Despite their inability to create a live-action movie series that doesn’t deviate substantially from the source material, DC can certainly churn out good quality animated movies when they want to. They’ve put out plenty of gems over the years, from classics like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm to more recent efforts like Justice League: War, based on Geoff Johns’ excellent run on the relaunched Justice League book. DC’s latest animated effort, Batman: Assault on Arkham, is – rather surprisingly – set in the same universe as Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games. As a result, viewers are treated to the ever-awesome Kevin Conroy voicing the Dark Knight, Arkham Origins’ Troy Baker voicing the Joker and Adventure Time’s Hynden Walch voicing Harley Quinn.
Despite Batman featuring prominently in the film’s title, ol’ Batsy actually takes a back seat; the real stars of the show are my favourite team of supervillains-turned-government commandoes: the Suicide Squad. Run by the hard-ass spook Amanda Waller (C.C.H. Pounder, reprising her role from Arkham Origins), the Squad are pressed into service by the US Government to undertake highly secretive – and highly dangerous – black ops missions that the government simply can’t be seen doing. Controlled by micro-explosives implanted in their necks, the Squad have two options: complete missions and shave time off their sentences, or die.
Assault on Arkham sees the Squad infiltrating Arkham Asylum to retrieve a thumbdrive from the Riddler’s cane, which contains the details of every past Squad member, every current member and every potential member that the government is sussing out. Naturally, the government doesn’t want that sort of information released, so the Squad is sent in to clear up the mess. Meanwhile, Batman is busy turning Gotham inside out looking for a dirty bomb that the Joker hid before being locked up again. Naturally, he ends up at Arkham and crosses paths with the Squad, with explosive results.
Rather than call back to the classic Squad line-up, DC have chosen to keep their cast of characters fairly close to the recently-ended Suicide Squad title; Rick Flag is nowhere to be found, and Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark, Black Spider and Captain Boomerang wreak as much havoc as they did in Adam Glass’s initial run. In addition to these familiar faces, lesser-known villains Killer Frost and KGBeast are thrown into the mix and stir things up nicely. The great advantage of a film set in Arkham Asylum is that there are a stack of villains to choose from, and several make cameo appearances – Scarecrow and Bane being prime examples.
Having the Suicide Squad take centre stage in an animated feature is a big step for DC – the movie is much darker and quite violent compared to their previous efforts. The Squad’s signature neck bombs are detonated more than once, leading to some very gory scenes – a very different approach, considering Under the Red Hood shied away from depicting a bag full of severed heads.
Setting the film in the Arkham universe allowed DC to tweak some character designs, too; while the Joker looks very much like his in-game counterpart, lesser characters like King Shark have been changed significantly – he’s no longer the anthropomorphic shark I know and love, but still has plenty of bite.
While it deviates from the usual DC animated movie formula, Assault on Arkham is an excellent addition to their extensive catalogue. It’s certainly a more mature take on their universe, and tying it in to the Arkham universe allows greater flexibility without having to worry too much about screwing up canon. Check it out if you get the chance – it’s most definitely worth a look!
By Alastair McGibbon