Hell To Pay

Is SUICIDE SQUAD: HELL TO PAY a better film than the Oscar-winning 2016 blockbuster SUICIDE SQUAD? Honestly, I would’ve been more surprised if it wasn’t.

On top of everything else, the live-action SUICIDE SQUAD somehow ended up becoming a grimy looking AVENGERS knock-off. It tried to be a heartfelt superhero film about a team learning to come together. Characters had sentimental redemption arcs and there was even a giant sky beam shooting off into space.

Images courtesy of Marvel Entertainment and DC Entertainment, respectively

I understand why people criticized MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V. SUPERMAN for being overly dreary, but the aptly named Suicide Squad is supposed to be an inherently cynical concept. It’s a team of convicted criminals being forced by an underhanded government official to her dirty work; if the team starts referring to each other as friends and family, then somebody’s missed the point.

Fortunately, SUICIDE SQUAD: HELL TO PAY’s take on Task Force X doesn’t have that problem. The squad is portrayed as they’re meant to be: a bunch of backstabbing criminals being managed by a backstabbing bureaucrat. But aside from not totally botching the premise, what else does HELL TO PAY have to offer? And is it any good?

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Well, let’s start with what doesn’t work.

The Bad

A while back, I did a rather negative review of BATMAN: GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT. In it, I compared GASLIGHT to another direct-to-DVD movie that had come out that month: SCOOBY-DOO! & BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. I pointed out in the review that in comparison to GASLIGHT, SCOOBY-DOO! & BATMAN actually had better visuals and more expressive animation overall.

Obviously, I meant this as an insult, albeit a factual one. GASLIGHT was a rated-R Elseworlds adaptation that pitted Batman against Jack the Ripper, which was a pretty ambitious idea. Yet it had lower production values than the latest Scooby-Doo crossover.

Images Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment

In hindsight though, comparing GASLIGHT to SCOOBY-DOO! & BATMAN might’ve been an unfair comparison. Animation has a reputation for being children’s entertainment. Thus, kids’ cartoons tend to draw in a lot more money than their adult-orientated counterparts. Sure, there are exceptions here and there considering the mainstream successes of series like THE SIMPSONS or RICK AND MORTY. But, in general, big production companies tend to view “R-rated” animation as a risk.  

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So, in case you didn’t know already, SUICIDE SQUAD: HELL TO PAY is, in fact, rated-R. Not so coincidentally, the animation does seem a bit lacking at times.

Underfunded Expressions

The fight scenes look good, but the more conversational scenes in between don’t fare so well. In general, the characters have these stiff stoic expressions whenever they talk. Because of this, jokes and one-liners end up falling flat because the characters aren’t expressive enough to pull them off. For instance, there’s a scene where a security guard is watching porn on a computer because there’s nobody else around. Here’s what that scene looks like:

Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment

Occasionally, there will be a smirk or a bewildered look, so the film isn’t totally out of touch with the characters’ emotions. Still, characters will generally trade goofy one-liners with flat, vaguely angry expressions in a slow and unfittingly serious tone. Watching these flat expressions becomes easier as the film goes on. But it can pretty hard to sit through at first.

The Good

While the animation is pretty rough around the edges, the writing itself for the film was pretty good. The plot revolves around a mysterious artifact known as the “get of hell free” card. Basically, it’s the “get out of jail free card” from Monopoly, but it’s applicable to the afterlife. Wanting the card for herself, Waller sends Task Force X, AKA the titular “Suicide Squad” after it.

Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment

Like I said earlier, the main flaw of the 2016 SUICIDE SQUAD movie was how it treated the main characters. It tried to make them into a cohesive group that supposedly ends up caring about each other. HELL TO PAY, on the other hand, is a free-for-all where a bunch of supervillains from both within and outside the squad do everything they can to keep the card for themselves.

For me at least, it’s fun watching supervillains screw each other over, and HELL TO PAY delivers on that front. There’s plenty of side-switching and backstabbing to go around, resulting in some genuinely surprising plot twists that keep things exciting.

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Outside Influences

Part of what makes those plot twists work is that HELL TO PAY incorporates elements from outside of the Suicide Squad series that you wouldn’t have expected. Scandal Savage and the “Get Out of Hell Free” card comes from Gail Simone’s run on Secret Six.

