I’ve been a big fan of DC’s animated movies for a very long time, and their uninhibited comic-book goodness has never failed to put a smile on my face. And with their newest offering, a spin-off of the critically-acclaimed Batman: Arkham video games, that fact remains absolutely intact, as Batman: Assault on Arkham is a refreshingly fun and crazy movie that delivers in almost every way possible.
While Marvel may be undoubtedly winning when it comes to the big Hollywood blockbusters, for the time being anyway, DC has always dominated in the animation department, as they have proven time and time again that they aren’t afraid to adapt some of their zanier, more off-the-wall stories into feature-length animated flicks (although why they don’t do the same thing with their live-action movies is a topic for a different day.)
And that’s exactly what makes this movie as fun as it is. Assault on Arkham is a relentless, mature, and incredibly exciting twist on the typical DC animated formula, and somehow manages to be simultaneously hilarious and dramatic. It’s not afraid to go outside what audiences have come to expect from their DC stories, and in doing so it succeeds in being very different than anything else out there.
Taking place between the video-games Batman: Arkham Origins and Batman: Arkham Asylum, Assault on Arkham makes the bold move to relegate the famed Dark Knight to a supporting role, and instead gives the spotlight to the Suicide Squad, a team of mostly obscure DC criminals forced to work together by the shady government operative Amanda Waller, or else guarantee their immediate elimination.
The Suicide Squad has taken many forms in many different outlets, but almost always stars a handful of popular rogues alongside some more unknown ones. But Assault on Arkham takes it one step further, as your average Batman fan will probably only be able to immediately recognize Harley Quinn here, as the rest of the team is composed of less known, but no less deadly, characters who only the dedicated fan will be able to name from memory.
As someone who’s been a huge Batman fan for a long time, and has dedicated an embarrassing amount of time to finding every hidden collectible in all three of the Batman: Arkham games, the movie’s dedication to the obscure was a wonderful surprise, and I loved having the chance to see some of DC’s more mysterious figures get the spotlight in such a big way.
But even I only recognized about half of the team right away, and yet that only made the movie even more enjoyable as I got to see these new characters develop and evolve in a way that was exciting and unique. While Deadshot and Harley Quinn are the obvious stand-outs amongst the cast, as they have both had fairly big parts to play in the Arkham video-games, there’s hardly a single character here who feels out of place.
The plot of the movie cleverly takes the form of an old-school heist-flick and plays out as such, starting with some stylized and incredibly fun introductions for each individual character and then immediately diving into the actual heist. There’s very little time devoted to exposition or needless build-up, and even though the movie clocks in at only seventy-five minutes, there’s not a minute wasted and every scene flows perfectly into the next.
But for a film that stars outlandish villains like Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Frost, Captain Boomerang (yes, that’s actually his name), Black Spider, KGBeast, and King Shark, nothing is going to go as planned, and it does not take long for their surefire plan to go haywire. From there, the movie becomes a frenetic and surprising sequence of erratic action sequences and fantastic character development that all ties together to create a perfectly thrilling climax.
Of course, it’s obviously the characters that make Assault on Arkham what it is, and it really was a blast getting to watch so many unique characters bicker and fight amongst themselves all in the midst of a tricky and complex prison break that might not be as straightforward as their employee made it out to be.
The dialogue is fast, witty, and dripping with sarcasm, with each and every character immediately developing both friendships and rivalries that make the team dynamic feel like a ticking time bomb, as you can just tell that someone, at some point, is going to lose it and start a riot. It’s this undercurrent of tension that plays a huge in energizing the plot so much, and it only makes the story that much more enjoyable to watch unfold.
And thanks to a fantastic voice-cast, the characters all feel very distinct in their own ways and play off each other incredibly well, with threats, jokes, and even the occasional bit of comradeship being tossed around on a moment-to-moment basis. Harley Quinn and Deadshot are once again the stand-outs, as their strange yet oddly believable relationship becomes one of the film’s shining features in the end.
However, that’s not to say the rest of the cast is left hanging, because in reality almost every cast member gets at least a couple of moments to really let their individual talents and personalities shine, with Killer Frost, King Shark, and even the constantly silly, and very Australian, Captain Boomerang all getting more than enough time to leave their own impressions on the viewer.
Even the Joker, who makes a surprise appearance in the film’s final act, manages to get more than enough time to shine, which was just another surprise in a movie already full of them. And for a film filled with this much content, it really is a miracle that it all somehow fits together in the end. The plot ties up all the loose ends with its extremely satisfying finale, and yet still leaves just enough unsaid to make sure we’re desperately wanting more.
Batman: Assault on Arkham felt like a breath of fresh air to me, and it really is quite the feat that all the sarcastic humor, breakneck pacing, and explosive action scenes come together in the end to create a movie that had me enthralled from the very beginning all the way until long after the credits rolled. It did almost everything right, and might have just become one of my new favorite animated movies that DC has released, and I cannot wait to sit down and watch it all over again.