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128: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay Review

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Warning/Parental Heads Up: This film is crazy violent. There is also some brief female nudity and quite a lot of death. I will also be spoiling some minor moments. Younger viewers should probably stay away from this film. Enjoy the review!

Looking back at films like Suicide Squad, I feel badly for what happened to it. It was almost complete, but then got delayed for reshoots, due to the negative reaction to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It had a marketing campaign to match the film’s tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, came out, was widely panned upon release, was yet another DC film criticized for sloppy editing, and then was released on DVD with a different cut to it. Sure, it made money and gave DC/WB some profit, but you do get the feeling that it could have/should have been more than what we got in the final product. It’s always a bummer when studio shenanigans get in the way and hurt a film more than help it. Would have the original version been any better? Maybe, but we won’t know. Luckily, it won’t be the last time we see our rambunctious group of villains, as we are getting a sequel. For now, let’s look at the animated film, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Directed by mainstay DC animated film director Sam Liu, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay set itself up as this grindhouse-style action flick with plenty of violence, and plenty of action and fun. Does it succeed? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around our ragtag group of villains working under the government. The team this time consists of Deadshot, voiced by Christian Slater, Harley Quinn, voiced by Tara Strong, Bronze Tiger, voiced by Billy Brown, Captain Boomerang, voiced by Liam McIntyre, Killer Frost, voiced by Kristin Bauer Van Straten, and Copperhead, voiced by Gideon Emery. They are under orders by Amanda Waller, voiced by Vanessa Williams, to find and take down Vandal Savage, voiced by Jim Pirri. He is apparently looking for something, and has gotten the help of Scandal Savage, voiced by Dania Ramirez, and Knockout, voiced by Cissy Jones. Can our team of misfits take them down? Can this film find a tone that fits?

I know I made that last part sound like a joke, but that is the film’s biggest failing. When the film starts, it’s this hyper-violent train heist, where Deadshot is with Count Vertigo, Punch, and Jewelee. And boy, do things get late 80s/early 90s anime-violent. Bodies are sliced in half, blood and guts fly everywhere, heads explode, and it then does that grindhouse film burn effect. The rest of the film is not entirely like this. It struggles to balance out the fun schlocky aspects, like finding out the most recent host of Dr. Fate was a male stripper, and even a plot twist of some other villains trying to find the same thing Vandal Savage is looking for. I won’t say who the villains are for those that haven’t seen it yet, but it’s a lot of fun, and the twist adds to the cheesy schlock of those old 70s/80s exploitation films. Some parts are fun to watch, and the dialogue is definitely punched up to match the tone, but then it tries to have slower moments and an emotional arc for Deadshot and his daughter. It’s not a bad idea for a character, but when it can’t find an ideal way to balance out the ultra-violence and the more dramatic moments, it flip-flops, and constantly kept taking me out of the experience. Much of the story does focus on only a few characters, and the rest are either given very little to do or little development as characters. I loved seeing Copperhead, but he doesn’t do a whole lot. He gets maybe one good death in, but that’s it. While it is schlocky fun, there comes a point where it becomes a bit much. There is some brief nudity that’s jarring, and that goes for the violence, too. Sometimes, things can get so violent, that it’s excessive. The plot also loses steam near the end, with twist after twist after backstabbing. Some of the lines for the snarkier characters also feel more like trailer lines than anything that felt genuine. This is especially true with Killer Frost.

So, what’s fun about the movie? Well, when everything does work, it’s an entertaining movie. While it has some of the same animation the other DC-animated features have, where a lot of the animation was obviously put into the action, and some areas lower the frames of animation, the action is fun to watch. I think what works with this film, more than in the Suicide Squad live-action film, was that the action was visible, and due to the more diverse cast of villains, we get to see more powers, more special moves, and it all sticks. It’s easily one of the more action-packed films from DC. When the characters do have time to be together, they are an amusing group. Everyone usually has a good quirk, or a clever line of dialogue. Even though I wish they didn’t kill off as many characters as they did, I do respect that they put some stakes into the plot. Even the additional villains bring flair and an entirely different DC story into the mix. Granted, that might make some aspects confusing. A lot of schlocky stuff would add in complex elements that are probably not needed, but they threw it in, because it was cool. The voice cast is once again very good. Tara Strong as Harley Quinn is always fun to hear, I like Christian Slater’s take on Deadshot, Vanessa Williams does a great job as Amanda Waller, Billy Brown brings this stoic calm headed tone to Bronze Tiger, Gideon Emery was delightfully slimy as Copperhead (who also had my favorite design out of all the villains), and Liam McIntyre brings in the same vibe Donald Gibson did as Captain Boomerang, to name a few. I also like their usage of other lesser known villains of the DC universe. Sometimes, you can only do so much with one character before you run into a wall, and run out of ideas. It’s why I always enjoyed the Batman: The Brave and the Bold TV series, because that was the entire point of the show.  

While not my favorite of the DC films, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay goes straight down the middle. When it’s fun, it’s a lot of fun. When the characters are allowed to work off one another, they are entertaining. I even like the story twist near the end, despite the drag the third act has. It even has a fun easter egg for the added antagonist’s voice actor, if you have seen one of the DC animated films from 2013.  I simply wish it kept its tone consistent. It made the ultra-violence distracting, and the emotional moments feel unwarranted. Some of the animation can be stiff, and it’s not the most competently paced film out of the franchise. Still, it’s fun, and if you want to bring in the schlock for 80 minutes, I can think of worse films to watch. Before we get to review 130, let’s take a look at what is quickly becoming one of the best reviewed animated DC films with Batman Ninja. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it!

