The 21st DC original animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham hit stores yesterday, and though I enjoyed it, the title is a bit misleading. First off, even though this movie is called Batman: Assault on Arkham, Batman is very much a side character. It might take place in Batman’s world, but this is a Suicide Squad story from start to finish. Putting Batman in the title and featuring him prominently on the cover is a sure-fire way to sell more copies than calling it Task Force X: On A Mission or something, so I can understand why Warner Brothers did this, even if it feels like a bait and switch. What’s also a bit of a bait and switch is the notion that this movie is in any way an adaptation of the Batman: Arkham Asylum series of games; despite their use of the Arkham logos and some similar character designs for some characters, there isn’t much of a connection between the games and this movie.
In this movie, the Suicide Squad, or Task Force X, as is their official title, is made up of classic DC villains Deadshot, Killer Frost, Captain Boomerang, ’70s Bat baddie Black Spider, King Shark, and Harley Quinn, who is arguably the star of the show here. Much like in the comics, the Squad is put together by Amanda Waller, a hard as nails government operative who grants reduced sentences to super villains if they are able to complete a mission for her. Just like on the Justice League Unlimited animated series, Waller is voice acted by actress CCH Pounder, who really so nails the character nobody else should ever be asked to voice her as long as she’s alive and willing. Waller puts together the Squad in order to retrieve one of the Riddler’s devices being held in Arkham, the legendary madhouse where all of Gotham’s most dangerous and insane criminals are kept. And that is pretty much your plot in a nutshell. Although there are a few twists and tuns to keep viewers on their toes, this is a pretty standard heist story.
All of these main characters in Assault on Arkham are killers and sociopaths, just like they are in the comics. This obviously lets the writers go nuts and make them pure “id” — none of these characters really have a character arc so to speak. They start the story off bad, they are bad in the middle, and they end bad. No one learns any lessons here or grows in any way, allowing the creators to just go nuts and have characters do awful things. Still, despite this, I can’t help but feel there are places where this movie goes a bit too far. Not that it offends me at all, it just feels like it’s trying to hard to come off as “adult” by having the characters do things that are dark in acliche way, just to show how grown-up they are. I get that these characters are all sociopaths, but I’m not sure I needed to see Harley Quinn bite off someone’s ear, Mike Tyson style, before the opening credits rolled. By the time we have a sex scene between Harley and Deadshot, I was thinking, “We get it — this isn’t for kids.” For a movie with a seventy-five minute running time, it’s amazing that they don’t go ten minutes without doing something gratuitous to remind you that this is PG-13. It gets a little old.
Having said that, there’s a lot to like about Assault on Arkham. tTe character design is a lot better here than in the last few DC animated films like Justice League: War and Son of Batman. In fact, I prefer Harley Quinn’s design much more here than I do in most of the New 52. The animation is fluid and the action sequences are all exciting and well executed. There are a few genuinely funny bits sprinkled throughout, and the majority of the voice acting is top notch. You just can’t go wrong with Kevin Conroy as Batman ever, and voice actress Hynden Walch sounds so much like classic Batman the Animated Series Harley Quinn actress Arlene Sorkin, I almost couldn’t believe it wasn’t her. Same goes for Troy Baker, who does an almost dead-on impersonation of Mark Hammil’s Joker. Neal McDonough is also a standout as Deadshot as well.
And yet… I was left cold by a lot of this movie. When all your leads are killers and sociopaths, you have to work extra hard to make them empathetic, something the writers of Dexter could do when they were on their A game, or what writer Gail Simone accomplished when she was writing the Secret Six for DC. Instead, I found myself having a hard time getting invested in the overall story, simple as it was. I think a lot of DC fans out there will enjoy this entry in the DC Animated film franchise, but for the most part this movie just made me long for the days of the Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s Batman the Animated Series.
The Blu-ray comes with a commentary track by the creators, as well as a featurette about Harley Quinn (currently DC’s most popular female character; her book has been consistently in the top ten comics sold since its debut) and another more in-depth featurette about the origins of the comic book Arkham Asylum. Sometimes, the best parts of these straight to video DC movies are their well produced extras, and this is another example of that. While this movie wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, I feel a lot of fans will enjoy it and feel they got their money’s worth.
Rating: 3.5 burritos.
Batman: Assault on Arkham is directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding, with a script by Heath Corson.