The film also ends up being a sequel of sorts to JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX. I know that sounds like spoilers, but it’s actually a warning: you do need to watch FLASHPOINT PARADOX first to understand a certain major plot point that pops up.

R-Rated Perks

Another reason why HELL TO PAY’s supervillain free-for-all works is that the movie actually lives up to its R-rating. Like all good cheesy action films, blood squirts out like a geyser anytime anyone gets shot. Also, like all good cheesy action films, there’s a brief bit of nudity that I’m not totally sure was necessary. There’s even an extended sequence at a male strip club that actually goes in a pretty funny direction.

Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment

Admittedly, it never gets as violent or as crude as SUPERJAIL or MR. PICKLES. However, this makes sense. Obviously, it’d be bizarre for mainstream superhero comics to become total shock-fests, but Marvel and DC’s core superhero comics haven’t exactly been kid friendly for a while now, and they tend to feature just enough blood and sex to be slightly over the “PG-13” rating. Whether or not this is a good thing is up for debate, but it does work well for comics like “Suicide Squad”, and it’s cool to see a film that can emulate the freewheeling tone of those comics without having to hold back.

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Does HELL TO PAY Go Far Enough?

Still, despite all that HELL TO PAY has going for it, I continue to be irritated by the animation quality. In comparison to other action-packed adult-oriented cartoons coming from places like TBS and Adult Swim, the visuals in GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT and HELL TO PAY just seem stiff and underfunded. Again, I know that DC and/or Warner Bros. doesn’t want to over-invest in rated-R superhero cartoons since it’s seen as a niche market.

But this past weekend, Warner Bros., who produces all of DC’s animation-related projects, put out an animated Scooby-Doo!-SUPERNATURAL crossover. The animation for it was pretty expressive. It even properly conveyed the jokes and one-liners. And in that aforementioned crossover, a ghost hunter says “f*ck” in front of the Mystery Gang. In HELL TO PAY, Amanda Waller still says “friggin’” when she gets mad.

Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment

I mean, what does it say about Warner Bros.’ animation department when they have more faith in SCOOBYNATURAL than in films featuring characters like Batman and Harley Quinn? I get that broadcast television has a wider audience, but Amazon video charged me about twenty bucks to watch HELL TO PAY. I’m just trying to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth here.

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Still The Best Suicide Squad Film

My gripes with the animation quality aside, I would say that HELL TO PAY is the best Suicide Squad Film to come out so far. I already brought up why I thought SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) didn’t quite work, and in comparison to BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, HELL TO PAY is more imaginative in it’s plotting and worldbuilding.

To be more specific, ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is a solid action film, but HELL TO PAY’s various plot twists and the clever ways it incorporated other elements from the DC universe outside of Task Force X’s expected jurisdiction made it a lot more engaging compared to the Batman-centric world of ASSAULT ON ARKHAM.

Granted, given how much whining I’ve done about HELL TO PAY’s animation quality, I should point out that ASSAULT ON ARKHAM’s visuals are better and more expressive. I would also like to point out that ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is rated PG-13, further confirming my suspicions that R-rated direct-to-DVD superhero cartoons are getting lesser budgets than their kid-friendly counterparts.

Which, again, ticks me off because said R-rated cartoons tend to be more ambitious in scope. Yet, while ASSAULT ON ARKHAM might have better visuals, it’s at least weighed down by the fact that it has the worst Deadshot design out of all three Suicide Squad films.

Deadshot(the big guy in the front) in BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM. Image Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Further Recommendations

Anyways, if you liked HELL TO PAY but you haven’t seen ASSAULT ON ARKHAM yet, I do think it’s worth a watch. Also, check out the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED episode “Task Force X”. It doesn’t have Harley Quinn, but it does have Deadshot and Captain Boomerang being part of a group of super-criminals with bombs in their necks being ordered around by Amanda Waller.

HELL TO PAY is already out digitally, but it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 10th. It’s possible that the Blu-Ray version might correct the visual issues I’ve been harping on about. In any case, I’ve paid for my digital copy, and if you’ve got some money to spare and you want to help convince Warner Bros. that putting a bit more budget into their R-rated direct-to-DVD superhero cartoons would be worth it, why not show your support by buying a copy?

Okay, that’s not a great sales pitch. But if you’re looking for a Suicide Squad movie that fully takes advantage of having a bunch of DC Supervillains trying to pull off capers with and against each other, HELL TO PAY is as good as it gets.

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