Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, the latest animated feature from the DC Comics movie-verse, is now available, and if you love a hard R rating, bloody shoot ’em up violence, and a chance to see some of DC’s most infamous villains teaming up, you’ll love this flick. It’s absolutely unflinching when it comes to the violent extremes Amanda Waller’s team will go to in order to achieve her goals, or their own. It’s unafraid of portraying sexuality in ways that flip the script from some previous Warner Bros. Animation / DC Entertainment features. And, perhaps surprisingly, it finds some heart (and even spirituality) to explore in some of comics history’s coldest, most brutal villains. Below, I’ll break down the movie itself along with the home video’s special features to help you decide if it’s worth adding to your collection.
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay features the cast of Christian Slater (Deadshot), Billy Brown (Bronze Tiger), Liam McIntyre (Captain Boomerang), Kristin Bauer van Straten (Killer Frost), Gideon Emery (Copperhead), Tara Strong (Harley Quinn), Vanessa Williams (Amanda Waller), C. Thomas Howell (Zoom), Dania Ramirez (Scandal Savage), James Urbaniak (Professor Pyg), Julie Nathanson (Silver Banshee), Jim Pirri (Vandal Savage and Vertigo), Greg Grunberg (Maxum Steel), Dave Fennoy (Blockbuster and Tobias Whale), Cissy Jones (Knockout), Natalie Lander (Darma), Trevor Devall (Punch), Dave Boat (Harvey Dent/Two-Face) and Matthew Mercer (Savage Gunman).
Right out of the gate, this is my preferred version of the Suicide Squad, after the comics, of course. I’ll take the animated cast and crew behind Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay over the live-action versions on either the big screen or the small. There’s something about the medium of animation that just allows these already bigger-than-life characters to show off their ridiculous personalities, powers, and skills in impressive ways without being held back by superheroes for once. That’s not to say there’s no conflict here, quite the opposite; in the absence of heroes saving the day, the worst of the worst among the villains will ultimately end up attacking each other in a spectacular display of attrition. While sometimes this villain vs villain approach results in a thin plot, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay manages to find some heart among the heartless.
As you might expect from any story focusing on the Suicide Squad–a team of villains serving jail time who are given some time off their sentence should they successfully complete a deadly and dangerous mission without disobeying orders–Hell to Pay sees the title team going on a retrieval mission for Amanda Waller. Just what, exactly, they’re getting into (or going after) is kept hush-hush for a while, but when it’s revealed, it really adds some interesting layers to the storytelling and helps to illuminate the differences among these villains … and the worst among them, Waller herself. That’s a very clever twist on what could have been a somewhat tired conceit.
Another worthwhile addition here are the layers of characterization that deepen each of the title team’s villains. These days, there’s no excuse not to do that considering that most of them have decades worth of comic book history to pull from. But Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay walks that extra mile to give us a reason to see Deadshot as more than just an assassin for hire, or to understand Bronze Tiger’s point of view, or to fully comprehend the motivations behind Zoom and Killer Frost’s actions, to name a few. Hell to Pay offers a refreshing perspective on a familiar story and it’s a fun, if aggressively R-rated ride.
This feature does struggle a bit in the middle, however. The pacing is a bit off and the dialogue sometimes gets mired down in monotonous drudgery, though it’s occasionally picked back up either by the sharp-edged humor of Captain Boomerang, the awkwardness of Copperhead, or the irrepressible energy of Harley Quinn. The bookends of Hell to Pay are solid, however, even as the half-baked middle carries the heavy emotional lifting. There are enough characters (including some surprise cameos) to keep things interested throughout the telling even though the bulk of the development goes to only a couple of major players. There are also plenty of laughs to be found, especially the self-referential ones that are readily winking at long-time viewers familiar with the highs and lows of DC’s original animated movie universe.
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is a fun addition to the animated canon and an easy pick-up on home video if you like the title team, super-violent action, and mature storytelling.
And for the dedicated among you, the feature also has a commentary track featuring James Tucker and Alan Burnett (writer, co-producer). They offer up trivia on the movie as it rolls on, like the opening scene including Black Manta as a way of keeping some continuity throughout the DCU. It also comes with the early warning not to get attached to anyone, which is quickly proven to be good advice.
A Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie, The Death of Superman (7 minutes) – Doomsday returns in animated form to go up against the modern versions of DC’s superheroes. This featurette describes the titanic terror as more of a mystery who has all of Superman’s strengths without his conscience. The movie will also feature a much bigger cast, both of superheroes and of mere mortals who have connections to Superman. The Justice League plays a big part in both a strategic way and an emotional one. It’s also described as only covering the “first act” of what the previous movie, 2007’s Superman/Doomsday, encompassed and will take time to focus on Superman’s personal relationships. (It’ll also introduce a new super-fan of Superman.) Voice director Wes Gleason introduces the cast while supervising producer Tucker and co-director Jake Castorena talk about Doomsday’s impact, then and now.
Outback Rogue: Captain Boomerang (6 minutes) – Tucker and VP Interactive & Animation at DC Entertainment Ames Kirshen walk viewers through the history of Captain Boomerang and his evolution in the DC Universe, including his addition to the Suicide Squad.
Nice Shot, Floyd! The Greatest Marksman in the DCU (6 minutes) – Tucker and Kirshen revisit Floyd Lawton’s history, his infamy as Deadshot, and his emotional arc in this movie.
The Power of Plot Devices, MacGuffins and Red Herrings (10 minutes) – A look at familiar storytelling devices and how they’re used in this particular film. These various devices are broken down by Kirshen, director Sam Liu, Tucker, creative director Mike Carlin, and author Phil Cousineau. This deep dive into film history revisits classic DC animated movies but also films like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane and Star Wars.
DCU “Sneak Peeks”: Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
From the DC Comics Vault: Beware the Batman “Instinct”, Young Justice “Terrors”