Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay has a lot going for it, and at the same time, is a complete and total mess of a film! The question is, what wins out? The pros or the cons? And when all is said and done, does this R rated romp end up being a better movie than the live action Suicide Squad, or do these two films ultimately share the same fate? I will get into that, but before we do, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Note: This section can be skipped by those who have never read or have no interest in the source material. While there isn’t a direct comic arc that this film pulls from, I would recommend the following if you’re looking for something similar to read. And if you like comic book movies, why wouldn’t you try an actual comic book out for size?
Suicide Squad: The Black Vault – Assembled by the tough-as-nails intelligence expert Amanda Waller and overseen by disgraced military genius Captain Rick Flag, the men, women, and monsters of the Suicide Squad-a.k.a. Task Force X-do the jobs that are too dirty for any superheroes to soil their capes with.
Their latest mission should be easy enough: recover a powerful cosmic weapon called the Black Vault from enemy hands. The Suicide Squad always gets the job done (mostly) but this time, when the weapon’s dark influence spreads and the team is driven to madness and mayhem (more than usual), there’s only one person sane enough to save the Squad from destruction…the Clown Princess of Crazy herself, Harley Quinn!
Legendary artist Jim Lee teams up with writer Rob Williams and artists Philip Tan, Jason Fabok, Ivan Reis and Gary Frank for a new deadly Task Force X mission in SUICIDE SQUAD VOL. 1: THE BLACK VAULT! Exploding from the pages of DC’s blockbuster Rebirth event and starring the characters you love and hate from the smash-hit movie, this graphic novel is a great jumping-on point for new readers! Collects issues #1-4 and the SUICIDE SQUAD: REBIRTH one-shot.
This is the first volume of the current Suicide Squad run. While the story doesn’t play into the plot of this film, it does establish Amanda Waller, the Squad, and other key players.
Secret Six: Villains United – Collecting the series that led into INFINITE CRISIS! Six of justice’s deadliest enemies band together to start a revolution. Together, they want to take a stand to stop the super-heroic community from tampering with their minds and to prove how deadly they can be! But not everyone agrees to this agenda. Six rogues are recruited by the enigmatic Mockingbird, charged with opposing the Society and given assignments to thwart their rivals and even help their enemies. Who is Mockingbird? Could it be one of the six? Collects VILLIANS UNITED #1-6, SECRET SIX #1-6, VILLIANS UNITED: INFINITE CRISIS SPECIAL #1.
I listed Secret Six as a recommendation because some of the supporting characters that pop up in Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay are prominently featured in this collection. Tonally, this book is also very similar to this movie. There’s an undercurrent of “inappropriate” humor, but not nearly as blatant or as often as Batman & Harley Quinn.
It’s batter up at Belle Reve and that can only mean that Amanda Waller, the penitentiary’s cold and calculating warden, has a mission that only the damned will take on. It’s time to unleash Task Force X again, stacked with seasoned vets such as Deadshot, Captain Boomerang and Harley Quinn, these crafty criminals are joined by newcomers Copperhead, Killer Frost and the martial art master, Bronze Tiger!
With the target objective being a mystical object so powerful that they’re willing to risk their own lives to steal it, you can be sure it will be a collision of chaos, gunfire, and attitudes. So, take aim for a raging road trip with the Suicide Squad!
If the plot in the synopsis sounds a little thin, it’s because it is. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of movies that contain simple plots, but still manage to be an enjoyable experience because of the care that’s put into other aspects of the film. For Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay the plot is simple enough: there’s a mystical card that allows the bearer – if killed while possessing it – to bypass an eternity in hell. It’s literally a Get Out of Hell Free card. No, really, it’s actually written on the card. As you might expect, Amanda Waller is after the card, so naturally, she’s going to send her Squad to retrieve it for her… The problem is they’re not the only ones who have their eye on the prize. Considering the nature of this card, you can bet that there are plenty of other villains looking to score a peaceful afterlife, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they’re successful.
