Batman: Assault On Arkham (2014) Movie Review

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Well, here it is.  Possibly my last Batman Arkham review, until Warner Bros decide to bring out a new chapter in the series without rocksteady, and until I possibly decide to review the comics.  What can be said about Assault On Arkham?

Directed by Jay Oliva (who directed the animated film version of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns) and Ethan Spaulding (who directed 12 episodes and storyboarded 9 of Avatar: The Last Airbender) Assault On Arkham takes place roughly 3 years after Arkham Origins and 2 years before Arkham Asylum, and takes a different approach by not emphasizing so much on Batman (despite his name in the title).  Our focus this time is on a group of villains who have been brought together and forced to work for a corrupt government official named Amanda Waller.  The work?  A Mission with insanely high risks and broad chance of death, and because everybody in the team will not be missed by the general public or by families (or so it seems), the government feel that they have nothing to lose when using them (they don’t lose any good men and women).  The team of villains?  They’re known as the Suicide Squad (You might have heard of them, as they have a film coming out this summer featuring Will Smith and Margot Robbie).  The Suicide Squad in this film are a slightly different line-up to the upcoming blockbuster, but some key members are in both.  The characters who appear in both are Deadshot (Will’s character), Harley Quinn (Margot’s character) and Captain Boomerang.  The other members in this film are Black Spider, King Shark, KGBeast, and Killer Frost.  The squad has been assigned with a mission – to break into Arkham Asylum and steal a thumb drive that is in The Riddler’s cane (Riddler is serving time there).  If they fail the mission, or stray from the brief, their explosive collars will blow up in a Battle Royale fashion, making them all surprisingly well behaved.  While making a short stop at Penguin’s Ice Palace, Harley Quinn (sort of…because they broke up) cheats on Joker with Deadshot, while Killer Frost is then given her own mission on the side…Waller wants her to kill The Riddler.  Meanwhile, Batman is relegated to a supporting role, and is searching for a dirty bomb hidden by The Joker (who is in the Asylum).  But when he hears that there is a lot of activity going on at Arkham Asylum (after already sending Harley Quinn there earlier that night), he heads on over.  Leading to various interactions between these 2 forces.  The Suicide Squad are trying not to get themselves killed, and The Batman is simply being the Batman towards criminals.

Now to break the film down into pieces:

Several of the voice actors from the Arkham games return to play their respective roles in this film, but other characters have received new 1s.  Kevin Conroy (i.e. The voice of animated Batman, and Batman’s voice in the Rocksteady Arkham trilogy) returns as Batman, Troy Baker (who voiced The Joker in Arkham Origins and Arkham Origins: Blackgate) does The Joker again here, Martin Jarvis (the voice of Alfred Pennyworth in the Arkham games) is once again Alfred (the fact that his surname is Jarvis adds to the amusement for Marvel fans), and Nolan North returns as the voice of The Penguin and also does the voice of KGBeast.  To my surprise, Chris Cox, who voiced Deadshot in the Arkham games, chose to voice Commissioner Gordon in this, and the voice of Deadshot was instead given to Neal McDonough…a strange choice.  Voice Acting legend John DiMaggio voices King Shark, Prolific Voice Actor Jennifer Hale voices Killer Frost, and numerous other voice actors are doing these characters for the first time, including Hynden Walch as Harley Quinn.  Despite the adjustments in voice acting continuity with Chris Cox not voicing Deadshot, I thought everybody did a very good job, even if some of it felt disconnected from the Arkham games.

The art style is beautifully presented as an anime-inspired american cartoon with strong visuals and bold colours.  It can be argued that it’s a lot brighter looking than the rest of the Arkham series.  Everything looks very crisp and clean as well…in presentation I mean, not in the subject matter…it is Gotham City after all.

The animation is very much inspired by Japanese anime and mixed up with some American decisions and visual accents.  It’s a very modern style that works well and is highly watchable.  Also, to my surprise, Assault On Arkham is visually kinkier than the video games, as it chooses to show off Harley Quinn’s frisky sexuality (Providing some moments that would have paused VCRs back in the day after the viewer says “Did I really just see that?…lets go back.”), and demonstrate things that wouldn’t have been done in the Batman Animated Series, and weren’t done in the video games either.

The story is quite well put together, but also a bit confusing within the context of the Batman Arkham Story Arc.  It’s clear to say that a fair bit had happened in between the events of Arkham Origins: Blackgate and this film, but some of it wasn’t addressed.  I recalled Deathstroke being recruited in Arkham Origins and Bronze Tiger being recruited in Arkham Origins: Blackgate, but neither character appeared in this story.  It’s likely that there are comics that will explain this, so it needs to be treated as a chapter – a small piece to a significantly larger story.  It’s also the only Arkham chapter I’ve come across that shows off Joker’s more frustrated and jealous side, and a humanity in Deadshot that went beyond simply shooting for the money (He has a daughter).

The music is by Robert J. Kral, who also provided music to Joss Whedon’s show Angel, as well as Batman: Gotham Knight and various modern Scooby Doo movies.  Some of the music is out of character with what is normally music associated with Batman, let alone the Arkham series.  Much of it fits into the electronica/dub-step genre that would be more associated with a Sci-Fi anime.  But this doesn’t mean it’s bad – it’s memorable for being a different approach to a Batman score (since Batman isn’t the main focus of the story), but it’s also, like a said, out of character, and nothing about it stands out like Danny Elfman’s or Hans Zimmer’s contribution.

Would I recommend Batman: Assault On Arkham?  Yes, if you’re following the Arkham Series and want as full a story as possible.  It’s a much better movie than Arkham Origins: Blackgate is a game.  It’s also an interesting chapter because it takes a completely different set of risks that the games don’t always present.  The villains in the Arkham story lines don’t always have their redeeming qualities or their human frustrations presented, but in this case, we’re provided with a little more  character development from the 1s that do reoccur.  Deadshot for instance is a great villain in the Arkham games, but this movie is our chance to see his humanity…that he is fighting for something, even at the expense of his morality.

Voice Acting: ****

Art Style: ****3/4

Animation: ****1/2

Story: ***1/4

Characters: ****1/4

Music: ***

Overall: ****

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