DC/WB have been steadily releasing animated movies for some time now, and the latest is somewhat of a departure from their normal focus on adapting established stories from the comics. “Batman: Assault on Arkham” is the 20th release but is the first to be based on a video game, and if we could get more tie-ins like this, the Arkham series would be an even bigger media juggernaut than it already is.
If you’re a fan of the character, the games are absolutely amazing! I don’t usually give that high a praise for video games based on comics because they usually fall short, but even the worst Arkham game is still good. If you crossed the Nolan films with the comic universe you’d have the Arkham game world. They are gritty, realistic, and wholly centered on Batman lore and history without trying to compromise for full-on reality. The games takes you through a who’s who of Batman’s rogues, all while telling great stories and setting up great action.
Recently, the series has been broken into two settings: The Origins Timeline and the Modern Timeline. “Batman: Arkham Origins” was set five years before the events of the first game and shows a younger, less established but fully capable Batman as he is hunted down by mercenaries and assassins on Christmas Eve. The first game, “Arkham Asylum” and its sequel “Arkham City” take place in a current Gotham, with an established and well-known Dark Knight. “Assault on Arkham” the movie takes place 2 years before the first game and centers on a heist set up by the government to retrieve something from within Arkham. Only a psycho would take that mission, or some hardened convicts with nothing to lose. Enter Task Force X aka the Suicide Squad!
Amanda Waller (CCH Pounder) heads up an off-the-books government program that uses criminal metahumans as expendable agents on missions that would otherwise be deemed to dirty for the US government to take on. Task Force X was created just for such jobs, and with an ever growing number of super criminals, they have an endless supply of “volunteers.” The team is constantly changing as they switch up who they need depending on the job, but there are some mainstays. First appearing on screen in “Justice League Unlimited,” this dirty dozen-esque team gets put together to retrieve a hard drive belonging to the Riddler (Matthew Gray Gubler). Of course the idea of breaking into Arkham alone is enough to put most off the job, even the likes of King Shark (John DiMaggio), Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale), Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito), and Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis). But Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch) and Deadshot (Neil McDonough) are up for it, and the rest don’t really have a choice.
What follows is a heist flick that is peppered with lots of good action and a decent story. It’s the characters that really stand out though. McDonough is perfect as Deadshot. He’s got the swagger and the confidence, and the skills to back them up, and it’s all played that way. He and Walch’s Harley Quinn stand out among the team and they get most of the story and dialogue. Think “The Usual Suspects” in Gotham and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of story you’re getting.
But of course this wouldn’t be Gotham without an appearance from the Dark Knight himself. Batman is voiced by fan favorite and Batman to generations Kevin Conroy. He is only in the movie a handful of times, but when he shows up, man is it something! I was watching this with my good friend Virgil and we were both laughing out loud at the reaction people had in the movie whenever Batman shows up. We gave it a Pucker Factor rating. Pucker Factor is the amount in which a person’s sphincter contracts uncontrollably from fear. Batman was like a 9 out of 10! Every time he shows up everyone’s butthole tightened to pinholes! They definitely made you feel the “Oh Crap!” reaction and that just made his appearances even better. But if there’s a Batman sighting, and we’re in Arkham, and Harley is involved it’s only a matter of time before the Clown Prince of Crime shows up to add chaos to the proceedings, and good lord does he! Though introduced earlier in the film, the Joker reintroduces himself to the team in explosive fashion with one of the best lines ever delivered by the Joker. Sadly Mark Hamill did not return for the role, but Troy Baker does an excellent job standing in, and sometimes you forget you’re not listening to Mr. Skywalker.
“Batman: Assault on Arkham” is an animated movie and the visuals are a very important part of the medium, even more so because a visual style has already been established. When the movie was first announced, I wondered if they’d do a CGI movie like the cut-scenes in the games, or would it be traditional animation. We got our answer, and though it takes some getting used to, this is very much the Arkham world. From the backgrounds within Arkham to the look of the characters, it’s all in line with the designs from the games. The action flows fluidly and the slower moments allow you to really take everything in details-wise.
WB/DC took a risk by making a movie all about the bad guys, but it paid off. You genuinely begin to like Deadshot, and if you haven’t loved Harley before you will now. Everyone else is treated admirably, but the heist flick feel and the Gotham setting really make for a fun Batman movie, even if he isn’t the star. I could easily see a Suicide Squad live-action flick being made, even one without any connections to Batman.
“Batman: Assault on Arkham” has some decent special features, including their great featurettes looking into the comics lore, this time focusing on Harley and Arkham Asylum, as well as a sneak peek at the upcoming “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” movie, which actually has a bunch of footage from the finished film, and the prerequisite episodes from the DC animated vault.
Bottom Line: if you’re a fan of the games, a heist flick fan, or a fan of the DC Animated Universe in general, check this out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Besides, who doesn’t like to see the bad guys get away?
Jay Oliva, Ethan Spaulding (director) / Heath Corson (screenplay)
CAST: KKevin Conroy … Batman / Bruce Wayne (voice)
Neal McDonough … Deadshot / Floyd Lawton (voice)
Hynden Walch … Harley Quinn / Harleen Quinzel (voice)
Matthew Gray Gubler … The Riddler / Edward Nigma (voice)
Troy Baker … The Joker (voice)
Chris Cox … G.C.P.D. Commissioner James Gordon (voice)