DC Animation has brought its fans a great blend of action and drama while showcasing their comic book properties at their best. There have been times where some titles have been rewarding (e.g., Batman: Under the Red Hood, Justice League: Doom), others did not live up to expectations (e.g., Justice League: War, Son of Batman) while others have outright failed (Superman: Doomsday). Batman: Assault on Arkham is a little different. It is not a complete blunder or a cogent masterpiece: It is a simple action film featuring the Suicide Squad and Batman. No, that is not a typo, folks. Despite the title, our Caped Crusader is merely a side attraction in this original direct-to-video animated film (which is part of the 75th Anniversary of the iconic character). If you have not clicked away and checked out some of the other fine reviews on this website, I’ll give you the details.
After Son of Batman, Warner Bros. decided to expand its horizons by adapting more than just comic books. With the success of the Arkham video game series (Arkahm Asylum, Arkham City, Arkham Origins, and Arkham Knight), Warner pushed its Animation Dept. to bring the grittiness, violence, and crisp style of storytelling that made the Rocksteady Studios and Warner Interactive Montreal franchise special in the 2-D field. Also, portions of the New 52 are prevalent in certain aspects of the feature. However, with DC’s maddening obsession with brutal violence in their animated works since Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox, this could feel monotonous to some fans. But with coherent and crafty directors Jay Oliva (Wonder Woman, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) and Ethan Spaulding (Avatar: The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra,), Batman: Assault on Arkham avoids some of those unsavory pitfalls to deliver a fairly entertaining experience.
Amanda Waller decides to bring Task Force X together after failing to kill The Riddler due to the Dark Knight himself capturing him and hauling the green-goof off to Arkham Asylum. With an opening sequence reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven and Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, we are introduced to Task Force X, better known by comic fans and DC faithful as the Suicide Squad. Within a few short scenes of bank robberies and bloodshed, we are introduced to Killer Frost, King Shark, KGBeast, Black Spider, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, and fan-favorite Harley Quinn before they are gathered by Waller (a.k.a. The Wall) to infiltrate Arkham Asylum and eliminate The Riddler before he leaks information that could topple the Government and cause havoc for the Suicide Squad’s personal lives. The irredeemable lot complies after some “convincing” and takes off for the mission. However, the plot thickens once Batman enters the picture after The Joker, imprisoned in Arkham Asylum, threatens to blow up Gotham. But do not be fooled by this summary; this film has more twists than DC’s editorial staff on the New 52.
It is during the course of this 76 minute feature that we get to see the Suicide Squad characterized in ways that are relatable compared to most DC comic book characters. Part of it is due to the aesthetics of the Suicide Squad and the ambiance of the film taking from the Arkham games as well as the fairly credible dialogue, which was handled by Heath Corson (Aim High, Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox). Also, Batman’s limited screen-time helped in giving each member of the Suicide Squad time to see their characters develop over the course of the story. The one with the most depth who stands out from the pack (surprisingly) is Deadshot, an assassin who wants to reunite with his beloved daughter, who seems to be one of the more sensible members of this ragtag bunch along side the cool (I know it’s a bad pun) Killer Frost and the nonchalant Black Spider. Deadshot tries to balance between calm and tactful leader, rugged alpha-male, and caring father all while maintaining the unity of the team. Unexpected characters like Killer Frost and King Shark have key moments of action and character development throughout the feature. Every character gets to standout in ways that range from kinetic brutality to humor (believe it or not).
Nevertheless, there are chinks in the armor. Although taking from the video games in certain aspects, the feature feels more like a mixture of other material. For instance, while Amanda Waller has her look from the Arkham games, (which is her same look in the original DC Comics universe), Harley Quinn is a mixed bag of Arkham looks and New 52 attitude. Some of Harley’s scenes over the course of the film actually bring up another (debatable) flaw in this feature: Excessive fan-service. Batman: Assault on Arkham isn’t the most violent of the DC animated movies, but it has the most fan-service of any DC animated work. This movie is packed with more cheesecake than Team Ninja’s Dead or Alive, Maxim Magazine, and the works of J.Scott Campbell and Greg Land put together. Fans of classic Harley Quinn will either love these moments or abhor them.
The animation and action scenes are handled quite well in this feature. The pace is moderate in some of the more intense fight scenes, allowing one to take in each punch and explosion. The story structure of this film feels somewhat rushed in spots due to the pacing, but the character interactions and action choreography make up for it with scenes taken from the Arkham video games. The characters are played up to the fullest given the cast of new and old voices to the DC Animated universe. Kevin Conroy continues to maintain his title as the best voice of Batman (despite the fact he’s in the film for 25 minutes) while CCH Pounder (Sons of Anarchy) returns as Amanda Waller with ease, making it a must watch (she has been the perennial voice of Waller since the character’s animated debut in Justice League: Unlimited and played her in Arkham: Origins. Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger) delivers some of his best work as Deadshot and Hyden Walch (Adventure Time) plays Harley Quinn quite well, showing she’s as good as Tara Strong who voiced Harley in the Arkham games and deserves to be in the ranks along side Strong and Arleen Sorkin (The original voice of Harley since Batman: The Animated Series). Jennifer Hale (reprising her Justice League animated series and Injustice: Gods Among Us role as Killer Frost), John DiMaggio (King Shark), Greg Ellis (Captain Boomerang), Giancarlo Esposito (Black Spider), Nolan North (KGBeast) and Matthew Gray Gubler (The Riddler) bring life to their respective characters, and Troy Baker continues to defy expectations as The Joker. Chris Cox (Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes), who played Deadshot in the Arkham game franchise, adequately plays Commissioner Gordon for a brief time along with Martin Jarvis who reprises his role from the Arkham video game series as Alfred.
Batman: Assault on Arkham managed to combine the best (and worst) of both its video game and comic book elements to make something very enjoyable. It’s not out to reinvent the wheel or fix something that isn’t broken; it just wants to have some bloody, rip-roaring fun. This one is definitely not for kids with all the bloodshed and T&A, but avid fans of the Arkham video game series will not be disappointed. Suicide Squad fans will find this entertaining given the chemistry with the characters and the dynamic they bring to this feature.
Overall, Batman: Assault on Arkham is superior to the current run of DC animated films so far (Justice League: War and Son of Batman), but not quite as good as some of the key titles from the previous run such as Batman: Under the Red Hood or Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox (which set the violent tone for subsequent DC animated films). It is a must-own for diehard fans of DC Animation, comic book enthusiasts who really enjoy the Suicide Squad, and those who revel in the Arkham series of video games. But for everyone else, I would recommend checking it out on Netflix, Hulu, or other digital services like PSN or Xbox Live before adding it to your physical shelf.
4 Arnolds out of 5
Chis Campbell is Action A Go Go’s resident Otaku smart-mark. He is I am an intrepid, academic, comic book nerd, and aspiring writer. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @CAIMERMAN.