Over the years, there’s been a lot of bad movies based on good video games. And some of the worst have been animated. But Batman: Assault On Arkham — which Warner Home Video has released as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, on DVD, and digitally — bucks this trend by not only being a great ’toon based on a game, but by also being a great animated movie for Batman fans who don’t play the games that inspired it.
Jay Olivia (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) and Ethan Spaulding (Avatar: The Last Airbender), and based on a smart script by Heath Corson (Justice League: War), Batman: Assault On Arkham picks up after the events of last year’s Batman: Arkham Origins when the Caped Crusader grabs The Riddler out from under the government’s nose and returns him to Arkham Asylum. Not one to just let bygones be bygones, a very unhappy government agent named Amanda Waller uses some rather persuasive means to force a group of criminals she dubs The Suicide Squad — Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Killer Frost, Black Spider, and King Shark — to get The Riddler back.
At first, Batman: Assault On Arkham seems to have an unexpected problem: not enough Batman. After a kick ass scene at the beginning, he’s rather M.I.A. for a guy with his name in the title. But just when you start to think, “Okay, I get that no one would buy The Suicide Squad: Assault On Arkham, but seriously…” you realize he’s much more than a supporting player in his own story. Which is not just where Batman: Assault On Arkham gets going, but where it also gets really good because you realize that Olivia, Spaulding, and Corson have been running a long con on you the whole time.
That said, the bits with Bats are also the best bits in Batman: Assault On Arkham (try to say that ten time fast). Not just because he kicks ass in all of them, but because…okay, yeah, it’s because he kicks ass in all of them. And does so with a brutality that recalls the games.
But then, Batman: Assault On Arkham also gets points for being the most mature Batman animated movie since 2008’s Batman: Gotham Knight. Maybe ever. Sure, most of the faux nudity is provided by the ladies (of course), but it’s actually in service of the story and, in the case of Killer Frost, more an affront to men than women, as it shows how easily we guys are distracted by boobs.
Though they are some good lookin’ boobs.
And I don’t mean that in a sleazy way; that’s just my clunky attempt at saying that Batman: Assault On Arkham is well animated. Like most recent DC Universe animated movies, it mixes tenets of anime with American animation, and while it’s not as good as the best of either, it’s certain up there. Though, having said that, it does have a kind of weird fuzziness about it, as if the directors decided to shoot it with a soft focus lens for some reason. Which, oddly, makes it look like such Marvel Comics animes as Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher and the Blade, Wolverine, and Iron Man TV ’toons, all of which were all made by the Japanese animation house Madhouse (which Batman: Assault On Arkham was not).
What compensates for this slight shortcoming is the solid voice acting. Though that isn’t surprising given how much of the cast have played these roles before. Along with such game guys as Nolan North as The Penguin (Batman: Arkham City, Batman: Arkham Origins, and the upcoming Batman: Arkham Knight), Troy Baker as The Joker (Batman: Arkham Origins), C.C.H. Pounder as Amanda Waller (Batman: Arkham Origins), and Martin Jarvis as Alfred (Batman: Arkham City and Batman: Arkham Origins), the cast also has The Batman’s Hynden Walch again voicing Harley Quinn, while Jennifer Hale handles Killer Frost like she did in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Batman: The Brave And The Bold, Justice League regular and Unlimited, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and the upcoming LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.
But the best of them is Kevin Conroy, who does as good a job voicing Batman here as he did in the four Arkham games, such shows as Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, and such animated movies as Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman, and Batman: Gotham Knight, among others.
Though it helps that all of their lines in Batman: Assault Are Arkham come courtesy of a solid, clever script. And this is especially true for Harley Quinn and Killer Frost, who are tough, funny, and likeable here (which makes me think Corson should write an animated Birds Of Prey movie).
Add to that some impressive action that,
as I mentioned, is as raw and brutal as what you do in the games, and you not only have a great animated Batman movie for both gamers and those who don’t play, but Batman: Assault On Arkham also ends up being one of the few DC Universe animated movies that doesn’t feel short, even though it’s only an hour and fifteen minutes long.
In fact, the only complaint that anyone might have, and it’s not much of one, is that gamers might be bugged that the exterior of Arkham Asylum in Batman: Assault On Arkham doesn’t look like it did in the Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Befitting such a great animated movie, both the Batman: Assault On Arkham Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and DVD include some fun and informative extras.
First up is the insightful featurette “The Joker’s Queen: Harley Quinn,” which spends nearly fifteen minutes talking to her co-creator, Paul Dini, and others about this naughty lady. Though it is a little troubling that no one in it mentions how she’s in an abusive, co-dependant relationship with The Joker.
Also included on the Batman: Assault On Arkham Blu-ray and DVD are four ’toons from various TV shows, including episodes of Young Justice, Justice League Unlimited, and two different Batman ones. Though it’s odd that one of them isn’t the “Joker’s Favor” episode of The Adventures Of Batman & Robin, which is the one that introduced Harley Quinn.
There are also some extras on the Batman: Assault On Arkham Blu-ray that, sadly, don’t appear on the DVD. For starters, there’s a running audio commentary by Corson, DC’s creative director of animation Mike Carlin, and executive producer James Tucker. But while it is informative, and gets points for having everyone in the same room at the same time, which lends itself to interaction, it’s hard not to think it would’ve been better had Olivia and Spaulding shown up, or if some of the cast been involved, especially Conroy, Hale, and Walch.
The Batman: Assault On Arkham Blu-ray also has a nearly half-hour-long featurette called “Arkham Analyzed: The Secrets Behind The Asylum,” which talks about the creation of this mental hospital, its evolution, and its role in Batman’s life.
Though while the Batman: Assault On Arkham Blu-ray is clearly better, it does have a rather odd audio issue. The volume of the menu music is really, really loud. Like annoyingly loud compared to the volume level of the movie or any of the extras. Which means that after watching one of them, you get blasted by the menu music.
Regardless of which version you get, though,
Batman: Assault On Arkham is a great animated Bat-tale; easily the best since Batman: Gotham Knight, and one that’s as good for gamers as it is for those who don’t play.