Batman: Assault on Arkham isn’t much of a Batman movie. And honestly, it’s better that way.
Focusing almost exclusively on Task Force X, the oft-named “Suicide Squad,” Assault on Arkham sends our ragged bunch of convicts into the depths of Arkham in search of top secret information, while Batman searches for a dirty bomb Joker has planted somewhere in the city. Compared to some other more recent DC Animated Movies, Son of Batman especially, this is top-notch, with much better dialogue and voice acting work and much better characterization. It’s got its off moments and some questionable creative decisions, but with smooth animation and voices, great comedic timing and some really fun group dynamics – well, there are worse ways to spend an hour fifteen.
Assault on Arkham has one of the best cast lineups yet. Popular characters such as Deadshot, Amanda Waller and, of course, the cheerfully violent Harley Quinn are fantastically captured, certainly, but even more minor characters such as King Shark, Killer Frost, Captain Boomerang and the little-known Black Spider command a surprising amount of attention. Even KGBeast, in his brief cameo, is entertaining. While a few characters – such as the Riddler, the Penguin, and whatever Penguin’s accent was supposed to be – fall kind of flat, it’s still some impressive use of a very large cast.
The Joker, especially, is amazingly well done in this. Though he doesn’t appear until some time into the movie, his dark humor, cheerful violence and wacky sadism are pitch perfect, aided by the surprisingly enjoyable voice acting work of Troy Baker. Actually, let me get into the voice a bit more – I really, really like the way Troy Baker does the Joker. He’s no Mark Hamill, but he’s no cheap knockoff, either, and his Joker has superb personality, with just enough of the old Hamill edge to really work. I still miss Hamill, for sure, but I’m not sure there’s a better successor than Baker.
The interplay between the characters, too, is excellent. From Deadshot’s and Captain Boomerang’s constant bickering to the tension between the Joker, Harley and Deadshot to Waller’s command over the Squad, this movie juggles its extended cast very well. I’m still absolutely amazed that this movie managed to make me interested in a romantic relationship between, of all people, King Shark and Killer Frost, but they certainly pulled it off.
When it comes to pacing and plot, meanwhile, this is one of the best of the DC animated features. With only 75 minutes to work with, there’s not a lot of room for things to drag, but things never feel rushed either. And as for the plot – well, while it’s not anything special by itself, the constant surprises and averted cliches are enough to make it memorable.
Finally, this movie is just a real pleasure visually. Though there are a few moments in the first fight sequence that got a bit strobey for my tastes, and some rather eyeroll-worthy cheesecake shots with Killer Frost, the animation is top notch, and the fight scenes are very well choreographed. Combined with talented voice acting work, a good soundtrack, and great dialogue, I don’t regret a moment I spent watching this movie.
Let’s start with the big one here – Harley and Deadshot? I’m not averse to the pairing in principle. But the way they built up to it honestly just left a bad taste in my mouth. In the first place, regardless of how “wacky” Harley is supposed to be, I just really loathe the “woman comes on to man by appearing naked in his bed” trope. In the second place, though, it feels very forced from the beginning. There’s no real natural development – it’s “in your face” from their first few lines to each other, for no clear reason. And if it was all part of her plan, then that’s not really made very clear. I don’t mind the couple. But the execution just didn’t work.
On the subject of things that fell flat, I’m somewhat disappointed by what they did with Black Spider. Without spoiling too much, the twist they pulled off with him was well executed, but I don’t feel like they delivered on the promise of his character. You don’t set up the tensions of a Suicide Squad member who got there by killing criminals without a better payoff than that.
Assault on Arkham is a good movie about bad people doing bad things. With a fun heist story, great team dynamics and a story that, though part of the general Arkham game universe, stands on its own, there’s something here for everyone. It’s no cinematic masterpiece, but if you’re a fan of the Squad, or just looking for a good movie, I’d definitely check it out.