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Reviews from the Edge: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

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Greetings from the Edge!

With this episode, we’ll be taking a look at the latest DC animated feature for adult audiences, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Seeing how well the Squad came off in Batman: Assault on Arkham, a stealth Suicide Squad/Deadshot vehicle, can Hell to Pay better it now that the Squad’s managed to capture the title as well?

With a cast of Squaddies pulled straight from the original comic series including Count Vertigo, Punch & Jewelee, Black Manta, and Blockbuster, as well as our main cast, there should be more than enough fan service to ensure that any old school Suicide Squad fan will find at least one character they’ve been hoping to see animated.

Let’s hope they do this one right, Edgites, because I’ve been reading good old Task Force X since before I was a teenager.

Starring Christian Slater as Floyd Lawton/Deadshot ( although like Harley, Waller, Captain Boomerang, and Killer Frost, seemingly not the same Deadshot from Batman: Assault on Arkham ), Billy Brown as Ben Turner/Bronze Tiger, Vanessa Williams as Amanda “The Wall “ Waller, Liam McIntyre as George “Digger” Harkness/Captain Boomerang, Tara Strong as Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel/Harley Quinn ( sadly underutilized here ), and Kristin Bauer van Straten as Crystal Frost/Killer Frost (Our deadpan snarker for this little road trip ).

Hell to Pay opens up on the submarine of the classic Aquaman villain and Squad member Black Manta, as Count Vertigo, Deadshot, Punch, and Jewelee are being sent on a mission to retrieve a flash drive of covert intelligence from Tobias Whale on his private train. Much like the beginning of a 007 film, this serves to introduce us to our main character, in this case Deadshot, before the main story gets rolling.

Then we shift over to Gotham City where the infamous Prof. Pyg is getting ready to do a little deconstructive surgery on Two-Face before he is violently recruited by Scandal Savage and Knockout for a mysterious patient.

After our adventurous little aside, we return to Belle Reve ( prison and home of the Suicide Squad ) where the Squad is assembled to go after a mysterious card by the head of Task Force X, Amanda “The Wall” Waller. A card that is said to be worth a single soul’s release from the bonds of damnation, a literal “Get Out of Hell Free” card. Now the Squad is on an unofficial mission across America in an RV, battling threats both internal and external while trying to get the card back to Waller before she decides to detonate the nanite bombs in their necks and put the Suicide in Suicide Squad!

Why is Waller walking the cellblock herself gathering the Squad? Especially seeing as this is before their nanite bombs have been injected. (image courtesy of DC Entertainment)

Usually I take this time to write about the special effects of the feature I’m reviewing, but that’s a little more difficult when I’m talking about an animated film. I have to say, I really enjoy getting to see a traditional animated movie for a change. I know CG movies are the new hotness, but they still seem to lack some of the warmth that “Real” animation does for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pixar and new Disney as much as the next nerdy reviewer, but as a comics fan, the more traditional style fits superheros ( or in this case super-anti-heroes ) better for me.

I will say that the CGI used to animate the cars in Hell to Pay can be a bit ropey at times, especially in a couple of shots of the Squad’s RV when it’s rolling in an accident. It completely disconnects from the background and It really took me out of the picture. I know the animators’ time can be put to better use than animating vehicles, but… ugh, somebody needed to be paying more attention to quality control on those scenes.

Mr. Downey Jr., I thought you were a Marvel actor. What will Cap say?! (image courtesy of DC Entertainment)

While Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is a Squad movie in title, it actually takes most of its major beats from a Gail Simone Secret Six storyline, “Unhinged.” So I guess you could say that while Batman: Assault on Arkham was a backdoor Suicide Squad picture, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is a stealth Secret Six vehicle. We’ve even got Scandal Savage and Knockout, heck even Copperhead is acting more like Ragdoll ( another Secret Six member ) than the comic Copperhead. He even uses some of Ragdoll’s lines! The Secret Six “Unhinged” storyline was frankly much better done than Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, but trying to translate it directly into an animated feature would be a nightmare. It’s morally complex, visceral, and maintains its edge while moving at a breakneck pace: sadly, all things that Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay fails to do.

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay tries to be too many things at once and suffers for it. It has moments, but they just can’t seem to connect them in any meaningful way. Maybe I’m just expecting too much, but hey, that’s what I’m here for, right?

