Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 4/10/18;
Warner;
Animated Action;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence throughout, sexual content, brief graphic nudity, and some drug material.
Voices of Christian Slater, Billy Brown, Liam McIntyre, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Gideon Emery, Tara Strong, Vanessa Williams, C. Thomas Howell, Dania Ramirez, James Urbaniak, Julie Nathanson, Jim Pirri, Greg Grunberg.

This ain’t the “Super Friends.”

There have been ‘R’-rated movies from the DC Universe brand before, but Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay pushes the limits of its rating more than those previous installments, and not just by increasing the level of violence. The film also has a lot of fun turning the dial up on sexual material and nudity in a way viewers might not have expected from a comic book movie.

Then again, this is a “Suicide Squad” movie, and that’s probably going to bring a harder edge by default. As comic book fans would have known even before the live-action movie version came out in 2016, the Suicide Squad is a team of supervillains assembled by a shady government operative named Amanda Waller to undertake dangerous missions for which they can take the blame if anything goes wrong. And they follow orders because Waller installs explosives in their head that she can detonate if they betray her.

For this mission, Waller wants the team to retrieve a mystical artifact that can guarantee the soul of whomever is holding it will go straight to heaven. But it will only work once, which makes for some great plot dynamics since anyone who wants it can’t get it from someone who has it by killing them.

Waller’s not the only one seeking the “Get Out of Hell Free” card, providing plenty of opportunities for action as several teams of bad guys confront each other to take control of it. The plot also allows for a nice connection to the previous DC movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, which paved the way for this string of 10 movies that share a continuity.

The lineup includes a few characters familiar to those who have seen the live-action version, including the assassin Deadshot (excellently voiced by Christian Slater), the snarky Captain Boomerang (Liam McIntyre) and, of course, Harley Quinn (Tara Strong), whose primary contribution to the team seems to be her immense popularity.

This is a much more satisfying treatment of the material than the live-action attempt. The ‘R’ rating has lifted the constraints from the creative team, and everyone seems to be having a lot of fun pushing the material as far as they can. And with bad guys versus bad guys, there’s a lot of ways to push, and no reason to expect that any of them can’t be killed off at any time (except for Harley, maybe).

And that brings us to the commentary track by producer James Tucker and writer Alan Burnett, who wrote the script as one of his last projects before retiring. They can’t help but talk about Burnett’s long career in superhero animation, dating all the way back to the squeaky clean “Super Friends” cartoons of the 1970s and ’80s. So it’s only natural that they would joke about how any 10 seconds of this movie would make the network standards-and-practices suits responsible for “Super Friends” blush.

Comic book fans will enjoy seeing appearances from some of the more obscure characters in the canon, including Tobias Whale, who can also currently be seen in live-action as one of the main villains on the new “Black Lightning” TV series. And another member of the team is Killer Frost (Kristin Bauer van Straten), a version of whom is part one of the heroes on the current “The Flash” TV show. Frost was also part of the team in another great Suicide Squad adventure, the 2014 standalone animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham, the success of which supposedly helped get approval to make the live-action movie.

The Blu-ray also includes short featurettes about the histories of the Deadshot and Boomerang characters, as well as a 10-minute pontification about the power of the “MacGuffin” — a good plot device to set the story in motion.

Finally, the Blu-ray offers a sneak preview of the next DC Universe movie, The Death of Superman, which will be the first of two films to adapt the legendary comic book storyline that was the basis (in a much abridged form) for the first DC Universe animated movie, Superman: Doomseday, back in 2007.

Animated ‘Suicide Squad’ Has Fun With the Bad Guys

For James Tucker, producer of the DC Universe line of animated superhero movies, making an animated film based on the Suicide Squad was a no-brainer.

James Tucker

After the 2016 live-action Suicide Squad earned more than $325 million at the domestic box office, with a sequel is in development, Tucker said the decision to make an animated adventure featuring the team was made “about 10 seconds after the live action came and made a gazillion dollars, pretty much.”

However, the animated movie is not a tie-in with the live-action one, but rather exists in the same continuity as Tucker’s earlier animated efforts such as Justice League: War and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.

“There’s only like three characters from the movie in this movie. It’s very much our own version of the Suicide Squad and our own continuity,” Tucker said during a press day March 23 at the 2018 WonderCon at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is available now digitally and will be released on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray April 10 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

The ‘R’-rated adventure finds the top secret Task Force X — a government-sponsored team comprised of supervillains being blackmailed into undergoing dangerous missions — sent to retrieve a powerful mystical object before another group of bad guys can obtain it.

Alan Burnett

The screenplay, which tells an original story, represents one of the last projects for retiring animation veteran Alan Burnett, who has been writing and producing superhero cartoons since “Super Friends” and “Batman: The Animated Series.”

“I’ve always liked the Suicide Squad, and I thought ‘that’s a good one, that’s different,’” Burnett said. “I’ve been in Batman-land for long enough, and other major characters in DC, and this will be nice, to work with some of the minor characters.

“This was fun because 90% of them I really hadn’t dealt with.”

