The latest DC Universe Animated Movie: Batman: Assault on Arkham, out now for digital download and for Blu-Ray and DVD on August 12th, takes the series into the universe of the Batman: Arkham video game franchise. Though any resemblance to the polish and thrills of the multiple-Game of the Year award winning interactive experiences are ultimately superficial as the film's overall quality suffers from poor animation, storytelling characterizations and performances (despite the incredible assemblage of talent).
Purporting to take place between the events of the prequel game Batman: Arkham Origins and the original Batman: Arkham Asylum title, Batman: Assault on Arkham features very little of the titular Dark Knight (portrayed by Kevin Conroy) at all. Instead the action is primarily focused on the conscripted band of villains known as the Suicide Squad, aka Task Force X, and Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton (Neal McDonough) in particular. The Squad is hastily re-assembled by US Government agent Amanda Waller (C.C.H. Pounder) with the mission to infiltrate Arkham Asylum. There they need to retrieve an item of The Riddler's (Matthew Gubler) that has been impounded, naturally under the threat of death by Waller's surgically implanted bombs in the Squad's necks.
The full squad introduces a lot of new characters into the Arkham universe by virtue of the team composition’s synergistic resemblance to the first Squad assembled in DC's New 52 Suicide Squad comic. That means that Bat-series stalwart Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch) is joined by the likes of Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis), Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale), KGBeast (Nolan North) and absolute z-listers' King Shark (John DiMaggio) and Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito). Naturally any mission to Arkham Asylum wouldn't be compete without an appearance by The Joker (Troy Baker, with a Mark Hamill impersonation that is coming along great) whose very appearance is disruptive to the mission and who has an agenda of his own.
Most of the enjoyment that can be wrought out of the film is in the interactions between the Squad members whose personalities clash and/or spark in fun and unexpected ways in the early scenes. However, once the mission begins in earnest most of the film's personality is lost in a bog-standard heist/betrayal plot that has some of the least interesting characters in the DC Universe running around yelling at each other and killing people.
Sadly it’s the film's star characters that fail the most at getting viewers to care about let alone root for. Pounder's Waller is portrayed as all but a sneering villain of low cunning herself, Deadshot's modern 'hitman with a heart of gold' characterization depends on the viewer knowing a lot about the character in advance or some top-level deduction about his wordless glances at a picture of him with a little girl and Quinn's 'this is the funny/annoying thing a crazy woman would say/do in this moment' act wears thin almost immediately.
What is truly unusual is how consistently disjointed both the animation and the vocal performances are – much more than what could be expected when the 'physical' acting and the vocal acting are as separated as they are in animation. The visual appeal of the film suffers from some of the hallmarks of budget animation like odd camera placement, low levels of detail and blaring continuity errors. Though fans of the first game might enjoy seeing a few recognizable locations on the asylum grounds.
While it can't be truly known how the recording process went for the vocal performances, more than a few, especially Hale's Killer Frost, sound like no one person had more than their own part of the script when recording, leading to characters in the same room that don't sound like they are talking to each other at all.
Overall Batman: Assault on Arkham plays out like an expanded but inferior version of the classic Justice League Unlimited episode “Task Force X” that has been “enhanced” with PG-13 levels of sex (Waller is the only female character that manages to keep her shirt on over a runtime of just 75 minutes), violence and language. The Batman: Arkham Knight game was delayed presumably because it needed more work, Batman: Assault on Arkham could have benefited from six extra months at least. Fans of the games are not going to learn anything new about the series here (outside of one oddly placed and carefully annunciated chess term), and Bat-Fans in general are better off going elsewhere for their fix this time around.
Rama Rating: 4 out of 10