BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM Blu-ray Review

     November 17, 2014

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Batman: Assault on Arkham, the latest effort from DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation, casts Batman aside (for the most part) in order to focus on Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad.  The anti-hero team has gotten quite a bit of press lately for its planned live-action adaptation, so now’s a great time to take a look at one of the Suicide Squad’s animated iterations, now available on Blu-ray.

While Batman: Assault on Arkham takes the opportunity to cast Batman villains in lead roles, it doesn’t come close to exploring all the potential those characters offer.  The voice acting is spot on as usual and the animation style is a visual joy, but the half-baked plot and immature on-screen antics makes this a weak adaptation rather than a must-have addition to your collection.  Hit the jump for our Batman: Assault on Arkham Blu-ray review.

Feature:

Batman-Assault-on-Arkham-harley-quinnThe Good

Any time the villains get to take center stage, viewers are in for a treat.  In Batman: Assault on Arkham, Waller cobbles together a team of supervillains tasked, against their will, to break in to Arkham Asylum and retrieve stolen data from the Riddler (Matthew Gray Gubler).  Since this is Waller we’re talking about, of course she has another hidden agenda that’s not revealed until later in the picture.  Before that point, the bulk of the plot revolves around the dysfunctional relationship among the teammates.  Deadshot (Neal McDonough) leads the team alongside Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis) and Harley Quinn (Hynden Welch), with King Shark (John DiMaggio), Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito), and Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale) along for the ride; KGBeast (Nolan North) makes a brief appearance as well.  Whenever Andrea Romano is involved, the voice acting will be superb, and that track record continues here.

The interplay between each of the supervillains is probably the most enjoyable part of this feature, especially since it gives some relatively obscure characters a chance to come to life.  There’s a tenuous romance between Deadshot and Harley that suffers from the specter of the Joker waiting in the wings, a love triangle that’s pulled right from the comics. Honestly, this feature should have been Harley’s to lead, and the writers give her a big portion of the screentime, but chose to run Deadshot as the leader of the pack instead.

The animation is certainly more adult, not just in its style of characterization but in its sexualized themes and nudity as well; it’s got a PG-13 rating, so it’s not intended for the Saturday Morning Cartoon crowd.  That being said, the title location of Arkham Asylum could have done with a lot more style since it felt more like a sterilized, Earth-bound version of the Justice League headquarters than a decrepit pit of insanity.  Missed opportunity here.  Another misstep is how this film handled the Batman himself.

batman-assault on arkhamThe Bat

If you want a straight-up Batman adventure, look elsewhere.  The Caped Crusader (Kevin Conroy) only flits in every once in a while to bash a few skulls, scream in someone’s face, and ask seemingly nonsensical questions about a mysterious MacGuffin that’s not revealed until the final act.  His signature stealth, detective skills, and genius intellect is nowhere to be found in this hour and fifteen minutes.  To be fair, it’s all about the villains, so it makes sense to keep Bats in the margins.  Unfortunately, the creative team tried to have it both ways, so Batman’s scenes end up feeling rushed and forced.  That’s some sad commentary since it means Conroy’s famous voice is limited to a few short quips and grunts.

The Ugly

Sadly, there is more bad than good in Batman: Assault on Arkham.  DC’s animated features have lately been infected with an odd sort of immature humor that takes precedence over character development or an exploration of meaningful themes.  With the Suicide Squad’s focus, the writers could have really played up the differences between the members and their eventual cooperation.  Instead, multiple characters get their heads blown off with little reaction from the others, and people get kicked in the balls … a lot.

batman-assault-on-arkham-killer-frost

With Arkham Asylum as a centerpiece, they could have made the facility a character in its own right.  Instead, they made it more of a bland if not technically advanced prison setting in which there’s not a speck of dirt to be seen and all of the prisoners are the cleanest houseguests ever.  The design of this version of Arkham is as poorly thought out as the rest of the plot, and it seems as if the creative team chose instead to just cram some villains together, let them get naked and have sex, and then have Batman come in to tie everything up with a bat-bow.  When these features stop feeling like a 12-year-old’s fan-fic, I’ll happily consider them a little more seriously.

Rating: C

Special Features:

Audio Commentary

A Sneak Peek at Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (10 minutes):

Following the events of Justice League: War, the next animated feature from WB Animation will be based on Geoff Johns’ titular comic book arc in which Aquaman is not yet on the Justice League’s radar. In fact, viewers will meet Arthur Curry before he knows his origin story himself, so it sounds like a fun way to bring in the Justice League while also focusing on character building. Matt Lanter will voice the aquatic hero with Sam Witwer voicing the antagonist Orm, and Sirena Irwin as Queen Atlanna, with Jerry O’Connell returning as Superman, Christopher Gorham as The Flash, Jason O’Mara as Batman, Sean Astin as Shazam, Sean Patrick Thomas as Cyborg, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, and Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern.

Batman-Assault-on-Arkham-jokerThe Joker’s Queen: Harley Quinn (15 minutes):

A retrospective look at Harley Quinn, from her creation for Batman: The Animated Series up to her central role in Batman: Assault on Arkham. They spend a fair amount of time focusing on the look of Harley’s costume over the years and her historic origins, which die-hard fans should know and love, but the discussion also turns to her evolution within the comics.

Arkham Analyzed: The Secrets behind the Asylum (25 minutes):

A walk through the history of Batman himself and the creation of Arkham Hospital, which evolved into Arkham Asylum. It’s a great look at how this demented facility has become a character in its own right in the world of Batman.

From the DC Comics Vault (animated episodes):

  • Justice League Unlimited: Task Force “X”
  • Young Justice: Infiltrator
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Emperor Joker
  • The Batman: Two of a Kind

Trailers:

  • DCU: Son of Batman
  • Beware the Batman
  • Ultraviolet
  • DC Collectibles
  • Infinite Crisis
  • Ben 10: Omniverse

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