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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Batman: Assault on Arkham
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: August 12th, 2014

Synopsis: When the government teams up a group of supervillains with the code name Suicide Squad and forces them to break into Arkham Asylum to bring back top secret information the Riddler has stolen, Batman soon becomes involved. But things go from bad to worse when one of the Squad (Harley Quinn) frees the Joker, who has the means to not only blow up the asylum, but most of Gotham City as well.

Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series) voices Batman, and joins forces with several Hollywood greats to bring the legendary characters to life. Adding to the celebrity-laden cast is Neal McDonough (Justified, Desperate Housewives) as Deadshot, Troy Baker (The Last of Us) as Joker, Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) as Riddler, CCH Pounder (The Shield, Warehouse 13) as Amanda Waller, Greg Ellis (24) as Captain Boomerang, and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, Revolution) as Black Spider. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment, Batman: Assault on Arkham is directed by Jay Oliva (Man of Steel, Justice League: War) and Ethan Spaulding (Son of Batman) from a script written by Heath Corson (Justice League: War). Sam Register (Beware the Batman, Teen Titans Go!), Benjamin Melniker (The Dark Knight Rises) and Michael Uslan (The Dark Knight Rises) serve as executive producers. James Tucker (Son of Batman) is Supervising Producer.


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Batman: Assault on Arkham Feature Review
By James Harvey

While it goes without saying that the vast majority of these DC Animated Universe Original Movie titles are not for kids, I feel the need to extra-stress that for Batman: Assault on Arkham. This is, by far, the most adult-oriented animated Batman feature to date, and that's something that works both for and against the movie. And honestly, a big part of whether or not a person will enjoy this movie will be based upon how much of the uber-adult tone they can stomach. Because, wow, there is a lot to take in. But, honestly, it also helps in creating this dirty, grungy, slimy take on the Suicide Squad. It's really their movie, which makes the dark humor and scuzzy tone pretty appropriate, really.

Honestly, I was a little turned off by the film's over-the-top tone at first - such as the scene during the opening roll call where Harley gleefully rips off someone's ear with her teeth - but as Batman: Assault on Arkham established itself, everything the creative team was trying to pull off made sense. They yank out all the stops here - and how they got a PG-13 rating is pretty amazing considering just how extreme things get (again, Harley rips off someone's ear within the first five minutes). This is one brutal movie spearheaded by a sick crew of felons, and honestly ... it's pretty damn entertaining. You'll cringe and wince at some of the bloodier parts of the flick, but you'll also chuckle and laugh at some of the more outlandish moments.

Like I said - this is really the Suicide Squad's movie. Batman factors into it, true, but he's more like the co-star here. He's here to mix things up for the Squad, to basically keep things from going to plan. And while this film takes place within the world of Batman: Arkham, you don't need any prior knowledge of the franchise to enjoy the movie. Yes, some of the call-outs - mostly blatant - are nice, they don't really add to the movie at all. We see the game's trademark fighting style animated, and more than a few characters stylized for animation, but nothing that truly makes the connection relevant. And honestly, while the film goes gleefully overboard on the excessive adult content and gore, it's a pretty fun ride for the Squad aka Task Force X. In fact, it almost feels like a test run of the property.

Batman: Assault on Arkham is a nice take on the classic heist film, straight from the opening credits roll-call (which highlights some very heinous acts from our Squad members) to the tried-and-tested betrayals, backstabs, and overly-complicated plans. The film goes through nearly every trope imaginable, but the Batman-trappings and extremely over-the-top scuzziness keeps the film from feeling tired. That's not the say the film is flawless - it's not perfect, sure - but it's far more enjoyable than I was expecting. The action beats, the legitimately funny jokes, the clever dialogue and actual suspense all make this a film worthwhile. There's no real over-arching story, just a mission for the crooks to execute, so the film's focus is primarily on character interaction and action. Not all the characters get the spotlight, but the film knows which ones to focus on to propel the story ahead. The fun script by Heath Corson and super-duper slick directing by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding work beautifully together. It feels like everyone was on the same page here, and it shows in the results.

