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Batman: Assault on Arkham

September 12th, 2014
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I have soured recently on the DC Animated direct-to-DVD/blu-ray releases, and I’m afraid their latest release, Batman: Assault on Arkham, does little to change my general impression that this line of animated films has lost its way.

This film had a few things going for it off the bat (no pun intended).  One, it was a separate tale from the new continuity of animated films (begun in the horrible Justice League: War and continued in the not quite as bad but still not that good Son of Batman).  It also featured the return of a few of the classic voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series and the Bruce Timm-run shows that followed, most notably the great Kevin Conroy as Batman (for me, THE definitive voice of Batman) and also C.C.H. Pounder as Amanda Waller.

On the downside, this film was set in the continuity of the Arkham video games, something in which I have little interest.  I am pleased to say that the film totally stands on its own — there weren’t any points where I was confused or felt that I needed to have played those games in order to understand the story.  On the other hand, I wonder if this story would mean more to people who had played the games, since for me I was left rather cold.

Assault on Arkham is interesting in that the story is told, not from Batman’s point of view, but that of the villains.  The Suicide Squad is a group of villains who have been assembled by Amanda Waller to undertake black-op, off-the-books missions.  In this case, they need to break into Arkham Asylum in order to recover the Riddler’s question-mark-shaped cane, in which he has hidden valuable data he stole from Ms. Waller.  (This whole concept of using unstable super-villains to do your dirty-work seems crazy to me, but the Suicide Squad has long been a popular concept in the DC comics.)

I like the idea of a Batman story told from the point of view of the villains, I just wish the villains were more interesting.  (Assault at Arkham pales unfavorably to the last season of Justice League Unlimited, which also spent a lot of time telling stories about the villains.  The penultimate episode of that show ONLY featured the villains, and it was phenomenal, one of the best episodes of the series.  I can’t say the same for Assault on Arkham.)

I also have the same complaint I have had about the last few animated films, in that it has some bad language and some sexual content/references that are supposed to feel adult but to me just feel out of place and juvenile.  As I have said in previous reviews, I have no problem with adult content in a super-hero story!  But I don’t think it is well-executed here.  I don’t need to see an animated Harley Quinn taking off her shirt to have sex with Deadshot.  (Don’t worry, you don’t actually see anything naughty.)

The voice-cast is OK.  It’s amazing to hear Kevin Conroy’s voice again, though it saddens me that they seem to only use him in these lesser films and not any of the more important ones (like the adaptations of Batman: Year One or The Dark Knight Returns) or in the new main continuity of films they began with Justice League: War.  Oh well.

As for the new voices, Neal McDonough is great as Deadshot, one of the best of this new group of villains.  Troy Baker is solid as the Joker, though I’m not sure if I should be praising him or criticizing him for how fully he mimics Mark Hamill’s iconic work as the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series.  (I seriously was certain it was Mark Hamill voicing the character until I saw M. Baker’s name listed in the closing credits.)  Hynden Walch is acceptable as Harley Quinn, though her work pales before Arleen Sorkin, who originated the character on Batman: The Animated Series.  I should also note Martin Jarvis, who is solid in the few lines he delivers as Alfred Pennyworth.  (Sadly, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who played Alfred so memorably for so many years, going all the way back to Batman: The Animated Series, recently passed away.)

I don’t have much more to say about Batman: Assault on Arkham.  It’s not bad, just not that good.  A fairly forgettable animated film, all in all.

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