I’m just going to come out and say it… The first fifteen minutes of this movie is perfect! Yes, perfect! The film starts off with the Squad on a separate mission, and it quickly sets the tone for the film. There’s no intricate set-up or exposition, you just get thrown into a mission, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun! If I’m being honest, this opening sequence is everything the live-action Suicide Squad should have been, but wasn’t. There’s great action, solid displays of the characters, some interesting stakes, and a presence that’s well deserving of an R rating. But that’s where the improvements end, as Hell to Pay shares the live action film’s greatest downfall… it’s plot.
I know what you’re thinking. “It’s a simple plot that’s interesting! How could it be the film’s downfall?” Well, you have a card that prevents people from going to hell, and you have a bunch of villains that want it. These very same villains start working with other villains who also want the card… And then half of the said villains do nothing but try to help someone else get the card. Once you take a moment to actually think about some of the actions these characters take, you begin to realize their actions don’t line up with their motivation or… well… logic.
As much as I want to say I love this movie because there are so many good moments, I can’t bring myself to do so. Allen Burnett’s script is full of highs and lows. And while his highs are definitely high, his lows are equally as low. I stress this in my comic reviews all the time, but writers really need to take moment to analyze their scripts and ensure they can answer “who, what, why, where, when, and how” with all of their plot points. “Why” is the key question that should’ve been asked here, as I found myself asking why characters would do certain things – say, hand over the magic card once they have it. Had Burnett taken a little more time with his script, then he could have easily avoided this problem, and I’d probably be gushing over the film in its entirety. Unfortunately, once you notice these shortcomings, the movie completely unravels. I found myself in an emotional whiplash of “that was a cool sequence” followed by “this is stupid!” In the end, the “stupid” moments are too much to look past. You can have fun watching the movie, but now all I can see is how great it could have – and should have – been.
Clearly, there’s quite a bit of mature content in the film, so you should prepare yourself for that. Aside from the violence and gore – which alone is enough to earn this movie an R rating – there’s quite a bit of cursing and sexuality. While the writers didn’t commit to dropping any F-bombs, there’s still plenty of other words you probably won’t want your children to hear. As for the sexuality, I have to praise Hell to Pay for sharing the wealth. We’re used to seeing women get objectified, but men get their fair share – and honestly more – objectification here. And if I’m being completely honest, one of my favorite moments in the movie is thanks to a male stripper named Steel Maxum… Also, in case you’re wondering, there’s way more to him than a career as an exotic dancer. It’s a plot that I have to imagine many will enjoy, and just as many will hate depending on their outlook on a certain DC hero.
I will admit that on my first viewing, I thought the attempts to add maturity felt forced. After a second viewing, a number of these moments seemed to sit a little better, but there were still scenes where I felt like the writers were trying a little too hard. For example, there’s a scene where the Squad breaks into a building, and before doing so, a security guard is seen watching porn. There’s no footage of the porn, just the sounds. It was a moment that felt shoe-horned in to show how “edgy” this movie is, but instead felt more like something an immature, middle-school-aged boy would think up. There’s also a “nip slip” and select examples of dialogue that I felt the same way about. Mostly, this is strictly up to the preference of whether you will be bothered or not.
Now, I know I’ve mentioned quite a few negatives, but there are plenty of positives as well! Namely, the characters and the action!
For the roster of the Suicide Squad, we have our usual players: Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and Captain Boomerang. Deadshot serves as the team leader. As far as his characterization is concerned, he’s quite good. There is a subplot involving Deadshot and his daughter, and I’m honestly not a fan because it serves no purpose (not even character development), nor does it go anywhere. The entire subplot appears to be thrown in for the sake of adding drama. But outside of this, Deadshot is Deadshot. And as happy as I am with Deadshot based on the script, I can’t say that I’m a fan of Christian Slater voicing him. The performance is fine, but the voice didn’t mesh with the character for me. All I kept thinking was, “That doesn’t sound like Deadshot.” What does Deadshot sound like? I honestly don’t know, but in my head, it’s not whatever Christian Slater is doing here.
