Sunday, January 25, 2015

Batman: Assault on Arkham

Directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding.
2014. Rated PG-13, 76 minutes.
Kevin Conroy
Neal McDonough
Hynden Walch
Matthew Gray Gubler
Troy Baker
C.C.H. Pounder
Greg Ellis
Giancarlo Esposito
Andrea Romano
John DiMaggio
Jennifer Hale

Edward Nygma (Gubler), aka Riddler, is hiding something extremely important. Batman (Conroy) tries to get it out of him the way he always does. When this doesn't work, he ships Riddler off to where all Gotham's super villains go, Arkham Asylum, then continues to search the city. Amanda Waller (Pounder) is also looking for something Riddler's hiding. However, it's different from what Batman is looking for. She also knows that it is actually inside Arkham with him. She also has reasons why she doesn't want The Caped Crusader to know what it is. To that end, she organizes a covert operation made up of a group of the Gotham's most notorious criminals and calls them The Suicide Squad.  Their mission is to break into the incredibly secure Arkham and retrieve the item for her.

Deadshot (McDonough) is the de facto leader of this contentious bunch that also includes Black Spider (Esposito), Captain Boomerang (Ellis), Harley Quinn (Walch), and a few others. Quinn, the most popular of these characters from a mainstream point of view, is the one we get to know best. There is some effort at building sympathy for Deadshot. Unfortunately, these are all awkward and flat. That's not the case for Quinn. She's a free spirit, yet wildly intelligent, and dealing with some complex emotions in regards to her ex, The Joker (Baker). There is a scene where she comes across Mr. J, locked in his cell, and struggles to deal with his charms. This is by far the most intriguing thing that happens in the movie. It's loaded with tension and emotion. It's a subject I hope is further explored in subsequent Bat-flicks. By the way, in this brief bit of screen time, Troy Baker does a fantastic job  as the sinister and cackling Joker. As for who voices Batman, just know that I'm grinning from ear to ear as I type the name Kevin Conroy.

Different from most that fall under the umbrella of "Batman movies," the Dark Knight is really a secondary character in Assault on Arkham. This is really about the characters who normally reside on the second tier (or lower) of The Rogues Gallery. It is also more a part of our hero's video game narrative than the same string of events of Batman's previous animated features. Where this shows most is the movie's heavy reliance on action. It's set up so that everyone's motives are pretty clear, so we get to the meat of the matter pretty quickly. Most of the meaningful exposition is taken care of very early, the way a game might open. Anything else of importance is revealed in quick snippets of dialogue. Don't get me wrong, that's not a bad thing. Actually, this might cause a lot of folks to have it as one of their very favorite Batman movies. After all, the action is fast and brutal. People don't just get killed. They get killed good. We even get our first on-screen decapitation in the Batman movieverse. At least, I'm pretty certain it is. In case you're uncertain, by the way, The Suicide Squad will indeed soon become a live-action feature film.

Most of our hero's movies are brooding affairs that probe his psyche and uses action to punctuate what amounts to character studies of Bruce Wayne at specific points in his life. Therefore, from an intellectual standpoint, AoA just isn't as engaging as other Bat-flicks. Even if you don't have such deep thoughts about a comic book character, you still may not be as into it as you normally would be. After all, these are all bad guys. They can't win and we're too conditioned to them losing to even think this time might be different. It's the way most rational people look at the Chicago Cubs. Sure, they might occasionally have a great regular season, but we know that the team that will inevitably beat them when it matters most is lurking in the shadows, like Batman does here. No offense to Cubs fans, of course, but you get what I mean. Directed by animation vets Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding, this is a fun, action-packed affair that doesn't generate enough narrative oomph to be great.


  1. Wonder Woman beheads Mara in Flashpoint, though I suppose the actual beheading does happen off screen. I didn't have a problem with this not having a strong throughline for the narrative, it sets itself up as a fun heist film very early on with that great opening credit scene and it delivers. Maybe not a great Batman movie, but I still think it's a pretty great DC Animated movie.

    1. Woefully behind on the rest of the DC Animated Universe so I still haven't seen Flashpoint. For shame. I definitely enjoyed it for what it was. Just didn't love it.