It’s been a while since DC has come out with a truly good stand-alone animated feature. Although, some of them have been a pretty fun watch such as ‘Teen Titans: The Judas Contract’, there have been some disappointing ones as well such as ‘Batman: Gotham by Gaslight’. It seems such a long time now, but ever since DC started releasing these stand-alone original animated features straight to DVD, the number and quality of truly memorable films has reduced.
Movies such as ‘Batman: Under The Red Hood’ & ‘Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox’ are true classics and there have been many others that are really good. Ever since Justice League: War however, there has been a noticeable dip in the quality of these films. It is a bit difficult to pin point the exact reason for this but there are some noticeable aspects such as the occasional drop in animation quality, the movie feeling like an extended episode rather than a movie, poorly fleshed out characters etc.
Recent Drop in Quality of DC Animated Features
In all fairness though, these movies haven’t been an outright disaster. They are fairly watchable but feel a bit too disposable at times. Many of these movies could be considered experimental in nature as they are adaptations of comic book story-lines. It is also a safe strategy due to their lower production cost compared to that of producing an entire show. The DVD sales have also been generally good. Yet in recent times, the lack of a compelling story and well-developed characters with clearly defined motivations has clearly affected the quality of storytelling.
It might perhaps be time for DC to try something different like say creating a 2 or 3-part movie series. The idea of a continuous plot that stretches over 3 movies could really keep the fans engaged and give them something new to think about. Re-visiting some older popular properties might also be a great idea. There are signs that DC is veering towards this. Batman and Harley Quinn was definitely a right step in this direction. Recently, there was also some talk on social media that a Justice League movie set in the same universe as Justice League: The Animated Series is on the cards. In fact, many of the cast and crew from the original series have all expressed their interest in making this happen and could prove to be a great move. Also, DC could use these stand-alone films as a platform to see which property could potentially be adapted into a full-fledged show. This was already being done with DC Nation and it might be a good idea to use these movies to do the same.
All this said and done, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay injects a much needed a dose of energy into DC’s annual stand-alone films. On to the review…
The basic premise of this film is very interesting. Amanda Waller, the powerful and cold-blooded government agent in charge of the secret organization Task Force X aka Suicide Squad has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She also gets some intel that a man named Steel Maxum might be in possession of a mystical black card called ‘Get Out of Hell Free’. So she sends her latest roster of the infamous task force namely Copperhead, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Frost and Captain Boomerang to retrieve this mysterious black card.
Along the way, the team discovers that this card has the ability to send a person straight to heaven after death and avoid hell. The caveat to this is that it can only be used once and is useless.
While in pursuit of the card, the team however encounters unexpected surprises in the form of Professor Zoom and Vandal Savage. Throw in Scandal Savage (Uh…Vandal Savage’s Daughter) & Blockbuster into the mix and you have a movie that is full of twists.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Although this movie can feel like an extended episode at times, the story is very well written. Like its predecessor Suicide Squad: Assault on Arkham (Although not set in the same universe), the film is full of clever moments. The greatest strength of this film lies in its unpredictability and it makes full use of this. Credit must go to Alan Burnett for his terrific writing and this was a great way to sign off before his retirement.
Right from the get-go, one doesn’t know what to expect and as the movie goes on, something new keeps getting revealed. In addition to this, there are double-crosses and triple crosses even, which make this a real thrill ride. The generous use of violence, blood and gore is also something that makes this film stand out a bit more than its usual DC counterparts. All this gives the film a somewhat Quentin Tarantino-esque feel !! Another notable strength of this movie is that it ties in the background and motivation of the characters very well to the final story. Deadshot and Bronze Tiger’s respective stories really stand out in this regard. Both of them are sort of anti-heroes and their tragic backstories really dove tail well with their stoic character personas.
There is also a reveal towards the end of the film which will have all fans of the DC standalone movies watering in their mouths. (No Spoilers !!)
Of the three stand-alone releases this year, Suicide Squad was the one that I was least looking forward to. Strangely enough, it has proven to be the better of the two films released so far and it was surprisingly very good. The film takes a very casual and free-spirited approach to its story telling and screenplay & the unpredictability in its final product really makes it click.
As mentioned earlier, DC has been very generous in its use of violence of late and for the most part it works well here. There are also cameos from other well-known DC characters such as Count Vertigo (Shame that we still haven’t got to explore his character in detail even after all these years) and Black Manta.
If this movie is anything to go by, then one can expect to have lofty expectations for the highly anticipated The Death of Superman later this year. With Season 3 of Young Justice also slated for release later this year, it promises to be a very interesting year for DC animation !!