Note: Sorry for the delay, but we had some shipping problems and didn’t get our copy of Batman: Assault on Arkham until September 3rd!
The name “Batman: Assault on Arkham” along with some of the promotional stuff might lead you to think that it’s going to be a direct adaptation of the Arkham games from Rocksteady, but it’s not. In fact, the only relation it has to the Arkham games is through character and set design. And as for Batman, he’s only in the movie for five minutes or so. Batman: Assault on Arkham is a Suicide Squad movie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing– it’s actually a great thing! But calling the movie “Batman: Assault on Arkham” is like calling The Avengers “Nick Fury: Battle of New York.” It’s kind of true, but we’re also burying the lead here.
Directed by Jay Oliva & Ethan Spaulding
Produced by James Tuckier
Written by Heath Corson
I must say, I went into this one with some trepidation. I didn’t like Justice League: War and I pretty much hated Son of Batman so I was starting to think WB Animation had lost its way by trying too hard to make their films “edgy” by emphasizing violence, boobs, and juvenile humor over story and character development. Well, Batman: Assault on Arkham has a lot of emphasis on violence, boobs, and juvenile humor, but guess what–that’s exactly what I want in a Suicide Squad movie. That’s just the right kind of tone for the material! It’s Dirty Dozen with B- and C-List supervillains for cryin’ out loud. Going wild and absurd makes it all the more enjoyable.
Batman: Assault on Arkham starts off like many Batman films before it with an action scene showing off The Dark Knight’s use of ferocity and stealth in the field while also cluing us into a villainous plot. In this case, that plot appears to involve The Riddler and Amanda Waller, who is gloriously fat once again (she’s young, trim, and sexy like every other female DC character now in the New 52). But just when you think we’re going to cut to Batman back in the Batcave or the following day when Bruce is recovering upstairs in Wayne Manor the narrative drastically switches from the gritty superhero tale to an uptempo, over-the-top, stylized introduction to all the soon-to-be members of The Suicide Squad. We won’t see Batman again for a long time and– we don’t say this sort of thing often here at Batman-News.com– that’s a good thing. Look back at the list of DC Animated films in recent years. If it’s not Batman or Justice League, it’s just not getting made! Although they’re still hiding behind the Batman name, it’s good to see WB Animation taking this chance to explore some different characters like Deadshot, King Shark, Killer Frost, Captain Boomerang, The KGBeast (this guy never gets enough attention so I was especially pleased to see he was involved), Black Spider, and Harley Quinn (although Harley is gaining more and more popular every day– her solo series is like the #2 top-selling comic DC is publishing right now).
Another great thing about this picture is that it’s not the typical city/world is in danger plot. Up until the final act, Batman: Assault on Arkham is an energetic heist film and I’m a sucker for a good heist film (Snatch, Heat, Usual Suspects, The Killing, Oceans 11— if I see it’s on TV I’m probably going to sit down and watch it the whole way through time and time again). Taking the heist route does wonders to make this movie stand out from the rest of the WB Animation catalog and adds a bit of variety to your superhero movie library. Here you’ll see Task Force X (AKA The Suicide Squad, a band of convicts forced to do suicide missions for the government) attempt to break into Arkham Asylum to retrieve a MacGuffin (Riddler’s cane, but I won’t spoil for you why that is). One can’t help but think Waller’s intricate plan involving a team of villains and a prison break-in is a bit unnecessary when Gotham is so corrupt that she could easily bribe a guard to just grab the cane for her, but there’s more to Waller’s plan than meets the eye and, let’s face it, it’s just a wild ride that you shouldn’t take too seriously. Batman: Assault on Arkham is good for laughs (Joker and Harley have some laugh-out-loud lines in this) and lots of action.
The animation and music complemented one another exceedingly well. Composer Robert J. Kral’s dubstep sound accentuates the rapid pace and equally frenetic anti-heroes and then transforms into a more Hans Zimmer-esque score when Batman is on the screen. Fans of the Arkham video game franchise will recognize many of the sets and most characters are the mirror image of their Arkham Asylum/City counterpart. Surprisingly, Harley and Deadshot, two of the main characters, are the most different compared to their appearance in the games. Characters like Black Spider, Killer Frost, and King Shark were never part of Rocksteady’s world, but the designs we see in the film look like they would fit right into that universe. I was most taken with the Trap Jaw-like King Shark’s look, which saw the most extreme changes. In the comics, King Shark is a genuine shark with arms and legs but this… well, I don’t know what the Arkhamverse King Shark is supposed to be, but it matched the hyper-real aesthetic Rocksteady seems to strive toward.