The voice cast includes Christian Slater as Deadshot, Tara Strong as Harley Quinn, Billy Brown as Bronze Tiger, Liam McIntyre as Captain Boomerang, Kristin Bauer van Straten as Killer Frost, Gideon Emery as Copperhead, Vanessa Williams as Amanda Waller, C. Thomas Howell as Zoom, Dania Ramirez as Scandal Savage, James Urbaniak as Professor Pyg, Julie Nathanson as Silver Banshee and Jewelee, Jim Pirri as Vandal Savage and Vertigo, and Greg Grunberg as Steel Maxum.

“I feel like it serves the fans really well,” McIntyre said. “I think it’s really well written, it’s a compelling story, and it fits really well into that Suicide Squad world.”

With “Suicide Squad” stories focusing so much on the bad guys of the DC Comics pantheon, the opportunity to kill off numerous characters presents itself much more readily than with the DC Universe’s more-traditional superhero fare.

“I retired six months ago, and when I was writing this thing I was ready to kill them all,” Burnett said. “We worked pretty closely with DC, and there are certain ones — you’re never going to kill off Harley Quinn, she’s the fourth biggest star in the DC lineup. But many of the others were up for grabs, and DC didn’t blink when we started our executions.”

In this case, the villains on the team are forced to comply with the orders of their government handler, Amanda Waller, or else be killed by an explosive implanted in their heads. This creates some fun for writing them, Burnett said, because they are still entrenched in their villainous ways.

“They’re not only disturbed and troubled, but they’re forever threatened to have their heads blown off, so that makes it an interesting situation,” Burnett said. “The trick in a way is to be able to create a story in which you can’t anticipate who’s going to die. And I think we succeeded. I think there’s a lot of surprise deaths in this one. So I’m hoping the fans will like it.”

Nathanson found playing the “bad guys” was a departure from some of her other roles.

“Morally ambiguous is such a great way of describing any villain,” Nathanson said. “They say that one of the best ways to play a villain is to not let the villain know that they’re bad because to that villain what they’re doing is just and right. It’s the right thing to do, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it.”

For van Straten, the role of Killer Frost let her indulge in personality traits she doesn’t come to naturally.

“I love playing characters who don’t care about being liked, probably because it’s so the opposite of my life,” van Straten said, comparing Killer Frost to her role as Pam on “True Blood.” “They just don’t care. No sympathy whatsoever. That’s an amazing quality to have. My stress level would be so much lower.”

McIntyre said he was happy to play Captain Boomerang, but that finding the voice wasn’t so easy as simply using his natural Australian accent.

“What’s funny to me is that my challenge was like how Australian to make him,” McIntyre said. “There’s a spectrum of Australian that I don’t think you guys understand. There’s pretty much English, and then there’s like belligerently Australian.”

Grunberg said he enjoyed how his character was developed.

“I remember them showing me what the character looked like, and then I get there and I see the movie and I’m like ‘oh, that’s right, I am dancing on a pole,'” Grunberg said. “I’m a stripper. And he wears a thong.”

Grunberg joked that the risque nature of his character made for some entertaining times in the recording booth.

“Just so you know, I wore a thong when I recorded this because I thought, I want to stay true to the character,” Grunberg said.

Dania Ramirez and Greg Grunberg

Ramirez said she was glad to see her character of Scandal Savage included in the film because of what her backstory represents.

“Scandal is actually one of the few lesbian characters in the DC comic book world,” Ramirez said.

Never one to miss a beat, however, Grunberg chimed in: “You know who’s going to appeal more to the gay community though? My character!”

“He with the biggest [banana] hammock wins,” Grunberg said.

Burnett said he relished the storytelling freedoms presented by the ‘R’ rating.

“I’ve been wanting to make ‘R’-rated movies since I started in this business,” Burnett said. “I’ve been wanting to make adult oriented animated stories forever. This is a pretty hard ‘R’ I think. I started with ‘The Smurfs’ and I never thought I’d see this day. I’m glad that before I retired I got the opportunity to do it.”

McIntyre said the film’s harder edge allowed it to go places that the live-action film and the comic books tend to avoid.

“The advantage with the ‘R’ rating is we get maybe a bit more play room to be the Suicide Squad that you might have expected, like these guys who are really gung ho, really take no prisoners, who can be truly like horrible in their way but kind of loveable in the same way,” McIntyre said. “So that’s fun. I think that will be fun for the fans to see that version of the Suicide Squad and I think a bit more hardcore.”

Ramirez agreed.

“This was a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s evil versus evil.”

Burnett said he hopes that ‘R’-rated superhero animation will prove successful enough to inspire more such projects from the major studios.

“What I wish is there will be more adult animated films made by the major studios, that they’re not always falling back on PG,” Burnett said. “I think that’s the next step.”

The Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay DVD, Blu-ray and digital versions will include a sneak peek at the next “DC Universe” movie, The Death of Superman.

Extras exclusive to the Blu-ray and digital versions are audio commentary from Tucker and Burnett; and the featurettes “Outback Rogue: Captain Boomerang,” “Nice Shot, Floyd! The Greatest Marksman in the DCU” and “The Power of Plot Devices, MacGuffins and Red Herrings.”