DC is in a unique position in that they can take the name “Batman” and plaster it on anything to sell it. The worst example of this being the recently released animated film “Batman: Assault on Arkham” where the caped crusader is a secondary character in a film that has his name in the title. Warnrs Bros has used this Trojan horse tactic before: Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox was based on a story revolved around the Flash that many may have passed over perhaps had it been named simpy “The Flash: Flashpoint Paradox.” Here the goal is hide a Suicide Squad film inside a Batman story, a tactic that didn’t work so well this time around.
After an attempt to catch Edward Nygma, AKA The Ridder, is thwarted by Batman, Amanda Waller assembles a new Suicide Squad to break into Arkham Asylum to reclaim a flash drive housed within his cane. The drive contains information sensitive to Waller, namely the names and identities of all past and potential members for her off the books mercenary force.
The set up for Assault on Arkham is simple enough, but much like the “Arkham” games in which this series is based in, the plot meanders between multiple threads and villains that make you lose focus as to what the point of the mission was in the first place. All the while the Suicide Squad is performing their grand heist into the titular asylum, Batman is preoccupied with hunting for a dirty bomb planted by the Joker, once again putting the focus on Batman’s main adversary in the “Arkham” series.
I would say this is a negative, as this is what normally happens in this universe as of late, but the Joker is of the most interesting characters in the film. Any worries that anyone had about the Joker being taken over by someone other than Mark Hamill should be put to rest as Troy Baker fills the shoes very nicely. The actor did a good job in last year’s Batman: Arkham Origins, but somehow he trumps that performance here and steals the show with the best lines.
Which is a shame for every other character in the movie. The Riddler, a villain who’s getting a big push this year in the “Zero Year” story line in the ongoing Batman comics, is a throw away villain and awkwardly voiced by Criminal Minds star Mathew Greg Gubler. I don’t know what DC has with that show, as this is the third animated film of theirs in a row to feature a Criminal Minds cast member, but I hope it stops. A majority of the cast from previous Arkham games: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Nolan North as the Penguin, Troy Baker as mentioned above return, so why not Wally Wingert as the Riddler?
Then there’s the case of the Squad itself who get barely and development outside of their powers, and even then I was unsure what each member could do. Killer Frost, for example, just seems to hang behind King Shark who is completely bullet proof, and the Black Spider (question: why do a lot of African America characters have to have “Black” in their name?) who I think is supposed to be a Punisher equivalent that is technically a good guy but kills villains. Most of the development and screen time is given to Floyd Lawton, AKA Deadshot, who you at least know is taking part in the mission to secure a future for his daughter, but that could be just carried over knowledge from the “Arrow” TV series and a few throw off lines and shots.
The most disappointing of the lot is Harley Quinn, who has always been a character that you feel that you should hate but absolutely love, is painfully annoying. She doesn’t have any memorable or funny lines, and her wannabe catch phrase “Yahtzee” is cringe inducing. What’s worse that any of that though is her over developed sexuality, delivering a line about a “tight place to visit in Gotham” that made we want to face palm. Get it? It’s her vagina!! This leads to a gratuitous sex scene and the first of at least three pointless almost exposed frontal female nudity scenes.
What I do give credit to the filmmakers for is their exceptional use of the “Arkham” license, as they could have easily just threw in the title and called it day, though on a minor note, the lack of the traditional title banner on the cover and a more falling in line with nomenclature Batman: Arkham Assault is puzzling. Before heading into the Asylum, the Squad pay a visit to the Penguin in the Iceburg Lounge that is immediately recognizable to anyone that played Batman: Arkham City and when exploring the grounds of Arkham itself, the locations and geography follow the identical routes you took as Batman in 2009’s Arkham Asylum. This does a lot to make it feel like a true part of the franchise, even though it doesn’t add much to the overall lore of the young sub-series.
Another page taken straight out of the games playbook is the look and movement of Batman. The film opens with a spectacularly choreographed fight sequence where Batman moves exactly like you would as if you were behind the controller, even the look and movement of his gadgets. When you finally catch a glimpse of the character standing still, he looks like a perfect 2-D representation of the fully 3D character created by Rocksteady games.
The issue with this again is that you wished the focus was on Batman as he’s far more interesting from a story perspective and in actual motion than the entire Suicide Squad combined. DC has saturated a lot of their animated efforts on solo Batman projects, the last film also being based on him, but this is the first film that is set in the “Arkham” universe so the focus once again put on Batman would’ve been acceptable. Instead of getting a story that focuses on the character that drove that franchise, we get an underdeveloped heist film starring a group of characters that it’s impossible to care about. I’m all for a movie about a bunch of villains, but this is not how you go about doing it.
Fans of the “Arkham” series of game should maybe give Assault on Arkham a look at the very least for the way the filmmakers captured the look of the setting and the animation of Batman. I would recommend a rental over a purchase however, as this is easily one of the weakest offerings from the DC animation branch to date.