As for the overall look of the picture, more and more I’ve noticed that these WB Animation films look less like Batman: The Animated Series and more like the style seen in Asian animation (Batman: Assault on Arkham has a look strikingly similar to The Boondocks), which is great for creating fluid fight scenes. The hand-to-hand combat takes many of its cues from the freeflow combat animation we saw in the Arkham games and it looks fantastic. All of the action sequences are gripping, but there was a brief moment in which Batman was smacked across the face with a stuffed animal/doll (a club was shown in the following shot) and his nose gushed blood– that didn’t seem right. I was going to complement the movie on doing a much better job than Son of Batman in terms of having the hits look like they hurt, but that praise evaporated in the climactic fight scene where one character took several stabs to the back and chest and was nearly disemboweled yet still had the strength to throw his attacker 30 feet, climb onto the nose of a helicopter, talk smack, and… well… live.
In addition to perfectly capturing the atmosphere of the Arkham games and the brutal action, the creators also give a nod to Arkham Batman’s Detective Vision on a couple of occasions. However, I can’t help but be annoyed in movies and comics when Batman relies on his tech just to decipher if a baddie is lying or not– he’s Batman, he should have the skills to recognize that on his own. The same thing happened in issue #2 of Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls saga where Batman is wearing hi-tech contact lenses instead of the HUD being built into the cowl like we see here. Speaking of Scott Snyder, there’s also a sequence involving some guards trying to find Joker with their flashlight and that was reminiscent of a particularly frightening scene in Death of the Family. But while I might be reaching for that homage, there’s no denying some of the Easter eggs the filmmakers tucked away in this flick, like one moment involving props from both 1989’s BATMAN and 2008’s The Dark Knight.
As far as big complaints go, I don’t have many, but I’ll list a few that come to mind. Some negatives I list here were very noticeable while others are nitpicks at best:
- The climactic fight scene between a Joker who knows kung-fu and an opponent who is apparently impervious to injury was a big one SpoilerI love The Joker. Best villain of all-time. But he’s not going to last long in a hand-to-hand fight with Deadshot and Deadshot isn’t going to be able to do jack after he gets his abdomen ripped open– especially when Joker stabs six-inch blades into Lawton’s chest and shoulders as well
- A ludicrous scene involving a microwave– how nobody involved in the making of this movie didn’t speak up and go “That’s not how microwaves work!” is beyond me. SpoilerBlack Spider puts a bunch of silverware in a microwave and then sets the timer for 50 seconds while he climbs down a shaft and busts a gas pipe. 50 seconds was enough time to allow Black Spider to break a gas pipe and then escape the room, which blew up upon the timer reaching 00 seconds. However, microwaves don’t instantly heat your food when the countdown reaches zero. Cooking happens throughout that set time and as anyone who has ever accidentally left a piece of foil in the microwave knows, sparks will start flying the very second after you press the START button. The explosion in the movie would’ve happened way sooner or not at all because everyone else in the kitchen would’ve turned around in time to see a sparkling microwave and a guy climbing down an exposed shaft on his way to the gas line. Hell, I’m sure the guy who saw Black Spider take the tray of silverware would’ve seen the spoons and forks being hauled in the direction of the microwave and said SOMETHING.
- I may be wrong or missed something, but also remember there being mention by Waller that they would be using rubber bullets/non-lethal force, but I definitely saw Deadshot take out quite a few guards in the early stages of the operation, which left me to wonder if Waller’s dialogue was added after-the-fact in order to earn the movie a PG-13 rating. SpoilerThe Mortal Kombat Scorpion-esque grappling hook Deadshot fired into that guard’s skull was a cool “Oh snap!” moment.
- Waller herself was rather nerfed in the second half on the film and became this oblivious voice shouting at the squad every ten minutes or so rather than the constant threat she should be.
- This is both a complaint and a compliment, but there are some villains I would have liked to have seen more from, but I also appreciate that the creators captured the anything-can-happen nature of a Suicide Squad story by being unafraid to kill off quite a few members of the cast throughout the film.
- I think the film overestimates how much Joker cares about Harley, but that’s something fans will be debating forever. However much Joker likes Harley is entirely up to your own personal preference. Harley is the one person in the world with a heart big enough to find something worth loving in The Clown Prince of Crime and I think he just lets her live because he so enjoys exploiting that and corrupting her. The film does seem to emphasize more that what makes Joker truly mad is that she’s losing her dependence on him and I would agree with that more than him having any sort of romantic longing.
- Joker had a line like “I’m back, bitches!” which didn’t feel like a very Jokerish thing to say.
- There’s a Wilhelm scream. Can we retire this stock sound-effect already? It just pulls me out of every movie/show it’s featured in and I’m sick of it.
