Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is DC and Warner Bros.’ latest original animation, and sees the titular antihero team on the trail of a magical Monopoly card. Directed by Sam Liu, it stars Christian Slater, Tara Strong and Vanessa Williams, and was released digitally on March 27, 2018.
SUICIDE SQUAD: HELL TO PAY IS A DC ANIMATED ORIGINAL. CHECK OUT THE FULL ARCHIVE.
In a lot of ways, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is just reward for those of us who have sat here devotedly as DC Animation and Warner Bros. have relentlessly plunged their hands into Batman’s utility belt to fondle his little blue Bat-balls. When I reviewed the last of these releases, Gotham by Gaslight, I suggested that even though there’s always a Batman story worth telling, we don’t necessarily have to tell Batman stories all the fucking time. It seems someone at DC listened.
Despite Batman: Assault on Arkham technically being a movie about the Suicide Squad, it was also set in the Batman: Arkham video game continuity, which makes Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay the first proper outing of Task Force X. And it shows. Very few films in this line are aimed explicitly at kids, but equally few are truly adult; this one, freed from any source material or brand association, is perhaps the grimmest, bloodiest hour-and-a-bit that DC’s generally-stellar animated line-up has to offer. Which is fitting, at the very least.
Plot-wise, a Juice Plus version of Amanda Waller (Vanessa Williams) has despatched the Suicide Squad to retrieve a MacGuffin of spiritual value, although what exactly it is and why exactly she needs it both constitute spoilers. The antihero team this time around consists of Deadshot (Christian Slater), Harley Quinn (Tara Strong), Captain Boomerang (Liam McIntyre), Bronze Tiger (Billy Brown), Killer Frost (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and Copperhead (Gideon Emery). The screenplay, by Alan Burnett, gets a decent amount of mileage out of all of them, with scene-setting and drama-building duties accomplished by a bunch of DC character cameos from Two-Face and Professor Pyg to Tobias Whale and Silver Banshee.
Speaking of mileage, a fair helping of Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay takes the form of a cross-country road trip as the squad, stripped of their usual resources and gear, are forced to slum it like any old dysfunctional family. Except every now and again they stop off to kill lots and lots of people.
This is where the script shines. We’ve seen dark humor in these films before, but rarely so successfully, and the character writing is surprisingly sharp for an ensemble of second-string villains. Deadshot is the nominal leader, as usual, but he’s more interesting here thanks to how well he’s complemented by Bronze Tiger, a stoic martial arts expert who believes in order and accountability to such an extent that he almost constitutes a traditional hero. His ideals intertwine with the plot’s ruminations on redemption and divinity – surprisingly meaty material for a film like this to chew through.
Meanwhile, Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang are on-hand mostly to add some needed levity during dramatic sequences, while director Sam Liu gets a fair helping of sight gags out of Copperhead – an “extreme body modification” enthusiast with a forked tongue and a bionic tail. Even Killer Frost has a small but significant subplot which reinforces the idea of the Suicide Squad actually being bad guys at heart, which is something that the live-action movie hinted at but never managed to follow through on.
It’s the villains that let things down. Zoom (C. Thomas Howell) is one of them, and despite a connection to Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox that’ll be a fun reveal for established fans, he’s hardly the most compelling villain. Worse is the immortal Vandal Savage (Jim Pirri), who, despite centuries of life having seen him masquerade as almost every noteworthy despot in history, here is little more than a growly man with a beard who could quite easily have been removed from the story entirely. The antagonists in Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay aren’t exactly the point, but nonetheless it would have been nice if they had included a decent one.
Still, when you consider its sense of humor, its willingness to explore challenging themes of spirituality, and its eagerness to off characters (including some major ones) as bloodily as possible, Suicide Squad is a perfectly solid film. It isn’t one of the best of DC’s animated line, and I like it less than the Suicide Squad’s previous appearance, but it’s worth a look purely by virtue of not being yet another fucking Batman film.