In the world of live action superhero movies, Marvel undeniably has the upper hand. DC is trying to find its footing with Man of Steel and the upcoming Batman v Superman serving as the kickoff to a successful Justice League franchise to rival Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. But at ten films already, no one could possibly deny Marvel’s current hierarchy. However, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe gains all the attention and obliterates DC at the box office, the latter studio has had something going for them for the past few years that seems to be their best kept secret: their animated movies are better. Because alongside the theatrical releases from both studios there are also home media releases. Straight-to-DVD movies, as some call them. And quite frankly, DC is allowing no competition.
Marvel has tried with entries like Planet Hulk, Hulk vs. Thor, and the most recent Thor: Tales of Asgard. But they all falter in comparison to DC’s slate which started with Superman: Doomsday, an adaptation of the iconic Death of Superman story arc from 1992. The movie wasn’t great, but for an adaptation of the material and a straight-to-DVD release, it was pretty good. Then came Justice League: The New Frontier, based on the comic story of the same name based on the comic story of the same name, which I found to be a bland superhero movie. Batman: Gotham Knight, however, was much better. Unofficially taking place between the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Gotham Knight told a set of stories of Batman from renowned writers such as Brian Azzarello (he wrote Joker), Greg Rucka (author of No Man’s Land), and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins screenwriter). Wonder Woman came next and served as a welcome surprise, being an excellent adaptation of the Wonder Woman comics and one that ranks among DC’s best. I didn’t see either of the Green Lantern movies, nor did I see any of the latest Justice League ones, but I watched All-Star Superman (based on an amazing graphic novel) and Batman/Superman: Public Enemies, both excellent entries into this universe, the latter more so. But after the poorly received Son of Batman, we get yet another Batman based movie into this populated universe.
I’m not complaining. Batman is my favorite superhero (I could talk for days about how he isn’t really a superhero at all, which makes him the best). I have a decent collection of comic books, half of which consist of various characters (Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men, etc.) and the other half are strictly Batman. He has the best assortment of stories and my love for Batman is unparalleled. Which is why it was a surprise to me while watching Assault on Arkham that there isn’t much of Batman at all. And it isn’t like The Dark Knight Rises where Batman himself is absent for much of the film because in that case the movie focused on Bruce Wayne. In Assault on Arkham, Wayne doesn’t even make an appearance. This is strictly a movie about the Suicide Squad, a group of government ordained former criminals consisting of Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Black Spider (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito, Gus Fring himself), Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost (my favorite of the group, and the awesomeness increases when she discovers Mr. Freeze’s ice gun), KG Beast, and King Shark. If you have no idea who those characters are, you certainly will by the 76-minute mark.
In the movie, the Suicide Squad is commissioned by Amanda Waller to break into Arkham Asylum and find a hard drive hidden inside the Riddler’s cane (the Riddler is voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler, who plays Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds). The Squad is hesitant at first, at least until Waller reveals that she has planted bombs in the back of their necks, which will detonate if they become uncooperative. Waller is an intimidating villain to say the least. After arriving in Gotham, the team encounters Penguin, who has been hired by Waller to give them the arms necessary to make the break in happen. The team eventually gets in thanks to Harley Quinn’s enthusiastic personality. As could be expected, tension rises when she sees the Joker (voiced greatly by Troy Baker, even if he’s no Mark Hamill). And of course, a Batman movie has to feature the Joker and one of his schemes. In this movie, he has placed a bomb somewhere in the city, which has left Batman (voiced terrifically yet again by Kevin Conroy) in an unending pursuit of its location. And it may sound weird, but in this movie about the Suicide Squad, it’s the Joker that makes it great.
Batman is plastered on the front cover and takes up the larger font on the poster, but in actuality, he is virtually nonexistent until the third act, which is so cool. Until then, it’s a whole lot of scenes with the Suicide Squad trying to figure each other out and making their way into Arkham’s gates. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I liked seeing a movie that focused on an unpopular group of villains. All I’m saying is, lookout for Batman’s entry. The third act of the movie with the patients of Arkham released and Batman posing as one of the squad members is really among the best in this animated universe. Up until then, it’s very different from the typical animated superhero movie. Think back to first scene of The Dark Knight. The movie opened with an intense heist scene, which felt like something Michael Mann would have directed. That is what this movie is like. You can look at the cover and think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Batman’s gonna beat up criminals the entire time,” but that isn’t it at all. This is, at its core, a heist thriller.
Tying into the video game franchise but not limited to those who play it, Batman: Assault on Arkham is a really good movie. It places Batman in a supporting role and it somehow works because of the depth given to its central characters (the Suicide Squad.) A gripe I had while watching it, however, was Batman’s pupils. Why, oh why, did they choose to give Batman pupils? White eyes make Batman himself. Pupils are fine for live action in order to convey emotion, but when making an animated film, give Batman the white eyes. He deserves it. We deserve it. Also, all you parents, think twice before renting this one for your kiddies. It’s PG-13, so that should be enough, but I better mention the fact that there is plenty of language and a few racy scenes of sex and nudity (yes, it involves Harley Quinn, all you perverts). So, think again if you want your little ones to watch it just because it’s Batman. Still, though. This movie rocks.
Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014) 76 mins Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, and language Cast: Kevin Conroy, Neal McDonough, Hynden Walsh, Matthew Gray Gubler, Troy Baker Writer: Heath Corson Directors: Jay Oliva, Ethan Spaulding
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