- Batman’s eyes have pupils that don’t seem to move in some scenes, particularly the first confrontation with Harley.
- SpoilerWhy would releasing the locks in the asylum cause Bane to totally fill up with venom? Why is Poison Ivy apparently kept locked away in the botanical gardens?
I think you’ll agree that that list of grievances is pretty minimal and none of them should really harm your enjoyment of this movie. It’s fun in the way that Roadhouse or Con Air are fun. Don’t go into it expecting a traditional Batman movie or a direct adaptation of the Rocksteady games or some rich character study. It’s the bombastic heist movie that The Suicide Squad needed.
In addition to this being one of the strongest outings for WB Animation in some time it’s also one of the strongest voice casts I’ve heard in a while. There really wasn’t a weak link in the bunch. Much of the cast is tried and true: Conroy returns as Batman and is as flawless as ever, Troy Baker reprises his role as The Joker (he voices the villain in Arkham Origins), Nolan North (Arkham City and Arkham Origins) is a great cockney Penguin, and CCH Pounder is back once again as Waller. New cast members were effective as well. Jennifer Hale, John DiMaggio, Greg Ellis, Neal McDonough, and Hynden Walch all brought something special to their characters. Giancarlo Esposito was underused as Black Spider and I did find myself going back-and-forth on whether or not I liked Matthew Gray Gubler as The Riddler. While Gubler definitely has the look to pull off a real-life portrayal of The Riddler, his vocal performance here lacked the trademark arrogance I look for in an Edward Nygma.
The bonus material is just okay. Besides the audio commentary these extra features really lack substantial insight into the making of the film. How did they not take the time to make a Suicide Squad retrospective? Harley gets a short documentary but as much as I enjoyed her role in this it’s not a Harley Quinn picture, it’s a Suicide Squad movie. Having a Suicide Squad documentary would’ve been a great way to introduce new viewers to what the comics have to offer and it would’ve been a terrific time to promote the all-new Suicide Squad series that just started in July!
Audio Commentary — Creative Director Mike Carlin, writer Heath Corson, and executive producer James Tucker address how they chose the Suicide Squad’s roster, what elements of the video game franchise to employ, and discuss the inspirations behind certain scenes. I was very happy to see the inclusion of a commentary track. It’s the Blu-ray’s best bonus feature.
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis Sneak Peek — This advertisement for the next animated film is the first bonus feature you’ll see. Unlike past Sneak Peeks, this one actually showcases multiple clips from the upcoming movie and fully explains where the creators drew inspiration from the source material. I was surprised to see how few of the original cast from Justice League: War will be returning for this sequel. Like all these vignettes, the Throne of Atlantis preview is under 15 minutes long.
The Joker’s Queen: Harley Quinn — The Joker’s Queen? Terrible title, but a solid 15 minute documentary about the creation of Harley Quinn and her evolution over the past 20 years in comics, games, and TV/Animated Film. Paul Dini (Batman: The Animated Series) and Adam Glass (New 52 Suicide Squad) were great commentators to have on board and Mike Carlin– who speaks in all of the featurettes– made some fine observations as well.
Arkham Analyzed: The Secrets Behind the Asylum — Many of the same commentators as the Harley Quinn piece only Dini and Glass are replaced with Dan DiDio. They discuss the history of real-life asylums, the Lovecraftian origin of Denny O’Neil’s Arkham Hospital, and much time is spent dissecting Grant Morrison & Dave McKean seminal Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. The documentary does lose focus at one point, however, when the filmmakers and game designers step in to boast about sound design in the movie and video game.
Four Episodes from the DC Comics Vault:
- Justice League Unlimited: Task Force X
- Young Justice: Infiltrator
- Batman Brave and the Bold: Emperor Joker
- The Batman: Two of a Kind
Bonus DVD & Ultraviolet Download Code – I’ll be giving away an Ultraviolet code for Batman: Assault on Arkham this weekend. Follow me on twitter @AndrewBatReview where I’ll be posting Batman trivia questions. The first person to answer three questions correctly will win the code. Keep in mind that the code only works for those in the US.
Buy, Rent, or Skip
If you’re a fan of The Suicide Squad then I would say it’s worth your purchase, but if you’re just a casual Batman/DC fan I would recommend it as a must-rent or a low-buy. Definitely worth seeing if you’re looking for an action film.
It’s not really a Batman film or even all that related to the Arkham video game franchise, but it is ridiculous, irreverent, and fun like a Suicide Squad movie should be. I found it to be a pretty entertaining flick that I could see myself coming back to for repeat viewings down the line.