Batman: Assault on Arkham may not be suitable for children, but for adult fans of DC animated movies it is a dirty good time.
Batman: Assault on Arkham takes the world of the Arkham Asylum video games series and adapts it for the DC Animated Universe. Rather than re-hash the story of the video games, however, Assault on Arkham plays like a re-imagined interquel, in which we bear witness to a side story about a separate mission taking place within Arkham, as Batman is busy hunting down a bomb planted by The Joker.
"The Suicide Squad" is a team of villains coerced into government black-ops service by Amanda Waller, under threat of having tracker implants in their neck explode and kill them. The Squad's mission in Arkham? Track down the Riddler and obtain an item he stole, without arousing the suspicion of Arkham personnel - or The Batman. However, professional assassins like Deadshot and Black Spider prove to be violent mismatches with volatile psychopaths like King Shark, Killer Frost and Harley Quinn - and when The Joker gets loose in Arkham, both the Suicide Squad and Batman will have their hands full of mayhem.
Assault on Arkham is a case of flagrant false advertising - yet the bait and switch arguably works out for the better. This is not a Batman movie; nor is it really an Arkham Asylum game adaptation. What B:AoA truly is, is a test run for The Suicide Squad as a major DC screen property - and in that sense it is a rousing success, because watching this team of villains turns out to be one of the more refreshing DC Universe experiences we've gotten in a long while.
DCU veteran Jay Oliva (Under the Red Hood, The Dark Knight Returns) returns to the helm (along with Ethan Spaulding) to craft yet another quality DCU feature. Assault on Arkham not only has some of the more polished and tight animations of any recent DCU feature; in Oliva's hands, the film is given actual style to work with - a cool '70s heist film vibe that's a perfect fit for these unscrupulous protagonists.
It should be duly noted, however: This Film is NOT for kids. Given the subject matter (criminals), it should come as little surprise that Assault on Arkham pushes every boundary of its PG-13 rating, Dark Knight style. There is sex, profanity, a whole lot of violence and some pretty gruesome death, to boot. This is a DCU feature aimed at adult fans, and it plays well as such ("Yahtzee!"). If you grew up on DC animation and are now of parental age yourself, this is definitely a movie you'll enjoy.
Screenwriter Heath Corson does as good a job marrying the various source materials to the demands of a DC Animated movie. The film manages to sneak by with just enough allusions and references to the world of the Arkham Asylum games to justify the film's title (a Batman with visible eyeballs; signature fight moves; character designs and costumes, etc.); but it's also a very good Suicide Squad character piece and overall concept test. The plot is straightforward but sensible; the character arcs are engaging, yet always true to the characters themselves; and the tensions and conflicts are all fun to watch as this time bomb of a team ticks down to self-detonation. In the end, many fans will probably get behind the idea of a Rated-R Suicide Squad movie.
The voice acting is blessedly top-notch. Fans will be happy to have longtime favorites like Kevin Conroy and CCH Pounder on hand voicing Batman and Amanda Waller again; meanwhile, new favorites like Arkham Origins' Joker Troy Baker - or DC Showcase and "Cadillac Guy" actor Neal McDonough - make characters like The Joker and Deadshot sound both dynamic and authentic in delivery.
Other than that, veterans like John DiMaggio (Futurama), Jennifer Hale (Injustice: Gods Among Us), Hynden Walch (Teen Titans), Martin Jarvis (Arkham City) and even Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad and Son of Batman) fill in the supporting roles with either familiar or fitting voices - the combination of which give BAoA the feel of classic DC Animated series like Justice League Unlimited. It's good stuff, and one of the rare contemporary cases where every voice fits snugly into their role.
In the end, Batman: Assault on Arkham may not be suitable for children, but for adult fans of DC animated movies it is a dirty good time. The opportunity to truly explore the DCU from the underbelly of supervillain perspective is a welcome and refreshing one - while thin threads of connection with the Arkham Asylum game series provide a nice structure and familiarity to the world of the film and the characters therein. If you're of age, don't miss this one; it's not everyday that DC, Marvel - or any other animation company - caters exclusively to their adult demo. It's worth taking the dark, twisted ride.
Batman: Assault on Arkham is available on digital download and VOD. It will be available on DVD/Blu-ray on August 12th. It is 75 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language.