If I’ve learned anything during my adventures in DC and Warner Bros.’ bizarre catalogue of straight-to-DVD animations, it’s that you can never trust the title. You hardly need to be the World’s Greatest Detective to figure out which of these things are most likely to shift an acceptable number of units. Batman or Superman in the title? Classic story being adapted? Then you’re probably onto a winner.
But a film like Batman: Assault on Arkham, which is based on an original story focusing on the Suicide Squad and set in the continuity of the Batman: Arkham video game series, needs to finesse things a little more. So Batman is there in the title, and he’s technically there in the film (voiced by Kevin Conroy, no less), but this is by no means a film about Batman. It’s a deliriously scuzzy crime thriller that revels in its explicit amorality, giving DC’s oft-neglected second-string villains their own time in the Bat-signal.
Those villains are Deadshot (Neal McDonough), Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch), Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis), Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito), King Shark (John DiMaggio), Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale) and KGBeast (Nolan North), an expendable ragtag team of career-criminals who have been assembled by Amanda Waller (C.C.H. Pounder) to break into Arkham Asylum and recover a thumb-drive full of state secrets from Riddler’s cane. Batman is, of course, peripherally involved, as he scours the asylum for a dirty bomb planted by the Joker (Troy Baker), but the focus is on action and character – it amounts to a crime caper that feels as if it has sidestepped corporate edict for the sake of doing something wholly original and exciting.
The film is well-written by Heath Corson and well-directed by Jay Oliva (with help from Son of Batman’s Ethan Spaulding); I’d say more, but to ruin any of the best jokes or action beats is to ruin pretty much everything Assault on Arkham is trying to accomplish. And, really, this is exactly what DC and Warner Bros. should be trying to accomplish with their animated originals – an off-beat project focusing on underrepresented characters of a style and tone that you could never really pull off in live-action. It merges jet-black comedy with R-rated violence and sexual content, features the wholesale slaughter of relatively innocent civilians, and most importantly never once asks you to buy into the Suicide Squad as heroes; they’re bad people hired to do a dirty job the only way they know how – the fun is in watching them do it.
Fun fact: This was the film that introduced me to DC’s catalogue of animations. I was in the market for more Suicide Squad content after the dreadful live-action film had piqued my interest in the characters, and Assault on Arkham came highly recommended to me. When I first watched it, I loved it. When I watched it again for this review, I still loved it, only now I can say with authority that it’s one of the best entries in the line; a dirty good time to be enjoyed by all.
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