Am I the only one who really wants to see Killer Frost throw down with Elsa? My money’s on Frost! (image courtesy of DC Entertainment)

I have seriously mixed feelings about Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. It certainly has moments if you’re a Squad fan and it brings the over the top violence and as much sex as they seem comfortable dishing out ( seriously could have lived without seeing Steel Maxum adjust his package ), but it doesn’t have much else to offer. If all you want is some comic book action, Hell to Pay is for you and it utterly blows the live action movie out of the water.

However, it delves a little too deep into the animated canon to be accessible to just any casual viewer ( it’d help for one of the big reveals that you’ve seen Flash Point ), while at the same time playing fast and loose with the characterization of most of the main characters and changes things from the earlier Squad animated appearance in what is either a reboot or a retcon ( I’m guessing they backed themselves into a corner with the ending to Batman: Assault on Arkham ).

With Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, they’ve made a fun little action piece, but you can see from its bones that it could have been so much more. Maybe if they’d stuck closer to Gail Simone’s original Secret Six arc that they took the story from or took the time to add a little more depth to the characters, it could have been great instead of just okay with some fun action set pieces.

I’m giving Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay my recommendation as long as you know what you’re getting into, and to answer the question I posited at the beginning of the review: nope, it doesn’t outdo Batman: Assault on Arkham.

If you have a chance to see either Hell to Pay or Assault on Arkham, pick Assault on Arkham. It’s just the better all around movie.

At least Deadshot’s costume is better in Hell to Pay than Assault on Arkham, although that feels rather like damning it with faint praise.

Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!

Let me just get this out of the way right now: they ruined the entire mystery of the “get out of hell free” card by showing that it works. Ahhh @%#$#, why did they do that, did they really think we are so dense that we couldn’t make up our own minds? It would have been so much more effective to just leave it up to us to decide if the card was genuine or just a giant ruse. Ben’s death would have meant a lot more if Deadshot just handed him the card, he passed away, and then Floyd gave it to Waller with no sign if it was ever real or not. We’d know that it had been used and that even if it was real, it was useless now. Instead, we get spoon fed the answer like idiots. I know we’re comic fans, but have a little faith in us.

Saying that, Floyd handing the now expired card off to Waller as if nothing had happened might have been my favorite thing in Hell to Pay. Truly the best characterization of Deadshot I’ve seen in any of his animated appearances.

Speaking of Floyd, this version of him keeps missing, not just his character, I mean missing his shots! Hell to Pay has way too much of Deadshot blazing away and failing to hit even foot soldier level flunkies. In fact, we get almost no demonstrations of his seemingly fantastical shooting. He comes across more as a soldier than as the hyper-obsessed marksman who’s skill makes him a match for the metahumans of the DC universe. Oh, and for some reason, he looks A LOT like Robert Downey Jr. in Hell to Pay, which makes Christian Slater’s voice coming out of his mouth even more jarring!

Oh, and why can’t they decide on either classic big mama “The Wall” Waller or “I don’t know how to draw a large woman” de-aged model fan service-y Waller, or as I like to refer to her, “The Partition.” Seriously, can we not have a single woman over 120 pounds and 30 years of age in a position of power in comics? We’ve got plenty of smart, powerful fat guys in comics: Kingpin, Penguin, Dr. Octopus,  hell, they even put Tobias Whale in Hell to Pay ( although I’m betting that has more to do with his appearance on Black Lightning than his girth. ) Are you telling me we can’t have one smart, powerful fat woman, especially considering that the Wall has been kicking around in all her glory since the ’80s before her disastrous New ‘52 bulimic reboot? ( Now with visible bra…… because while teenage boys may not be reading comics, they appear to be writing them. ) I would like to think we, as a fandom, are more mature than “No Fat Chicks.” C’mon DC, give us back the real Wall, once and for all!

I will say that at least they’re being a little more gender equal with the fan service in Hell to Pay. Yes, there are strippers, but unlike the truly regrettable Catwoman short from a few years back, they are male and not used to objectify any of the main characters. Although I have to say, I don’t think they put nearly as much work into them. I guess they don’t budget as much for female gaze as they do for male gaze, eh?

Next week, you can expect more action when I’ll be taking a look at Cartel 2045 with Danny Trejo and more CGI robots than you can shake a machete at. Will we be in for low budget gold, or is this schlocky piece of movie mayhem just more electroplated dross? Tune in to find out!

About Author

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Justin T. Williams hails from the Great state of Texas. His life has been a series of strange adventures that makes for intriguing writing but difficult laundry. Justin is known to his friends as a lifetime fan of comics, movies, and classic pulps. He lurks far from the sun, indulging in his favorite pastimes of writing and hoarding random bits of interesting but useless knowledge.