Batman: Assault on Arkham direct-to-video animated movie
Writer: Heath Corson
Voice actors: Kevin Conroy, Neal McDonough, Hynden Walch, Troy Baker, CCH Pounder, John DiMaggio, Jennifer Hale, Giancarlo Esposito, Greg Ellis & Nolan North
Directors: Jay Oliva & Ethan Spaulding
Producer: Warner Bros. Animation/Warner Premiere Home Video
I was a huge fan of John Ostrander and the late Kim Yale’s Suicide Squad series of the 1980s, and with that in mind, I was rather looking forward to Warner Animation’s latest DC-based direct-to-video release. Despite Batman’s top billing, Assault on Arkham is definitely a Suicide Squad/Task Force X flick (set in the Batman’s video-game universe), and in several ways, the filmmakers get a number of elements of the super-villain strike force concept right. But it misses the mark in others. Ultimately, the most disappointing aspects of the movie are the gratuitous sexual elements when it comes to the female characters and the over-the-top, in-your-face violence. This could have and should have been a much more palatable entertainment experience, and it could have been so without losing the property’s dark edge.
High-ranking government official Amanda Waller has a new mission for Task Force X, a suicide squad made up of incarcerated super-villains whose actions the government can easily deny and from which it can distance itself. Led by Deadshot, the squad is sent into Arkham Asylum to retrieve a piece of compromising technology, but ulterior agendas on the part of various players lead to chaos at the Gotham-based facility. And that always attracts the Batman’s attention.
There’s a fairly good sense of design in the animation and character interpretations here, but easily the slickest aspect visually is the opening sequence in which the various members of the Suicide Squad are introduced. Graphics detail their codenames and real names, and it establishes a fun energy and a cool heist-flick feel. That was probably the best aspect of the movie, as a good deal of unnecessary ugliness creeps its way into things after that point.
I realize the supposedly disposable nature of the villains is a central element of the premise, but this story employs it with abandon. What’s really surprising is how these willy-nilly decapitations are so overtly depicted, often in an almost farcical way. It was thoroughly off-putting. Furthermore, Amanda Waller’s portrayal as a bully and practically corrupt was disappointing as well. While I appreciated she was depicted as her original portly self, what’s lacking is the moral center and righteousness that made her such an interesting character when she was introduced in the 1980s. Instead, we get someone who’s petty and vindictive – and not at all likeable.
There were elements I enjoyed in the movie. The different take on King Shark worked well, as did the odd flirtations between him and Killer Frost. Harley Quinn’s story arc about rebelling against the Joker was interesting at times, and I thoroughly enjoyed Matthew (Criminal Minds) Gray Gubler’s portrayal of the Riddler was quite enjoyable.
Overall, the writing here is clumsy. The “twist” later in the story is painfully transparent, and it takes the characters way too long to figure out what the audience realized immediately. Furthermore, the notion that Arkham would keep a stockpile of weaponry belonging to the worst super-criminals the world has to offer on its premises where those same criminals are incarcerated is laughable.
Easily the most distracting and disappointing aspect of Assault on Arkham is how the filmmakers treat the women. The suggested nudity of Harley and Frost are completely unnecessary to the story. While the sexual encounter between the former and Deadshot does come into play later, it certainly could have been handled less crudely. In fact, just about everything about this home-video release could have been less crude. The Suicide Squad is a concept that’s broken through in other media, and this animated take on it doesn’t serve it well. 3/10
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