The Suicide Squad feature film may have struck out as bad as Harley Quinn trying to hit Flash with her baseball bat, but the animated feature Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay from Warner Bros. Animation / DC Entertainment / Warner Bros. Home Entertainment looks to fare much better.
Hell to Pay marks the last film written by Burnett, who retires with a legendary body of work that includes Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman Animated Series, Duck Tales, Static Shock, Justice League Action, Scooby Doo! and at least 30 of the recent DC Animated films. After doing DC's trinity in so many iterations, the Suicide Squad was a grand way to go out. We spoke to Burnett, executive James Tucker and actor Liam McIntyre about Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay and the evolution of the R-rated animated film.
"You can usually tell who’s going to die in these stories who’s going to get their head blown off," Burnett lamented. "I wanted to write it in a way where you don’t know. That was the challenge in writing this. I’m retired and I thought it was time to retire some of these characters." And boy, did he pile the bodies high in this film, wiping out close to half of the characters, in some very creative ways I might add.
This isn't the first time that Burnett has crafted an R-rated script. When I asked him if he could have pushed any his past films further in reflection. Burnett replied, "I pushed (many) further, but they pushed back. [Laughs]." Burnett also contributed to a screenplay for a live-action Batman Beyond film. Boaz Yakin wrote a majority of the script and Burnett along with Paul Dini were brought on to write a section of it.
"That wound up being an R-rated script, so that killed it. When they wouldn’t make an R-rated film (Boaz) said, 'I'm done.' I don’t know if I’m giving away secrets but I’m retired now and I have grandchildren to take care of. [Laughs]. He looked to the recent feature film Logan as a shining example of how entertaining a superhero film could be and be rated R."
Having started his animation writing career on series such as The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show, Shirt Tales, Snorks, and Challenge of the Gobots, the landscape of cartoons appeared to be limited to the young audiences that Hanna-Barbera and Disney targeted.
"Then Batman: The Animated Series came along and suddenly it was a relief like you wouldn’t believe," Burnett reflected. "I always push to make things a little more adult. I know there’s a strong fanboy and fangirl base out there that likes this stuff. It’s been proven that that’s the case, as much as two-thirds of our sales go to that group."
"My whole career has been getting out of the Disney head and I think we should be making animated movies about film noir, detective shows and the whole works. I hope that (evolution) keeps going."
Hell to Pay executive producer James Tucker can attest to the change that's happening. "We just make the movie we’re going to make (now), Tucker shared. "Home video tells us where we need to rate it later (and edit accordingly) but Hell to Pay is the first time we’ve started a project where they said, yes, make it an R-rating."
"I’ve made R-rating movies before, but they’ve had to be re-cut to not be an R. Assault on Arkham would’ve been an R today, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis got an R at first for language, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox would’ve gotten an R in the current environment."
"I guess they weren’t paying attention," Tucker said laughing. "I’m glad they didn’t because I would have hated to cut any of those movies differently."
"Now they say, make the movie you want to make and if it feels like it needs to be an R, we’ll leave it at that. They’ve embraced that as a strategy now, but for awhile the theory was that R-rated movies didn’t make money."
"They were scared to release R-rated movies, even when the material necessitated that. I’m just glad we have the option now. There’s certain characters and franchises that rate and R. I don’t think an R-rated Wonder Woman movie would be particularly good or necessary, I think certain elements of Batman could go that way, I don’t see an R-rated Superman. We haven’t received an R for our two-part The Death/Reign of Superman movie for this summer yet, so I may have to revise that statement, but I don’t think that’s going to happen."
"People get a cartoon and there’s a default that kicks in about it, even though there are a number of anime films that are waaaaaay more over-the-top than we ever get. There’s something about American culture that they hear the word “cartoon” or “animation” and they just don’t expect to see anything. Maybe they were on autopilot then, but they’re definitely watching the ones I’m working on [laughs].
For the Suicide Squad, the R-rating maximized the potential for these sinister characters and marks the second time they've been featured in a DC Animated film. "Batman: Assault on Arkham like a Guy Ritchie movie, and Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is more like a Quentin Tarantino grind house film," Tucker described. Even the opening credits are a nod to Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror of the same genre.
It's not all murder and mayhem though. There are some dark themes and a real attempt to find the heart within a majority of the characters.
"We could go crazy with it, but we find it’s better to come up with a story that has some heart to it," Tucker said. "They’re all amoral bad guys, but you want to care about them even though they’re horrible people."
"Alan did a great job of giving each character an inner life, a back story, so they all kind of pop in a way that’s unexpected. So there aren’t any people you don’t care about in this. Since there isn’t really a hero, you’re able to view these characters as people. You don’t think of them as a super villain, just as a character. You come to understand them more because you don’t have heroes around telling you that they’re bad."
"There's something that's redeemable about them," said McIntyre who voices Captain Boomerang. "Everyone has a bit of them that's noble. It's kind of like, 'Aw, I hope they get out of this,' as opposed to 'what a jerk.'
"This is the Suicide Squad that I wanted (on film). They're killers, they're crazies, you want them to be able to do whatever crazy stuff is going on in their heads. That's the fun part of the promise, the promise of the premise. I'm glad we get to push it as far as we can."
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay features the voices of Vanessa Williams (Amanda Waller), Billy Brown (Bronze Tiger), Christian Slater (Deadshot), Kristin Bauer van Straten (Killer Frost), Liam McIntyre (Captain Boomerang), Tara Strong (Harley Quinn), Gideon Emery (Copperhead), C. Thomas Howell (Zoom), Dania Ramirez (Scandal Savage), Julie Nathanson (Silver Banshee and Jewelee), and Greg Grunberg (Steel Maxum). Character designs are by Phil Bourassa and James Tucker and a script by Alan Burnett. It is rated R with a run time of 86 minutes and will be released on April 10, on digital platforms, DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD.