Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014) / Animation-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, and language
Running Time: 75 min.
Cast (voices): Hynden Walch, Neal McDonough, Kevin Conroy, Troy Baker, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jennifer Hale, CCH Pounder, Greg Ellis, John DiMaggio, Giancarlo Esposito, Chris Cox, Martin Jarvis, Nolan North
Director: Jay Oliva, Ethan Spaulding
Screenplay: Heath Corson
Review published August 20, 2014
One of the better of the direct-to-video animated features, the blackly comic Batman: Assault on Arkham delivers quite a lot to like for genre fans in its modest (and standard, for its type) 75-minute run time. Although Batman is in the title, he's more of a supporting player to the bad guys in this flick, a team of highly skilled super-villains known as the Suicide Squad.
The Squad has been put together by black ops specialist Amanda Waller (voiced by CCH Pounder, Avatar) in order to help the government on a dangerous covert mission, with the effective coercion involved with bombs implanted that will blow off their heads if they don't follow through. The mission involves the sextet infiltrating Arkham Asylum, where the Gotham City's most dangerous super-criminals are held, mostly put there by Batman himself, who is there to take out this team trying to take down one of the incarcerated inhabitants, The Riddler (Gubler, Life After Beth), who is hiding some vital information Waller needs.
While the Suicide Squad features villains that aren't well known, with perhaps Harley Quinn (Walch, Justice League: War) as the only one you'd figure was absolutely not expendable, it's a point that works in its favor, as these are characters that could certainly get killed off if the story suits it. Also interesting is that only one of these heroes has any kind of superpowers, the ice queen Killer Frost (Hale), though most are a bit lame on their own (Captain Boomerang (Ellis, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) is just a guy who is really good at throwing his namesake). To bolster up the villain side of things, there is a prominent role for Batman's main nemesis, The Joker (Ellis), as well as significant appearances by stalwarts like The Riddler, The Penguin (North, TMNT), and Poison Ivy.
Although this is an animated feature containing characters that many kids love to watch, parents should probably take note. As with many of the DTV DC Animation efforts, this one gets a PG-13 rating, mostly due to a few moments of violence that would be too strong for syndicated or Saturday morning television. There's even a bit of implied sexuality between two of the characters, and a few mild expletives tossed in for good measure. Fans of the violent and in-your-face "Arkham" series of Rocksteady console releases will likely find much of this par for the course, as this animated feature is definitely built to draw upon the world created in that wildly popular series of video games.
Even though this isn't likely to be a movie that those who normally eschew animated superhero fare should go out of their way for, if you're a fan, this definitely represents one of the best of the bunch when it comes to animated efforts by Warner Bros. There's a palpable sense of tongue-in-cheek humor throughout, which is quite welcome, especially when there is an acknowledgement that this team of antiheroes is, at least individually, pretty lame. There's not enough time to adequately explore deep characterizations in a film with about 10 major characters to portray in only an hour and fifteen minutes (coming into this with a knowledge of the basic "Batman" mythos is a must), but we're given just enough of an individual nuance to enjoy their comical, antagonistic reactions to one another. It's like an Ocean's Eleven/Dirty Dozen formula injected into the super-hero realm, with bits of old John Carpenter flicks like Escape from New York thrown in (its title could be seen as an homage to his Assault on Precinct 13).
Given the short shrift for these characters, it would be good to see a continuation of this storyline for the future, as it offers a unique spin in a universe of sameness that is refreshing, and the comical, devil-may-care attitude definitely gives the up-tempo action scenes a jolt when we know that any character not a Batman regular can be offed if needed. As we come to know and like the eccentric team of no-goodniks we're presented, we grow invested in how things will eventually play out, and the action delivers more of a thrill-ride component to it as each piece of the surprisingly intricate plot gets set into motion. It's not deep, but it's a compact, highly effective, gleefully off-the-chain action-comedy that should leave "Batman" fans, and those who like animated superhero fare, with a smile as broad as the Joker's.
©2014 Vince Leo