Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014 film)

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Arkham, Batman, DC, Deadshot, Joker, Suicide Squad, Waller

Beginning as a video game that was loosely based on a Grant Morrison comic, the Batman: Arkham series has become a force all its own. The series has sold millions of copies and remains a healthy outlier in an industry that is notoriously poor to comic books. When it was announced that an animated Arkham film was in the works and was to be set in this universe, there was a palpable level of excitement from most fans of the series. When it was announced that the film would star The Suicide Squad, my personal level of excitement grew to insane levels.

The face of an ultimate badass.

Task Force X is a team of super-villains who have been caught and incarcerated by the US Government. Instead of life in prison or execution, they are offered a chance to work off their sentences with Government wetwork. Since the jobs are covert with no assistance and the survival rate is very low they are affectionately known as The Suicide Squad. They are essentially a team of badasses who are lead by the biggest badass in the DCU: Amanda Waller. The Wall and her squad have made some appearances in expanded media, but this is their first attempt at headlining their own film.

At this point, I’m sure someone is whining, “But if they’re the headliners then why does the title include BATMAN?” In short, marketing. You can slap Batman’s name on anything and it’ll sell at least a few hundred copies just for that reason. And it’s not like Batman isn’t featured in this story (he is and he’s wonderfully voiced by Kevin Conroy), he’s just not the star but is, in essence, a secondary antagonist.

“Game faces.”

The story is set between Arkham Origins and Arkham Asylum, and focuses on Waller recruiting an iteration of the Squad to break into the Asylum to steal a piece of information from the evidence locker. The movie wastes no time introducing the cast and establishing a tone. It also doesn’t dwell on origins or backstory. This is a lived-in, established universe and it feels that way. You can tell immediately that Boomerang and Deadshot have already run some suicide missions for Waller without any pointless dialogue. This is a rare example of an animated film showing rather than telling. It’s easy to get caught up in exposition or discussions when you have a team that requires an introductory briefing and periodic “check-ins” with their boss. Luckily, we are given just enough dialogue to carry the story and the rest is told through character-interplay and action.

I honestly don’t want to say too much about the story or characters that show up. I’ll just say that there are a ton of cameos/references to the wider Arkham universe to reward fans of the series. There are also twists and turns a-plenty. But then again, that is to be expected when the story focuses on a group of villains who don’t trust each other being told what to do by a Government shill whom they also don’t trust. And don’t expect everyone to come out of this story alive (they are called The Suicide Squad after all), in fact one unlucky Squad member doesn’t even make it out of the briefing room.

TRIVIA: In the script, this character was Bronze Tiger.
DC asked that he be changed to this,
 more modern, squad member

Perhaps the greatest strength of this story is the tone. Since it’s immersed in the gritty world of the game series, it doesn’t shy away from video game levels of violence. Also, this is probably the first of DC’s animated films to feature a sex scene, short and humorous though it may be. This brings me to another point regarding the tone. I often cite DC for trying too hard to “darken” their characters. As such, it seems odd to find me praising this film which does exactly that. The difference is the choice of characters. Batman is allowed to be dark, and the world he inhabits should follow suit. Superman is a character that shouldn’t be a destructive, self-important douche (much like his portrayal in Man of Steel and Justice League: War) because he’s a pure hero. Deadshot and the rest of the Squad, however, can be as morally dubious as they’d like. They’re super-villains, after all. I would have been very disappointed if this film was anything other than a dark, violent and humorously-sadistic caper.

Riddle me this! Whose voice sounds weird?

There’s a lot to recommend with this film, but it isn’t without its flaws. Many of the cast from the Arkham video games have been re-cast and for the most part, this isn’t immediately apparent. Neil McDonough does a serviceable job taking over for Chris Cox as Deadshot (oddly enough, Cox plays Gordon in the film, replacing a rotating cast of actors in the games) while Hynden Walch plays Harley Quinn in place of Tara Strong from the past few games. However, both actresses just mimic Arleen Sorkin’s original voice of Harley from the animated series, so it’s not too noticeable. The one voice that stands out the most is Matthew Gray Gubler as The Riddler. He sounds like a first-time voice actor and doesn’t sell the role at all (which is odd, because he’s done voice acting before). He just seems to be reading lines rather than acting them. This is too bad considering that Wally Wingert has played the role in every previous Arkham game (plus he’ll be reprising the role for Arkham Knight) and he really made the role his own. In the first game, he was solely a vocal character, communicating through radio alone. Because of that, his voice has become closely connected to Mr. Nygma.

Behold: The one, true Batman.

The cast members who do return from the games do a splendid job. Kevin Conroy and CCH Pounder have voiced their respective characters plenty of times in the past and are incredibly comfortable with them. In fact, Conroy has played Batman longer than anyone else (and his slate of upcoming games and movies ensures that he’s likely to hold onto that title forever) with almost 25 years as the Dark Knight. The film is certainly stronger for his casting which is something that cannot be said for Arkham Origins, the prequel game that unwisely re-cast the role with middling results.

While it does have its flaws, the strengths of this film far outweigh them. Again, I’ve avoided spoilers because this film is only a week old as I write this column. Hopefully I’ve persuaded a fraction of my readers to purchase it and help convince DC to continue to create original films of this caliber. I feel that it’s definitely worth its price tag and should please diehard fans as well as the uninitiated. This has been a good year for the Suicide Squad. They starred in a highly anticipated and well received episode of Arrow (plus they’ve been confirmed to re-appear in season 3) and now star in their own animated film. Maybe this will edge Warner Bros. closer to making the live-action film that NEEDS to be made.

Name another character that can get away with that.
I’m waiting.

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