‘Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay’ Is An R Rated, But Underwhelming Grindhouse Homage
by Ben Martin
A lot of cats didn’t care for the live-action Suicide Squad (2016) movie that hit theaters a couple of years ago. While I thought it was a decent picture, it’s not one I’ve found myself revisiting; despite the fact that I own it. Thus, I completely understand why many fans didn’t care for the big-screen interpretation of The Suicide Squad. However, fans do have one consensus when it comes to adapting this particular comic book. That being that DC Animation’s Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014) is the best cinematic interpretation of the material thus far. Although the title is a bit of misnomer. In reality, Assault on Arkham is a straight-up Task Force X flick wherein the titular hero’s involvement in that picture is tantamount to his cameo in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.)
Based on the popularity of John Ostrander’s modern interpretation of the Suicide Squad comic book series and the success of their previous mission with The Squad, it’s no surprise that DC Animation wanted to revisit the characters with the movie in review. However, it should be noted that Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is a stand-alone feature; although one could look at it as an Assault on Arkham sequel if they so desired. This time around, the animation studio decided to embrace a recent trend by making Hell to Pay R-rated. Thereby making it the fourth Restricted DC animated film.
Beyond that, the lineup of Task Force X was changed up, as is the tradition. For the film in review the Squad consist of: Deadshot (Christian Slater), Bronze Tiger (Billy Brown), Killer Frost (Kristen Bauer van Straten), Copperhead (Gideon Emery), Captain Boomerang (Liam McIntyre), and everyone’s favorite Harley Quinn (Tara Strong) In Hell to Pay, Amanda Waller (Vanessa Williams) yet again has The Suicide Squad under the gun and for Waller’s sake, the team of expendable criminals must succeed. As we all know, Amanda Waller is a terrible human being. Many folks, myself included, would say she’s even more deplorable than the Squad she commands. Well, now Waller’s at death’s door and doesn’t have much time left. Most probably rightfully assuming she’ll go to Hell when she dies; Waller gives The Suicide Squad a critical mission. That being that they must procure a special card that can be used to get one’s soul out of eternal damnation. However to acquire the “Get out of Hell free card.”, the Squad will have to face many obstacles as well as find a male stripper named Steel Maxum (Greg Grunberg).
As I mentioned earlier, many fans enjoyed the previous Suicide Squad film, and I was one of them. As such, I had high hopes for Hell to Pay. These hopes were bolstered more so when I heard that this animated outing with be an R-rated and have a grindhouse/exploitation film tone. For those of you who are unfamiliar, exploitation films are movies (usually in the action and horror genres) that are overly-violent and sexual. In turn, these movies aren’t meant to be taken seriously and typically feature unrealistic or exaggerated plotlines. An extension of this sub-genre is the term “Grindhouse” or Grindhouse movie. Said term is derived from how exploitation films were screened at seedy theaters and just about every drive-in throughout the country in the 70s and 80s. Multiple exploitation flicks would be shown at these venues; thus they would be “Grinded out”; hence the term.
Think about any Quentin Tarantino movie you’ve ever seen; those are great grindhouse B-movies with A-grade budgets. Sadly, Hell to Pay’s attempt at paying homage to such movies didn’t work for me. Yes, this movie is quite violent and contains a couple of scenes of completely unnecessary nudity. Thus, it ticked those exploitation film boxes. However, employing such a tone in this script by Alan Burnett (Justice League vs. Teen Titans) just doesn’t fit. Every exploitation genre tactic used in this film feels unnatural and over the top in the worst ways possible. The staples of excess sex and violence don’t gel here. To the contrary, such elements feel forced at best. Of course, it doesn’t help that I found the plot to be a bit tedious. Moreover, I felt that this whole plot would work better on a pulp page than in an animated form.
However, for all my criticisms, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay does have a couple of strong suits. For one, the animation is very well-done. As opposed to employing an anime style ala Assault on Arkham, this film features an amalgam between anime and traditional animation. The result of which is a pretty and colorful animated love-child. Backing this animation is a very talented voice cast. Every single cast member’s performance was perfect. In particular, Slater’s Deadshot and Brown’s Bronze Tiger were standouts among the ensemble. Then again, that makes sense as those two characters serve as this picture’s emotional and moral cores. On a related note though, I will say that certain members of The Suicide Squad didn’t need to be included in this feature. For example, Harley Quinn provides nothing more than moments of comic relief and scenes in which she gawks at male strippers.
In closing, while I appreciate Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is attempting here, it doesn’t quite work. Thus what results is watchable, but mediocre film at best. If you watch every entry in The DC Animated Universe or are a fan of these characters; you should watch this film. However, if you’re just lukewarm on either of those things; I think you can skip this animated adventure. I’m a firm believer that the one aspect in which DC has Marvel bested cinematically is on the animation front. Alas, this particular outing just me nonplussed.
Want more of the DC Animated Universe? You can read my review of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight here.
The next DC Animated film will be The Death of Superman which Will Be Released Later This Year.
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is available on Digital, Blu-Ray & DVD!