With 2021 coming to a close, many are taking an opportunity to look back on the highlights of the past year, in pop culture and beyond. After a 2020 with very few blockbusters due to the delays of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 brought a media landscape that felt much closer to normal, with a number of high-profile films being released either in theaters, on streaming, or some combination of the two. As a result, audiences were introduced to a number of noteworthy performances — particularly from the actresses at the center of high-profile films. As part of ComicBook.com's Golden Issue Awards, which honor the staff's favorite things from the past year, we wanted to celebrate some of those performances with our Best Actress category. And the winner of the 2021 ComicBook.com Golden Issue Award for Best Actress is...
Daniela Melchior, for her performance as Cleo Cazo / Ratcatcher II in The Suicide Squad!
It's no secret that The Suicide Squad features a surprising roster of DC Comics characters, with James Gunn's cinematic take on the franchise bringing in a wide array of antiheroes and villains. While a female version of Ratcatcher had been rumored to appear in the film as early as 2019, very few fans knew what to expect from her cinematic debut — in part because the rat-controlling Batman villain is somewhat obscure in the grand tapestry of DC. In a roundabout way, that lack of expectations only worked in the film's favor, allowing for Melchior (in her English-language debut) to emerge as a scene-stealer in a movie already filled with bonafide scene-stealers.
When audiences first meet Cleo, she is a quiet, headstrong, often-tired young woman with a hooded costume, a Plague Doctor-esque mask, and the technology to command rats to do her bidding, a skill that becomes useful in the Squad's mission in Corto Maltese. While Cleo's characterization and status quo could have easily been boiled down to a one-note stereotype of a sullen emo teenager, Melchior's performance brings a profound amount of emotional intelligence, which shines when she's exchanging quips with any other character in the film's massive ensemble.
An argument can be made that some of the film's biggest emotional moments would not work without Melchior, whether they be the saddest or the sweetest. In terms of the former, there's the scene where Cleo and Bloodsport (Idris Elba) are exchanging stories about their complicated pasts with their fathers, which includes a heartbreaking and intimate monologue from Melchior about the poverty and drug addiction that led to the death of her beloved father, the original Ratcatcher (Taika Waititi). In terms of the latter category, there's the running friendship between Cleo and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), which begins by her cheerfully admitting that she would not be upset if he ate her alive, because she "gambled" on his love and trust. While the text of The Suicide Squad makes it clear that Cleo hasn't had it easy — and won't have it easy, as she's nearly killed by Peacemaker (John Cena) during the film's second act — Melchior makes clear that that fact never crushes her spirit or her empathy.
As the Squad's situation grows more dire and more otherworldly, the sense of optimism Melchior brings to Cleo — optimism she has not only for her fellow Squad members, but for the downtrodden people of Corto Maltese — becomes more and more essential and impactful. By the time the film gets to the climax of its third act, where Cleo commands a seemingly-never-ending horde of rats to save the Squad and fight Starro, all of the heartache and optimism of Melchior's performance (and of the film itself) culminate beautifully, with only minimal dialogue. It's a sequence and a performance that has, without fail, made me cry in the five times I've watched The Suicide Squad, and provokes goosebumps even as I remember it.
At its core, The Suicide Squad is a celebration of the scrappiest and oddest corners of DC Comics canon, and also of the authentic hope that can rise out of the worst of circumstances. No character distills that as perfectly as Melchior's Ratcatcher, who turns one of the weirdest gimmicks in the DC universe into a character that many comic book fans are going to regard fondly in the years to come. While The Suicide Squad is Melchior's biggest film yet, her performance makes it clear that she's already a bonafide movie star.
Congrats to Daniela Melchior on her Golden Issue Awards win!
And the nominees for Best Actress are:
Gemma Chan (Cersi, Eternals)
Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, Black Widow)
Daniela Melchior (Cleo Cazo / Ratcatcher II, The Suicide Squad) — WINNER
Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn, The Suicide Squad)
Emma Stone (Cruella de Vil, Cruella)