sean Penn: “With his lantern jaw and tough, Glenn Ford-like attitude, only Brolin looks as though he’s been on hard-boil since the era in question.” Empire Magazine echoes the two industry reviews, calling Gangster Squad “perfectly decent entertainment” and citing the “frequently witty script, a roster of likable, cool-looking stars, fizzy choreography and Sean Penn out-hamming Mr. Pricklepants.”
Steering through the unfortunate, thick fog of real world hot topics, Gangster Squad appears to deliver at least a bit of fun during the normally stagnate January movie season. But will audiences head to the theaters to give it a chance?
Because of the nature of the genre and content of the film itself, Gangster Squad has continued to play up the ball-busting heroes of the film and their less-than-morally-correct ways of conducting business. It’s a crime movie set in ’40s — the roaring fire of tommy guns is a given. Distancing the film from the Aurora tragedy was a smart move, but thanks to other incidents, the debate against gun control continues to rage, its vines spreading to every facet of pop culture. Gangster Squad escaped one controversy and found another.
Success for the movie isn’t impossible. History has shown that a blockbuster that hits early speed bumps can still connect with its audience, and good reviews don’t hurt. 2002’s Spider-Man notoriously kicked off its marketing campaign the year before with an iconic teaser featuring the World Trade Center. After September 11, Sony quickly recoiled and found a new approach, helping the film to eventually earn $403.7 million in the States. Controversy also surrounded 2011’s We Bought a Zoo, which released trailers in the wake of the slaughtering of zoo animals in Ohio. While many guessed the poor timing would impact the film, Zoo went on to gross a solid $75.6 million.
But not every film to face unfortunate struggles goes unscathed. Last summer’s The Watch, which toyed with its title (changing it from Neighborhood Watch) and battled Internet reactions to its suggestive teaser trailer after the death of Trayvon Martin, never regained momentum. Even with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill, the movie only mustered $35.35 million.
As with Spider-Man, 9/11 put Hollywood in a tough spot; no film was more affected than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage, bumped from Oct. 2001 to Feb. 2002. The film starred Arnie, who was dwindling as a box office draw already, seeking revenge on terrorists who killed his family. The film hit too soon and took in $40 million. Still, the award for “worst timing” continues to go to Fox’s 1986 drama SpaceCamp. The NASA disaster movie that put kids in a life or death scenario arrived in theaters five months after the Challenger accident. The movie grossed a paltry $9.7 million.
The first reactions to Gangster Squad are promising and align the comic book-styled movie more with past hits than misfires. Where will it land? We’ll find out when the movie drops over the weekend. Will you be checking out Gangster Squad in theaters?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]