Speaking of poor performances, I was so excited to see Tara Strong voicing Harley Quinn, but man did Harley bomb in this movie. I’m not sure if it’s because Hell to Pay has an R rating, but Strong dialed down the crazy in her performance of Harley, and I can’t help but think that was a mistake. This movie needed that over-the-top craziness to help add a different tone or layer, and it just wasn’t there. Now, I will admit that Strong isn’t the only one at fault here. More than her performance, Harley is let down by the script. Why? Because Harley Quinn is worthless. Yes, you heard me worthless. Go ahead and send me death threats, I’m prepared for it. Seriously though, I love Harley as a character, but she offers nothing in this film. And if you’re a fan of Harley, you should be angry because she deserves better! I’m already not the biggest fan of Harley being a member of the Squad, but if you’re going to insist on having her, then play up her crazy and embrace the fact that she has a brilliant mind underneath all of that crazy! Instead, all we get is a gimmick with random lines that are meant to be funny but fall flat.
Thankfully, these are the only two performances I didn’t like. Rounding out the usual suspects is Captain Boomerang, and he delivers in every scene that he’s part of! Not only did Burnett write him perfectly, but Liam McIntyre captured his nuances incredibly well! Every time Boomerang spoke, I had a smile on my face. Does he play a large role in the film? No, but I think Digger is at his best when he’s in the background providing his commentary on everything. I only wish someone would have jumped in to change the script where Killer Frost says “Balls” because it’s a tragedy that Boomerang isn’t the one saying the line.
The rest of the Squad consist of Bronze Tiger, Killer Frost, and Copperhead. Of the remaining members, Bronze Tiger and Killer Frost are the more developed of the three. Most viewers will likely become fans of Bronze Tiger because he’s the heart of the film, and legitimately the only character in this movie with a moral compass! He’s also the character that receives the most development in the film. And as strong as the script is in favor of Bronze Tiger, I have to praise Billy Brown for providing an equally engaging performance.
As for Killer Frost, she has less development than Bronze Tiger, but plays a larger role in the overall plot. She’s definitely different than what casual fans who watch The Flash will be used to, but that doesn’t mean she’s terrible. Some of her lines? Maybe. Mostly, she’s fully realized and well executed – especially in the respect of her abilities. The writers did some creative things as far as her powers are concerned. This is also the saving grace of Copperhead, who practically has no lines and an overused gag of showing his fangs and hissing. Had he not been graced with some amazing action sequences, then he’d have been completely forgettable.
If you’ve watched the trailer, then you know that one of the people after the card is Vandal Savage. His presence alone adds a certain quality to the story that makes everything feel grand. We already know we have a mission with potentially high stakes ahead of us, but the moment Vandal is revealed, the stakes become elevated even more – something the film itself addresses. With Vandal, are his daughter, Scandal, and her partner, Knockout. Each of these characters are highlights in the film, and all are voiced superbly – though I can’t help but feel Dania Ramirez is the standout as Scandal. if I have any problem with these characters, it’s that they’re not utilized enough! In fact, I wouldn’t even consider Vandal the main antagonist for the Squad, despite the fact that the trailer sets him up to serve that role. Instead, this honor belongs to another villain who I’ll keep a secret considering their presence is such a nice surprise.
This secret villain isn’t even where the surprise character cameos end either. There are so many featured characters – from Gotham rogues, to additional Squad members, to random DC villains – that there’s a lot for comic fans to enjoy! Much in the way that Avengers, Avengers: Infinity War, and even Deadpool 2 (yikes… there’s not a single DC film in this example) are being regarded as near perfect adaptations of a comic book universe because of their use and balance of characters, this film shares that same trait. I’d even go so far as to say that the best thing about this film, are the supporting characters! That’s not to knock the Squad in any way, but the featured supporting characters are handled so well, that they elevate the movie every time they appear.
It’s also refreshing to see that these characters don’t pull their punches! In many ways, Hell to Pay is what the live action Suicide Squad failed to become because the villains here are actually villains! There’s no need to write dialogue reminding the audience that these characters are “the bad guys,” because their actions speak loud enough! Take that Will Smith!
