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Friday, 15 August 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham.

Batman: Assault on Arkham.

I looked this film up more or less on a whim, to be honest. In addition to his semi-regular bursts of live action cinema outings – the quality of which is vastly variable, with The Dark Knight on one end of the scale and The Dark Knight Rises on the other end, and I shouldn't have to tell you which ends of the scales those are – Batman also tends to get several animated direct-to-video films coming out each year, and for the most part, they're not bad.

2014 saw two JLA films with him – JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time and Justice League: War, along with two Batman films – Son of Batman and Batman: Assault on Arkham, the last of which is what I'm reviewing today. I'd recommend looking all of them up, actually, because while DC is shockingly bad at producing live action films, they are quite good at animated flicks.

So, Assault on Arkham. It's a bit of a strange beast, actually, being purportedly a tie-in to Arkham Origins, the third in the crotch-smashingly successful but steadily worsening Arkham games, and purportedly set in the same universe, despite there being no suggestion that it is at any point in the actual narrative. Actually, it seems almost impossible for it to be, as it includes both the Joker (who, spoilers, dies in Arkham City) and the Suicide Squad (who, spoilers, are formed after Arkham City, and then promptly never mentioned in Arkham Origins). 

Spoilers, Har - wait, what game console even is that?

Assault on Arkham tells the story of the Suicide Squad, a team of criminals put together by Amanda Waller and the US government, with bombs embedded in their necks to allow her to control them with the threat of death. On this team are Batman A-Listers Deadshot and Harley Quinn, as well as F-Listers Captain Boomerang (you can just tell from the name he's not one of Batman's more potent foes), Killer Frost, KGBeast (which just sounds like a sportswear company), Black Spider, and King Shark (really more of an Aquaman villain).

We're already off to an unimpressive start.

Their mission is simple: Waller needs them to break into Arkham Asylum and retrieve a flash drive on the Riddler's cane, which she says contains a list of every past, present or future Suicide Squad operative. So they set out to do so, beginning a heist story that can really only end in violence and pain. 

Our intrepid heroes.

You'll note I've not mentioned Batman in that description, and that's because Batman really only plays a minimal role in this film. He is there, he's in the opening scene even, but until the third act of the film, he only has about five minutes worth of screen time. He takes a larger role towards the end, but even then, he's playing deuteragonist to Deadshot.

Which is fine, to be honest. Some people might disagree with me on that: It's a Batman film marketed with his name on it, and it wouldn't surprise me if some people quite rightly expected a bit more Batman for their buck. But the Suicide Squad are – okay, well, actually, most of them aren't interesting and well-developed at all, but Deadshot, Harley and Killer Frost are, and they're very entertaining to watch. The one I'd like to have seen more of, Black Spider, who is just plain cool in this film, probably has the least to do out of any of them.

The film's short, being only about seventy minutes long, so it's very much a condensed version of your typical two hour heist film, but it hits all of the traditional story beats: Section where the heisters are all gathered after showing off their respective skills, section where they get to know each other, section where they have to visit a broker (here played by the Penguin) for information and things go a little south, section where they disguise themselves and infiltrate the target, things going horribly wrong – it's an Oceans [Number] film only with a darker colour scheme and with Batfamily villains, and nobody is going to be surprised by any of the plot twists.

In spite of that, it doesn't feel rushed or boring. It's actually pretty fun, and the fast pace works well for it, because heist films have always thrived off a certain amount of frenetic energy. I've reviewed a lot of bad films this – okay, I've reviewed one bad film this week, but it was Noah, it counts for about three, so this was a refreshing change of pace, as there are a lot of good things to say about this film. 

'They included the Joker' isn't one of those things.
I'm kinda getting sick of the sight of him.

It's well-voiced, with Kevin Conroy reprising his role as Batman (and any Batman fan will tell you that Kevin Conroy is the iconic Batman voice); veteran voice actors Nolan North and Jennifer Hale turning up as the Penguin (and briefly KGBeast) and Killer Frost respectively; and Neil McDonough, an actor who usually does live action work, doing an excellent leading man performance as Deadshot.

It's well-animated, like all the DC Animated films. Warner Bros. Animation, who animate a lot of DC's stuff, did this film, as well as the other three films I mentioned in the introduction. It's in a similar style to Green Lantern: Emerald Knights or Justice League: Doom, that very smooth, colourful style that's very detailed without looking like Rob Liefeld was allowed to attack it with a black pen.

It's okay plotted, too. The plot kind of swings off the rails in the latter half of the third act, just barely keeping a semblance of coherence, and as other reviewers have pointed out, there's really no character arcs involved: Every character involved is exactly the same person at the beginning as they are at the end, and there's nobody you really identify with enough to want them to change. But it serves its purpose as a fun action-heist flick, and it does so without any gaping plot holes or jumping the shark moments, which is an achievement a lot of films don't ever achieve. It's just not a very deep film at all, and there's very little emotional weight. You're probably not going to be caught up in it and unable to stop because you just have to know what happens, but you'll enjoy it well enough if you like dark comedy and explosions. 

And Harley psycho-analysing people.

I thought this review as going to be a lot more positive when I started writing it, I'll be honest. But it's true, it's fun, and coherent, and it serves its purpose, which are all admirable qualities, and it's short, which means you're really not losing much of your life if you look it up. But it's also a very shallow film and that's fine. When have we ever expected our action films to also be deep meditations on the nature of humanity? It's nice when they are, but it's really not a requirement so long as it's fun and doesn't make us feel deeply uncomfortable.

So I'll recommend this, sure, as I recommend pretty much all the DC Animated films – they're all pretty good, and definitely much better than DC's fumbling, sobbing attempts at Hollywood blockbusters, so maybe instead of seeing Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film DC has so little confidence in that they're actually fleeing the possibility of it directly competing with Marvel, you should just marathon all the animated films they've done that have Batman and Superman in. It's a better choice, I promise.  

Oh, hey, nice eyepatch.

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