Batman: Assault on Arkham REVIEW
There are two things people should know about WB/DC Animations latest feature Batman: Assault on Arkham: One, it is not really a Batman movie and two, it is not very good either.
Assault on Arkham is a slight improvement over WB/DC’s last offering, Batman: Son of Batman, but is still plagued with many of the same issues: poor storytelling, bland backgrounds and bad animations. It may be toned down by a small amount, the brutality of the violence is still a distraction, but this time they added pointless PG-13 sexual titillation because maturity? The film is supposed to take place between the events of Batman: Arkham Origins and Batman: Arkham Asylum, save for a few character and set designs, there is little in common between the properties or anything linking them together.
Batman is a secondary character, with the movie actually being about Amanda Waller (C.C.H. Pounder) putting together her Task Force X for a special mission. The Riddler (Matthew Gubler) as stolen some vital information and is threatening to reveal Waller’s whole operation, including the fact that the government is using convicted felons to do its dirty work. So Waller puts together a squad consisting of Deadshot (Neal McDonough), Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis), Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch), Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale), KGBEST (Nolan North), King Shark (John DiMaggio) and Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito) to break into Arkham and get the information back. It’s not only avoiding the Arkham guards the team has to worry about, but the watchful eyes of “The Bat.” Of course nothing goes as planned, especially once The Joker (Troy Baker) decides to have some fun.
This boils down to the standard heist setup. There are betrayals and double-crosses on each side, with Batman showing up occasionally to shake down people. The characters even have zany introductions vignettes like most heist films. This would be interesting if the cast had any personality or if their particular skill set was vital to the mission. Deadshot’s character development begins and ends with a photograph. None of the other characters gets the same treatment. The film assumes audiences already know the characters, their abilities and motivations. Given that the majority of the Suicide Squad here is made of B through D tier villains, more time should have been used to establish who these people are. Occasionally there are some funny moments between the squad and smart jabs here and there; however, these are few and far between.
Much of the cast of are returning vets of either DCAU, the Arkham games or other DC animated features, most notably Kevin Conroy as Batman and C.C.H Pounder as Amanda Waller. Their performances are fine, given the material. Neal McDonough does an excellent job as Deadshot. Troy still does a great Mark Hamil impression and many will enjoy Walch’s Harley Quinn as much. The rest of the cast does not have much to go off of. Some of the lines are weird and it’s easy to tell, unlike the days of Justice League, not all of the cast recorded their lines during the same session.
Once again the animation is marred with inconsistencies in quality. Waller’s bombs go from cartoonishly tame to grossly gory over the course of the film. Batman’s, like most of the characters, is based off his appearance from Arkham Asylum and City, meaning his eyes can be seen through his cowl; however simple actions like blinking are few and far between causing Batman to feature an awkward robotic deadpan look throughout the film. Many of the fights are not that interesting to watch and the “trying to track Batman” POV shot in a frantic fire fight is one co director Jay Oliva goes to frequently in his films (he does it twice here.)
The film is still brutal at times. The final fight between Deadshot and Joker almost gets there but thankfully isn’t as ridiculous as Son of Batman. Not that brutality or violence is inherently bad. Smart films know how to use their action scenes to tell their story or inform audiences about the characters; which is not happening here. The fight scenes here are like this because the story has failed to properly raise the stakes. The fights are often toned up to make up for it; however the audience was never invested, so that doesn’t work. The same can be said for the infrequent PG-13 nudity. Quinn and Frost – the film’s two female leads – can’t keep their clothes on at times because of poor attempts to be gritty, edgy or mature and failing at because it’s implemented with such immaturity. Batman’s encounter with the Suicide Squad in the Arkham warehouse is very impressive. The best scene in the film, with Batman taking down each member of Waller’s team in various ways, it’s choreographed well and movement of the camera captures the action nicely. Still, one good scene out of 75 minutes does not make for a strong recommendation.
The polish and care that were put into the Arkham games is nowhere to be seen here. A few of the locations from the games are visited but all the atmosphere and detail are gone. The personality of Arkham’s Gotham is nowhere to be found. Perhaps worst, Ron Fish and Nick Arundel impressive score from the Rocksteady Games is nowhere to be heard. Instead, Robert J. Kral assaults viewers’ ears with an uninspiring mix of dubbstep, electric and generic action music. There are no real themes or motifs, just frantic changes in style to go along with new scenes.
DC Animated features of old used to be great fun not only for fans of comics or animation but of all films. Now DC and WB risk alienating their core fans with diminishing quality. Too many short cuts are being taken from the animation to the storytelling; it’s hard to recommend this to anyone.
Batman: Assault on Arkham is available now for digital purchase. DVD and Blu-Ray copies of the film will be available at retail August 21th, 2014.