In addition to the characters, another aspect I love about Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is the action! The fight sequences here are a lot of fun, and they’re brutally violent! Each character has a distinct fighting style, which makes the battles in this movie look and feel unique. The fights also help round or flesh out characters – as I hinted at with Copperhead. It’s clear the writers and animators put a lot of thought into the action, and man does it make an impact! Then there’s the reality of how violent these fights are. This is a brutal movie at times, with characters getting shot point blank, having their heads blown off, getting dismembered, stabbed, and so on… The gore factor is heavy, and unlike Batman: The Killing Joke, this movie earns its R rating.
Outside of the action though, the animation is quite cheap. The art itself is nice, and the character designs are mostly great, but would it kill Warner Bros./ DC to put a little more money into their animation? There are way too many shots where it’s a still image and the only movement is the camera pushing or pulling to create some sense of animation. This is something I’ve noticed in nearly every film Sam Liu has directed. I know he’s a loyal guy to Warner Bros. and DC who has worked his way up, but maybe it’s time to turn to someone else and see how that works out?
In the spoiler tag below, I’ll discuss specific scenes and actions in greater detail. Most of these are spoilers, so make sure you’ve seen the movie before you check these out!
I mentioned having an issue with the plot due to character motivations, and that runs throughout the film and pops up multiple times. If anyone has a believable motivation to receive this card, it’s Amanda Waller and the “surprise villain,” Zoom. Of these two, Zoom is the example where the attempt sticks it’s landing. If there’s a perfect character and plot in this movie – other than Bronze Tiger – it’s Zoom! After being shot in the head by Batman on Earth 2 during Flashpoint, Zoom absorbed the Speedforce into him to buy himself time to try and get this card. More than anyone else, his days are numbered, so he needs to get the card as soon as possible.
Then there’s Waller. She learns she has terminal cancer. It’s deep. It’s real. And it goes nowhere. This plot is only introduced to give Waller a motivation to find this card. Honestly, she doesn’t need cancer to serve as a motivation. Waller knows she’s done terrible things, and she’s a selfish person. Done. That’s enough reason for her to send her Squad to find this card, and we know she’d try to pass it off as her not wanting the card in the hands of someone who doesn’t deserve it. Burnett tried to add drama where it wasn’t needed, and then didn’t give us any type of payoff in the end.
Speaking of plots that go nowhere, we can’t ignore Dr. Fate or Scandal Savage in this scenario. Dr. Fate was the one protecting the card, so why isn’t he going after this card? Why isn’t he trying to stop these villains from getting it? The film makes a point to establish this item is the one thing he Nabu cared about over all of his other possessions… So where in the hell is he? I loved the Steel Maxum bit, and the joke of him being the former Dr. Fate is pricelessly fun, but come on! This is a big miss!
As for Scandal, she’s working with her father to retrieve the card, until he kills Knockout in an attempt to get the card. – And let me side-bar for a second. The film makes a point to show Vandal delivering the deathblow, only to then show Knockout isn’t dead… Really? Why show him giving her a mercy kill? – Anyway, Vandal is perfectly fine with killing Knockout, and this pisses Scandal off. So, what does she do? She calls Deadshot. What? No! Let her get revenge! If she wants to call Deadshot and the Squad to help ensure her father dies, then fine, but I don’t believe for a second she’d let someone else do her dirty work. Especially with Knockout barely hanging on to her life. Scandal should be right in the middle of that fray to get the card for her lover! Another huge miss!
Now let’s focus on character motivations. Everyone going after this card – except for maybe the Squad – wants the card for themselves. In the case of the Squad, Waller wants it. What the film gets right, is that it makes a point to show Killer Frost and Boomerang turning on the Squad to try and get the card for themselves. Deadshot doesn’t want it because he doesn’t believe in it, Bronze Tiger is too noble, Harley is too crazy, and Copperhead probably doesn’t believe in heaven or hell – who really knows, I’m just making assumptions here. Anyway, Frost and Boomer want the card for themselves, and I believe that. You know what I don’t believe? The exposition from Zoom explaining why Silver Banshee and Blockbuster want with the card, only for the film to showcase them trying to get the card for Zoom! If they really want it, they’d turn on each other too!