There are a few minor quibbles to be had. First, the film doesn't really have to be set in the Batman: Arkham universe. This could've easily been a simple stand alone, like the older DC Universe Animated Original Movie titles, or part of the "The New 52"-inspired animated titles. Save for a few visual references and some nods here and there, this could've easily been it's own little movie. That being said, I get why it was done this way. The little tag at the end of the Batman: Arkham Origins video game for one, but more importantly the selling power of the massive Batman brand. Using Batman to propel some lesser characters into the limelight is a great idea, and it's one I'd like to see DC do more of (granted, they tried already with DC Showcase and it didn't exactly take off). Also, Amanda Waller is incredibly one-dimensional here, and comes off as the actual villain of the film, as opposed to, you know, the the actual villains. Waller is an awesome character, and I thought she wasn't entirely done justice here. There's a few other minor problems to be had - like a couple glaring plot issues, some uneven voice acting and the relative non-existence of Black Spider, but those don't really factor in.

Also, the film needs more KG Beast.

Speaking of the cast, it's a pretty solid crew of fiends. We get enough details to understand each, though some understandably get more development than overs. Harley Quinn and Deadshot get more fleshed out as opposed to King Shark and Boomerang, for example. Each character follows the basic stock models for a team such as this, and that's cool because the film makes it very obvious who the real main characters of the team (and movie) are and which ones are just fodder or plot points. And, honestly, that's not an issue. The story that builds between Harley, Deadshot and Joker is actually pretty interesting, and leads to a pretty satisfying tussle at the end (despite the cliched fate for one of those said baddies). The Riddler also gets a few moments to shine, and some inspired voice casting sells the smugness the popular Bat-villain. Like I said, the film follows the standard heist tropes nearly to the letter, but applying them to some of the most demented DC Comics-based characters adds a bit of novelty to it.

The voice cast does solid work, for the most part. It's nice to hear Kevin Conroy back as Batman. His role in the film might not be large by any means, but it's great to have him back. While I have no issues with other actors lending their voice to the character, and actually enjoy the variety, but the occasional return by Conroy is always pleasant. Hynden Walch as Harley Quinn is excellent. While her voice work echos previous takes on the character, she adds just enough lunacy to really make it her own. Troy Baker is pretty fantastic as the Joker. Much like Welch, he sounds quite close to a certain previous actor who defined the character for a generation, but adds just enough flavor to make it his own. And despite the one-dimensional take, CCH Pounder is as awesome as ever as Amanda Waller. So perfectly cast.

Robert Kral's unique score work deserves some kudos here. It's like nothing he's done before and it's actually really nifty. There's some traditional heroic/action-y sounding score work in there, but he mixes in some fast-paced, almost techno-ish sounds that gives the movie a special flare. His music nicely compliments the on-screen action, and blends in nicely with everything else going on.

Overall, this is very fun, very trashy, very adult animated feature is worth a spin, but mileage will likely vary depending on how much one can stomach. I can definitely see some fans having issues with the excessive, sometimes over-the-top adult nature of the film. It is a bit off-putting at first until the film settles in and just clicks. That being said, it's a twisted, brisk caper with a great cast of characters and solid animation. It's actually nice to explore Batman's world from the perspective of the villains. Previous knowledge of the Batman: Arkham games isn't required, as references to said games don't really add any value to the film. Honestly, it's still pretty fun and racks up as a worthwhile guilty pleasure. It's a very straightforward affair - what you see is what you get. I'd definitely recommend it, but be prepared for an intense, dirty little ditty starring some of the most vilest (and perhaps obscure) characters from the lower depths of DC Comics.

[ Continue on to the Batman: Assault on Arkham Blu-ray review ]

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