Batman: Assault on Arkham
- Street Date:
- August 12th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Steven Cohen
- Review Date: 1
- September 12th, 2014
- Movie Release Year:
- Warner Bros.
- 75 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Riddle me this, when is a Batman movie not really a Batman movie? Answer: When the Caped Crusader is relegated to an extended cameo and the audience is supposed to root for the bad guys. Now, such an unorthodox scenario might sound pretty risky, but to their credit, the filmmakers behind 'Batman: Assault on Arkham' pull off this little switcheroo fairly well. An animated heist flick with a supervillain twist, the movie offers an entertaining ride, earning a deserved spot among DC's growing collection of successful cartoon efforts.
Set within the same continuity as the popular 'Arkham' videogame series, the film follows a rag-tag group of supervillains who are captured by the government and forced to pull off a top secret mission. Dubbed the Suicide Squad, the team consists of Deadshot (Neal McDonough), Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch), Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale), Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis), King Shark (John DiMaggio), and Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito). Charged with infiltrating the infamous Arkham Asylum, the team will have to work together to accomplish their task or risk termination. But when Batman (Kevin Conroy) and the Joker (Troy Baker) show up, the whole operation is put into jeopardy.
Taking inspiration from past Batman comics and Hollywood crime caper flicks, the film becomes a fun mixture of supervillain thrills and classic heist movie sensibilities. The Suicide Squad itself is made up of an amusingly dysfunctional gang of misfit bad guys and the writers do a decent job of establishing each character's personality. There's some requisite tension between the different members, adding a little extra drama to the proceedings, and it's always clear that this bunch would never willingly choose to work together. Deadshot and Harley Quinn quickly emerge as the most engaging of the team, and McDonough pulls off an effective anti-hero while Walch plays up all of Harley's manic insanity with glee.
And while the main cast is mostly made up of more obscure members of the Dark Knight's rogues gallery, there are some cool cameos from A-list villains like the Riddler, Penguin, Scarecrow, and Poison Ivy. Likewise, no Arkham story could be complete without an appearance by the Joker, and the Clown Prince of Crime becomes one of the highlights of the film. Voice actor Troy Baker does a solid approximation of Mark Hamill's much celebrated take on the character without devolving into straight mimicry, bringing back fond memories of the classic 90s cartoon series (and he's definitely go the laugh down). Even more nostalgia inducing, however, is the return of legendary Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy. Though his screen time is limited, Conroy's performance is just as strong as it's always been, bringing a commanding presence to the brooding superhero.
Reinterpreting the videogame's 3D character designs into a 2D world, the animation style respects the source material while adding in a faintly anime-influenced look. To this end, directors Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding stage the movie's numerous action scenes with some cool choreography (and even reference some actual moves from the games), resulting in a smooth and exciting aesthetic that avoids the low budget stiffness that plagues other direct-to-video cartoons. Likewise, the violence can be rather brutal, and the movie also adds in a somewhat surprising helping of sex and profanity as well. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing particularly scandalous here, but the flick does fully earn its PG-13 rating.
As effective as most of the runtime is, there are still a few issues here and there. Some members of the Suicide Squad aren't terribly developed, making it hard to really care about them when the stakes are raised. Similarly, the script adheres to a very tried-and-true caper structure with some predictable twists that lack originality. In the special features, much is made of the Arkham setting and its disturbing qualities, but the filmmakers fail to really play up these aspects on screen, making the asylum feel a little generic. And at just 76 minutes, the movie is definitely on the short side, leaving a bit to be desired in the end. Of course, being left wanting more isn't necessarily a bad thing, and an ongoing series based on the same premise could actually be a lot of fun.