Then there’s the problem of what these characters do when they have the card. The big offenders here are Deadshot and Zoom. In the rooftop fight against Vandal, Floyd manages to get the card, and it’s the only thing keeping Vandal Savage from killing him. They have an exit, Vandal won’t risk losing the card to kill the Squad, and yet, for whatever reason, Deadshot gives him the card…. Wait for it… To keep the Squad from being killed. WHAT?!? As for Zoom, when he gets the card, I don’t understand why he doesn’t’ just off himself then and there. I understand the others not killing themselves because there’s a chance they have a full life to live, but Zoom is practically dead already. He’s got a day, maybe two max. There’s not a life for him to miss out on. The moment he grabs that card, he should’ve vibrated through his own heart. Done. And again… WHERE IN THE HELL IS DR. FATE?!?
Despite my issues with the plot, I do like that Deadshot gives the card to Bronze Tiger as he’s dying. It’s a really nice moment that defines the goodness in Floyd, but also his ability to recognize that Bronze Tiger deserves it… The moment is genuinely touching and helps give Tiger a noble death. I also enjoyed this moment because so much of who Bronze Tiger is, as well as his outlook on life, deals directly with mortality and the afterlife. Overall, it was the best moment of the movie, involving the best character in the movie.
Circling back to Deadshot, as I said earlier, his “find my daughter” subplot felt like a tired trope. I think Floyd’s relationship and love for his daughter are what makes him relatable, but this attempt just felt forced. What makes it even worse, is we ultimately see this side of Floyd when he gives the Get Out of Hell Free card to Bronze Tiger. So, the whole subplot involving his daughter isn’t needed. I would have preferred it much more had Floyd wanted the Get Out of Hell Free card for himself so he could spend an eternity in heaven with his daughter since he’s missing out on her life here. Had that been his motivation, and then he still chose to give it to Bronze Tiger knowing Tiger deserved it more, it would have been even more powerful than it already is.
While we’re on the subject of Deadshot, let’s discuss that final scene? So stupid. This mission frees Deadshot from Waller’s Suicide Squad, and he tracks down his daughter to be with her… only to have his brain bomb go off. Nope. First off, the movie establishes that the bombs are implanted before each mission, then removed, so he shouldn’t even have a bomb. And even if Waller tried to pull a fast one, Deadshot knows her well enough to expect that. Plus, blowing off his head in front of his daughter? Poor taste.
Other little tid-bits:
As I said earlier, I love the opening scene! The action is great, and I loved the twist of Count Vertigo being a double agent. I won’t say I was surprised, but it was a nice moment. What was a surprise was Jewelee turning on Punch! Whoa!
More Black Manta! We demand more Black Manta!
There are variations of how big the explosion of the brain bombs are, and this bothered me. When Vertigo’s bomb goes off, it just blows off his head. Later on, though, Waller blows Copperhead’s bomb, and the explosion is big enough that it not only blows up his entire body (while ironically leaving his head intact), but it also blows up Killer Frost (who no longer has a bomb). There clearly wasn’t much though put into this.
Greg Grunberg KILLS as Steel Maxum! Seriously, I laughed so hard through this entire sequence, and his performance is easily the best out of all of the voice actors! I’ll take a comedic Dr. Fate movie with him at the center of it any day… But then let’s do a serious Dr. Fate movie as well because the character deserves that!
The only moment I liked of Harley’s is when the Squad is looking for Killer Frost, and Harley looks in the freezer. Digger comments on how stupid it is, then Harley mentions that Killer Frost is like Frosty the Snowman… Then immediately grows concerned that she melted.
Overall: Earlier, I posed the question whether Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is better than the live action Suicide Squad film… In the end, I’d say yes, but just barely. And considering the live-action Suicide Squad isn’t that great, this isn’t the highest of accolades. Ultimately, what the live action Suicide Squad does well (characterization and action), Hell to Pay does better. This movie also gets points for presenting bad guys who actually feel like bad guys. But then there’s that pesky plot – the downfall of both films. Maybe, one day, we’ll get a Suicide Squad film that checks all the right boxes! Until then, just try to enjoy Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay for the characters and action if you can manage to look past the movie’s absurd logic.
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is currently available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and in Digital HD!