Batman: Assault on Arkham Review
Guardians of the Galaxy may have cemented Marvel's domination of comic book films on the big screen, but on the small screen it's a totally different matter. Since 2007 DC Universe Animated Original Movies have been wowing audiences with movie adaptations of some of the most beloved comic book runs as well as original stories starring some of DC Comics' most iconic characters. Where Marvel never really seemed to get their act together in this area, DC kept producing hit after hit.
Then in late 2013 the legendary Bruce Timm, who brought us the revered Batman: The Animated Series, stepped down as DC's animation supervising producer and things began to take a turn for the worse. Post-Timm animated features such as Justice League: War, Son of Batman and Flashpoint Paradox all lacked the quality and attention to detail that Timm had brought to his productions. I was beginning to lose hope, and then I watched Batman: Assault on Arkham...
Although by no means a perfect film, Batman: Assault on Arkham is a very strong step in the right direction. For everything wrong this film does, it does about five things right. The characters are interesting, the story is somewhat surprising, the action is explosive and over the top, but most importantly it's a truckload of fun. Heh, ain't that refreshing, a superhero story that actually wants to be fun instead of dark and brooding.
Well technically, it's a super-villain story. Yessir, don't let the name fool you, Batman; Assault on Arkham, ain't about no caped crusader. It's very much a suicide squad tale with the 'B word' thrown in the title to sell more copies. Sure, Batman does appear quite a bit, but the focus is never really on him. He's more of this foreboding unbeatable obstacle that the Suicide Squad have to constantly avoid.
The story revolves around the aforementioned Suicide Squad, a team of incarcerated supervillains assembled by Amanda Waller to run black ops in exchange for time off their sentence. The squad is a veritable buffet of B-grade villains, composed of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Frost, King Shark, Black Spider and rounding out the team is Captain Boomerang complete with a highly cliche 'Australian' accent.
To keep them on mission, each member has been implanted with highly explosive nanites allowing Whaller to remotely 'terminate' anyone who misbehaves. A bunch of super-powered criminals forced to work together under threat of death - what could possibly go wrong?
And believe me, these characters are villains, as the film constantly reminds us. At every critical decision point or chance for redemption Deadshot and the gang prove that they are totally morally bankrupt. So if they are such terrible people, why should we care if they live or die? Well, the answer is simple: against the faceless spooky government organization Amanda Waller represents, you can't help but have some level of pity for the suicide squad. Especially when they are brought to life so vividly with solid animation and stellar voice acting.
At this point I should admit that I'm a voice acting snob, in my opinion it's even more important than the animation. A good voice actor is the difference between whether you see an actual character on screen or just a bunch of moving pictures with a voice over. Fortunately, Batman: Assault on Arkham has assembled an impressive voice cast (and yes before you ask, Kevin Conroy voices Batman) that brings plenty of personality to the rag-tag group of villians making up the Suicide Squad. Notable mentions include Jennifer Hale as Killer Frost, Hynden Walch as Harley Quinn, C.C.H Pounder as Amanda Waller, and Troy Baker as the Joker.
Also worth a mention, although unfortunately for the wrong reasons, is Matthew Gray Gubler who provides possibly the worst rendition of the Riddler I have ever heard. Gubler's Riddler sounds irritating, nasally and very, very forced. Seriously, if the Riddler played a big role in this film he would have killed it for me, fortunately his role is rather small.
This one gripe aside, I have nothing but affection for Batman: Assult on Arkham. What could have been a half-baked attempt to translate the success of the Arkham series of games into animated movie sales, instead stands out on its own as a strong and unique addition to the DC animated film family. This one is a strong recommend from me.