The Other Side of Animation 79: The Monkey King: Hero is Back

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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So, if I told you that I found an animated film from China that is pretty solid, would you believe me? I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t believe me. There has always been this stigma of China going for a quantity-over-quality style of filmmaking, and yeah, when you realize just how many animated films they make, it definitely shows how low the quality can be. I’m sure there are plenty of good animated films from China, but since most are never brought over here unless Lionsgate has  another bad spending day, then I won’t know about them. Granted, there are some great looking animated films coming out that are really promising. Today’s review is one of those promising films from China, Monkey King: Hero is Back. This was released in 2015, and has the noteworthy title of being China’s highest grossing animated film of all time. Well, until Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootopia overtook it, but still. In terms of just China-made animated films, it’s the highest grossing animated film from that country. It’s weird because there were so many movies based on the Monkey King, and they got passable reviews. What about this film specifically made a dent in terms of films based on such a mystical character? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves a young boy who lives with a monk, played by James Hong, after his parents were killed by trolls. One day, the boy’s town is attacked by the same trolls from long ago. The boy does escape them, but ends up falling into a cave and accidentally awakens the imprisoned Monkey King, voiced by Jackie Chan. The Monkey King really doesn’t want anything to do with the kid, but is then forced into a quest of taking down an evil lord, voiced by Feodor Chin. Can the great Monkey King take down the evil force and bond with the young boy?

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I will start out with the negatives about this film; it might have the worst dub job that I have seen so far. It’s so rushed and poorly synced that it wouldn’t be a shock if they did this dubbing in an afternoon. I mean, it feels like no effort was put into having the voices sync up with the lip movements. The actors also didn’t put in much into their performances. It’s like they knew this was a trainwreck, and that they were going to be in a better animated film together with Kung Fu Panda 3, so they didn’t put too much effort into their roles. Even this annoying comedic side character played by Roger Craig Smith has a, “I really don’t care that I’m here” attitude. Or, maybe they were trying their best, and the individual in charge of the dub wasn’t doing their job! The film is also very annoying in terms of humor, with a lot of pandering fart jokes and other jokes that don’t really work. It’s distracting, and makes the film-going experience tough to sit through, since sitting through a movie with very bad jokes is a massive chore.

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The animation is also not really impressive. Granted, we are seeing small signs that China is getting better with their animation quality, but the CGI is pretty low level, and the animations are stiff when there aren’t any fight sequences or grand movements on screen. Textures are low quality, but the designs are fine. They aren’t anything amazing, but when you have seen how ugly bad foreign CGI character designs can be, it’s higher-up on the totem pole than most. The story is also very generic. On top of not really explaining how a few incidences in the film happened, it’s a very Hollywoodized version of the Monkey King legend that is apparently the biggest property to make films out of in China. I mean, I get it, since the US has the biggest turn-on for most young adult novels that have no right in being made into movies. The characters are not that interesting either. They were boring, generic, or really annoying. I don’t get the deal behind having an annoying kid team up with the lead character, who is much more interesting. The kid was really grating, and I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I think the creators knew that since there were way too many times in the movie where the kid would have or should have died. They did it just to annoy people. It even takes the weight out of the final climatic fight scene, because they don’t kill the kid in the end. I mean, why would you do that? It’s like when they “killed” Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and then teased at the very end that he’s coming back. Like, yeah, now you have ruined that character’s story arc. I don’t get why you would do that. Unless this was some clever Edgar Wright comedy, you shouldn’t ruin something like a death of a major character.

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So, what is actually good about this movie? Well, out of all the Chinese CGI trainwrecks that I can think of, The Monkey King: Hero is Back (and I still don’t get why they couldn’t fix that weird title) is at the very least watchable. It’s not something like Gods of Egypt or Norm of the North, where watching it is a chore. While it can get annoying, The Monkey King: Hero is Back does at the very least have some tension and investment in taking down the demon lord. The fights are also fun to watch. You can tell a lot of the budget and effort went into these sequences. While they never reach the heights of the Kung Fu Panda series or Kubo and the Two Strings, they are still entertaining enough to get you through the slog of bad jokes and horrible voicework. While the villain wasn’t anything that interesting, I at least enjoyed the campy personality, and the final fight with him and the Monkey King was fun to watch.

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While I totally get why this film got so much acclaim, I still don’t think it is all that great. It’s just very average. The only real reason to rent this film on any occasion would be because of its legacy and its status. Maybe if you can find this film for $5 or less, I could recommend it, but if you want good kung fu/action in animated form, just get the Kung Fu Panda trilogy or Kubo and the Two Strings. There are a ton of animated films that have much better action sequences and just better overall experiences that you should check out before even putting money down on The Monkey King: Hero is Back. It’s a shame since if the story and animation was better, I would have easily called this film the hidden gem of 2016, but that title goes to Mune: Guardian of the Moon and 25 April. Well, I’ll say this. I would rather watch The Monkey King: Hero is Back much more than what the next review will tackle. I won’t say what it is, but it is quite possibly the biggest flop in terms of animation from 2016. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Rent it.