Out on Tuesday is the newest original animated DC universe film, Batman: Assault on Arkham.
How you feel about it will likely be influenced by two key facts about the movie: It’s set in the same world as the Arkham Asylum video game, and it’s badly named, since Batman barely appears. This is a Suicide Squad movie, and some will find that very exciting, while others will be near-disgusted.
I fall in the latter category. I liked the original comic series, written by John Ostrander with a sense of morality and an exploration of various dilemmas around such. The series and concept now, though, is just about forcing bad guys to do even badder things under the threat of being decapitated explosively.
I’ve never played the video games, so I can’t speak to how authentic this is in relation to those, but the tone here feels a lot like the DC New 52 revamp, from the character designs to the relentless grim feeling and violence. (Plus, hints of sex, as Killer Frost is seen topless from the back; like the other movies, this is rated PG-13.) That certainly has its audience, particularly among gamers. Artistically, Batman: Assault on Arkham looks the same as the other recent DC films —- workable, but nothing outstanding.
I did like the TV credit-style intros of the various characters doing despicable things. That way we get both their villain and “real” names, for the following members of “Task Force X”:
- Killer Frost (voiced by Jennifer Hale)
- King Shark (voiced by John DiMaggio)
- Black Spider (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito)
- Captain Boomerang (voiced by Greg Ellis)
- KGBeast (voiced by Nolan North)
- Harley Quinn (voiced by Hynden Walch)
- Deadshot (voiced by Neal McDonough)
Batman is once again the incredible Kevin Conroy, and Troy Baker does a good job of being creepily insane as the Joker. Matthew Gray Gubler is the Riddler, while I was pleased to hear CCH Pounder as Amanda Waller. Unfortunately, while I was thrilled to see her (and in her old look) running the team, we’re given no reason for her being so mean and bloodthirsty. Other than that’s how everyone is in this world.
She sends the team into Arkham Asylum to kill the Riddler, while Batman is looking for a dirty bomb that the Joker has hidden. That accounts for his few scenes, where he threatens various criminals to get more information. The rest of the time, the lightly structured plot just gives villains more chances to be bad guys. I don’t find wallowing in this fun; clearly, others disagree.
A nine-minute sneak peek at Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is illustrated with comic art, footage from this and previous movies, and very preliminary sketches. Writer Heath Corson (the go-to guy for these things, since he also wrote this movie and Justice League: War), creative director of animation Mike Carlin, and voice director Andrea Romano also comment. Corson says that Aquaman is different because they don’t have a character [other than him] with a core of anger and frustration —- what DCU is he reading?
The movie’s commentary is by Carlin, Corson, and executive producer James Tucker.
“The Joker’s Queen: Harley Quinn” featurette (14 minutes) describes her as the funny and sweet “bad girl next door”. Geoff Boucher, writer for Entertainment Weekly, explains how the character was created, with help from Mike Carlin. This would all have been much more interesting to hear from Bruce Timm himself, but he appears only in photos. Paul Dini participates. Original voice Arleen Sorkin doesn’t. Adam Glass, writer of the Suicide Squad comic, does, and he spends a good amount of time justifying his recent take on the character in print, including his thoughts on the Joker/Harley Quinn/Deadshot triangle.
“Arkham Analyzed: The Secrets Behind the Asylum” spends 27 minutes on the setting. After the movie, I couldn’t subject myself to more of this. Too bad we didn’t get anything about the other characters that are assembled here or the history of the Suicide Squad concept. There are also four cartoon episodes included: Justice League Unlimited: “Task Force X”; Young Justice: “Infiltrator”; Batman: The Brave and the Bold: “Emperor Joker”; and The Batman: “Two of a Kind”. (The studio provided a review copy.)