Batman: Assault on Arkham is smart way to introduce Suicide Squad
With Batman: Assault on Arkham, DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Animation thrills with one of its boldest and mature films yet while finally figuring out the secret to telling engaging and fun adventures of DC Comic characters beyond Batman and the Justice League.
After The Riddler (Matthew Gray Gubler, Criminal Minds) gets imprisoned and sent to Arkham Asylum with a secret too dangerous to possess, Amber Waller (CCH Pounder reprising her longtime role dating back to Justice League) calls in the pros to break him out.
This time, the pros aren’t the heroic Justice League, but some of the worst criminals around — Deadshot (Neal McDonough, Captain America: The First Avenger), Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch), King Shark (John DiMaggio), Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito), Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale) and Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis). Their incentive for breaking their fellow criminal out of a max security prison? Waller will reduce their prison sentences and won’t flip the switch triggering an explosive device in their heads.
In a fun DC-style twist on Ocean’s Eleven, Deadshot leads the heist mission, but constantly finds his authority challenged by his teammates while rebuking Harley’s efforts to seduce him.
The voice cast is more befitting the characters than some other recent DCE efforts with Walch in particular being a standout. Meanwhile, Batman patrols the area frantically trying to find a device that could destroy Gotham.
While Batman has top billing and prominent cover placement, he’s essentially a minor supporting player in a Suicide Squad movie. For the numerous times DCE has used another voice actor to portray Batman, it almost seems a waste to bring back fan favorite Kevin Conroy for such a limited role.
Along the way, the Squad encounters other Batman rogues, some of whom are not that enthused about helping the team complete their mission. While Batman’s involvement is kept to a welcome minimum, the filmmakers opt to also include The Joker (Troy Baker, Marvel’s Avengers Assemble) in the mix. Not surprisingly, he quickly overshadows the Suicide Squad upon his introduction.
The designs and animation are some of the smoothest we’ve seen in a DCE film. The Squad designs strike an excellent balance of being formidable, yet streamlined reflecting an Aeox Flux-style influence. One minor gripe is Batman’s pupils being somewhat visible under his cowl and Deadshot’s poor new-52 makeover ruining one of the cooler Batman Rogue designs.
Jay Oliva (Justice League: War) and Ethan Spaulding (Son of Batman) team up for directorial duties in this outing. The pairing results in smooth, easy to follow multi-layered action scenes with some fun dark humor. Oliva, now on his sixth DCE film, has mastered the art of milking each production for all of its 75-minutes without making the movie feel overly rushed.
Heath Corson’s script is a marked improvement over his disappointing War effort. Corson still struggles writing female characters that fawn at the sight of strong male characters. There’s just a few issues that prevent this from being one of the all-time classics in the DCE catalogue.
Assault is very much set up like a one-off film. That essentially means characters with storied histories in the comic book universe are casually killed off in questionable fashion since they can return in the next film, which will have little to no connection to Assault. Waller is portrayed far out of character to provide an extreme authority figure for the Squad to rally against, but there were more subtle ways to unite the makeshift team than making her the ultimate ‘villain.’
The techno pop soundtrack is out of place with the edgier tone. It sounds like it should be accompanying a video game fighter instead.
And continuing the trend that began with Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, the film is at times too mature. Yes, the Suicide Squad is comprised of murders and psychopaths, but the violence is almost too cartoonish. The numerous efforts to show Harley and Killer Frost nude seem juvenile. It does little for the story beyond trying to titillate teens who are still baffled by Internet search engines. The film definitely earns its PG-13 rating.
That said the theme feels appropriate for the Suicide Squad. If you want a darker look at the DC universe, Batman: Assault on Arkham will definitely be a satisfying and shockingly violent experience.
Review: 8 out of 10
Buy it here: Batman: Assault on Arkham [Blu-ray]