Batman: Assault on Arkham (Blu-ray)

Does Ace the Bat-house lurk outside Barkham Asylum?

You’ve played Batman: Arkham Origins, right? You know how it teases a Suicide Squad spinoff in one scene? This movie is that spinoff! This latest direct-to-video animated flick takes place in the Arkham “universe,” putting the Suicide Squad front and center.

Meet the Suicide Squad:
* Deadshot, the world’s greatest assassin (Neal McDonough, Band of Brothers)
* Harley Quinn, former paramour of the Joker; she’s completely psycho (Hynden Walch, Teen Titans)
* King Shark, half-human, half-shark (John DiMaggio, Futurama)
* Killer Frost, hot babe with ice powers (Jennifer Hale, Totally Spies)
* Black Spider, mysterious ninja (Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad)
* Captain Boomerang, rouge fighter with killer boomerangs (Greg Ellis, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)
* KGBeast, former Soviet muscleman (Nolan North, Assassin’s Creed)

This group of super-criminals has been recruited by Amanda “The Wall” Waller (C.C.H. Pounder, Avatar) to break into Arkham Asylum and steal crucial information from The Riddler. The members of this makeshift team are affixed with a small explosive that will kill them if they don’t do the job.

Not able to trust each other, the Squad goes about getting into Arkham, only to find complications inside — the least of which is the Joker, who of course has a sinister plot brewing. With all this activity inside Arkham, it’s only a matter of time before that guy in the bat suit shows up.

That’s right, Batman: Assault on Arkham is not a Batman movie, it’s a Suicide Squad movie guest-starring Batman. Wait, come back, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When the Suicide Squad debuted, co-created by legendary writer John Ostrander, it broke new ground in several ways. These were no squeaky-clean, do-the-right-thing good guys.They were ruthless, backstabbing, scoundrels who gave the book a mean, gritty edge. Also, as fitting the book’s title, characters could die at any time, and the deaths had real impact at the time. This added huge suspense and genuine shock value to the series. The Suicide Squad has appropriately developed a cult following over the years but hasn’t been seen much in other media because it’s not exactly kid-friendly.

That’s all changed with this new film, which puts the squad front and center. Co-director Jay Oliva, who previously achieved the seemingly impossible with the two-part Batman: The Dark Knight Returns animated movies, finds much of the same success here. By not watering things down, the movie provides big action and dark thrills. This movie earns its PG-13 rating in a big way, with extreme violence and in-your-face sexuality.

The Suicide Squad is made of not-very-nice people, and a lot of people they run into die horribly. Yes, there are murders, with bright red blood splashing across the screen. People are shot, people are stabbed, and people are killer-boomeranged. Although incredibly violent, the fight scenes are nonetheless expertly staged, with a lot of fast movements and characters involved, but it never becoming confusing. Deadshot and Batman fight coldly and deliberately, while Harley Quinn and the Joker get in on the fighting in more wild, unpredictable ways.

Also, sex. DC Comics has been criticized quite a lot in recent years for the depictions of its female characters, including the heightened sexualization of Harley Quinn. Yes, in this movie, we do get sexed-up, partially nude Harley. Whether or not this offends you depends on your personal sensibilities, but it does fit into the story. Harley has parted ways with the Joker and is trying to move on with new experiences and relationships, but she still can’t fully quit her “Mr. J.” Her conflicted feelings add a nice dramatic element to the story, making it more than just a break-into-Arkham heist flick.

While Harley Quinn is the fan favorite, our protagonist is Deadshot. There are few visual cues as to what he really wants and how much is on the line for him. It’s confident filmmaking that the creators just give us this quick visual and trust us to fill in the gaps on our own, so the movie doesn’t have to stop to explain every little thing to us. Beyond that, Deadshot is the squad’s de facto leader, trying to do the job and keep this group together while keeping them from stabbing him in the back — figuratively and literally.

Lest we forget the famous name in the title, Batty Boy is here as well, voiced by longtime Batman actor Kevin Conroy. By keeping Batman out of the action for most of the movie, it means that when he does show up, you know something big is about to go down. Batman is intimidating and unstoppable, which is cool, but it also means that we can spend more time with the more human and vulnerable Squad members, because that’s where the drama is. Along with Batman, we’ve also got the Joker (Troy Baker, Bioshock Infinite) causing trouble for everyone, the Riddler (Matthew Grey Gubler, Criminal Minds) with a major part to play, and even a bit part for the Penguin (Nolan North again) in an environment taken straight from the games.

Batman: Assault on Arkham is a dark movie, with a lot of inky shadows, and those blacks are deep and rich on this 1.78:1/1080p Blu-ray transfer. Colors are strong overall, with smooth, fluid animation. The lossless 5.1 sound is good as well, with clean voices and booming effects. Extras include two featurettes on the histories of Harley Quinn and Arkham Asylum in the comics and other media, a self-congratulatory commentary track, a sneak preview of the upcoming Justice League: Throne of Atlantis movie, and bonus episodes of DC animated series such as Justice League Unlimited, Young Justice, and The Batman. There’s also a DVD copy and an Ultraviolet download.

A superhero romp for grownups, Batman: Assault on Arkham nicely pays off the subplot that was started in the Arkham games. Anyone who likes their Gotham city tales nice and dark should give this one a (dead) shot.


Not Arkham guilty.

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