Though Batman's name might appear in the title, 'Assault on Arkham' actually shifts its focus to the bad guys -- giving audiences a peek into a different side of Gotham City. Action-packed, briskly paced, and capped off with a PG-13 edge, this is a worthwhile supervillain crime flick that should please fans of the Batman comics and videogames. The runtime might not be perfect, but it offers more than enough cartoon mayhem to put a smile on the Joker's face.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Bros. brings 'Batman: Assault on Arkham' to Blu-ray on a BD-25 disc that comes housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. A separate DVD disc and instructions for an UltraViolet copy are included as well. After some skippable trailers, the screen transitions to a standard menu. It should be noted, however, that the menu screen is mixed much louder than the rest of the movie, so viewers might want to dial their volume down when they first load up the disc.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. With clean lines and a fitting style, this is a solid transfer that is only held back by some occasional artifacts.
The digital source is mostly crisp, but banding is frequently visible, especially in backgrounds and skies. The animation style is nicely rendered with a good sense of detail in the character designs and backgrounds. With that said, the image does a have an intentionally soft cast to it. Likewise, colors veer toward a dull palette, and while this works well with the gritty story, it does lead to a lack of pop. Contrast is well balanced and black levels are deep and consistent.
The banding isn't exactly a deal breaker, but it does take the video down a notch. Thankfully, this is still an overall solid transfer that gives Gotham an appropriately dark and brooding look.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix along with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are also included. Aggressive and spacious, the track brings an extra level of excitement to the experience.
Dialogue is full and clean throughout with no balance issues to report. The soundstage carries an immersive sense of atmosphere, fully bringing Gotham and Arkham to life. City ambiance (cars, pedestrians) is spread naturally, and action scenes offer some striking effects work. Every "bang" and "pow" comes through with a punchy kick and explosions bring a forceful low frequency presence. Surrounds engage nicely as well, sending swooping batarangs and boomerangs throughout the room with smooth imaging. Voices are also spread directionally when appropriate, creating an encompassing sense of sound. Finally, the movie's thumping score maintains a wide dynamic range and strong separation.
Lively and thrilling, the track does a great job of enveloping the audience within the movie's high-stakes heist.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Warner Bros. has provided a solid assortment of supplements including a few Blu-ray exclusives. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (unless noted otherwise).
- A Sneak Peak at Justice League: Throne of Atalantis (HD, 9 min) – This is a preview featurette of upcoming the Aquaman animated film. We get a few clips from the movie along with some backstory on the character and plot.
- Featurette: The Joke's Queen: Harley Quinn (HD, 14 min) – This featurette is focused on Harley Quinn. The participants discuss the character's cartoon origins and elaborate on her inspirations and growth in the comics.
- From the DC Comics Vault (SD) – Four bonus cartoons are provided in standard definition. The collection includes: 'Justice League Unlimited: Task Force "X"' (23 min), 'Young Justice: Infiltrator' (22 min), 'Batman: The Brave and The Bold: Emperor Joke' (23 min), and 'The Batman: Two of a Kind' (22 min).
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
- Audio Commentary – Commentary is provided by Mike Carlin the creative director of animation for DC Comics, writer Heath Corson, and executive producer James Tucker. The trio discuss the movie's influences, heist flick story, and relationship to the videogame series. They also address how they went about selecting the roster for the Suicide Squad and elaborate on the movie's style. Steady and informative, this is a worthwhile track.
- Arkham Analyzed: The Secrets Behind the Asylum (HD, 27 min) – This featurette examines the comic origins of Arkham Asylum. The participants talk about Batman's evolution from campy to dark, and address the asylum's fictional and real life influences along with references to the setting's various appearances in comics, movies, and games.
'Batman: Assault on Arkham' is an entertaining animated supervillain heist flick. There are some minor issues here and there, but fans of the comics and videogame series should find a lot to like here. The video transfer is solid and the audio mix is very strong. Warner Bros. has also thrown in a healthy assortment of supplements, including several bonus cartoons and a commentary. As far as DC animated efforts go, the movie isn't quite at the top of the pack, but it's still a successful effort. Worth a look.
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English SDH, French, Spanish
- The Joker's Queen: Harley Quinn
- An advance look into the next DC animated feature film with the creators and cast.
- Four episodes from the DC Comics Vault
Exclusive HD Content
- Arkham Analyzed: The Secrets Behind the Asylum
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