BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM is one in a long series of DTV animated movies based on the super hero works of the DC Comics company (#20 out of 26 so far, according to Wikipedia). This is a particularly too-PG-13-for-kids one (a sex scene, exploding heads, a few naughty words, bullets going into a decapitated body, unceremonious deaths of characters your kid may love if he or she is weirdly knowledgeable of third-string DC villains), and although it’s marketed as a tie-in to the Batman Arkham City video games it’s actually a Suicide Squad cartoon with Batman as a supporting character.
We all know the concept of Suicide Squad now, thanks to this summer’s live action version. It’s a DIRTY DOZEN type team but instead of army troublemakers the members are the enemies of various super heroes. This version starts when shady government official Amanda Waller (CCH Pounder, FACE/OFF) oversees her SWAT team getting The Riddler (Matthew Gray Gubler, EXCISION) snatched out from under them by the fucking Batman (Kevin Conroy, YOGA HOSERS). They want Riddler for some secret black ops something or other, but Batman gets him into the regular legal system, locked up in Arkham Asylum.
So Waller decides to put together “Task Force X” to break into the place. Members include Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch, GROUNDHOG DAY), a woman insane enough to have dated the Joker (Troy Baker); Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton (Neal McDonough, WALKING TALL), a seemingly kind of honorable assassin and expert marksman; King Shark (John DiMaggio, THE POOCH AND THE PAUPER), a giant guy with metal jaws; Killer Frost* (Jennifer Hale, Sonya Blade in MORTAL KOMBAT: THE JOURNEY BEGINS), a lady with ice powers; Captain Boomerang (Jonny Rees, TITANIC), an Australian guy with a boomerang; KGBeast (Nolan North, Port Charles), a Russian guy without a boomerang; and Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito, SCHOOL DAZE), a goggled ninja vigilante guy.
*I accidentally typed “Kid Frost” at first because of the rapper and I’m not sure it was the right decision to correct it
Why would they do it? A promise of shortened sentences, and of not detonating the bombs that have been implanted in their necks. There’s a great moment in the scene where Waller gives them the rundown. KGBeast – a major enough character to have been a henchman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN – decides to call her bluff and walk away. BOOM. No head.
It’s a fun Snake Plissken type of concept, and we can root for these bad guy characters partly because the government is so casually cruel to them, doing things like not letting them know they are even in a plane before suddenly dumping them out without giving them the power to open their own parachutes, so that Waller can tell them over their headsets that she has complete control of their lives. (Of course, Harley giggles the whole time.)
Deadshot kinda seems like the lead. I think he’s an assassin, but he’s as much a good guy as any movie where the protagonist is some kind of hitman or something. Harley and King Shark both provide comic relief. Harley is funny because she’s introduced playing a Bugs Bunny video game and then biting somebody’s ear off. King Shark is funny because he’s a dude with a shark head. Ha ha. I like sharks.
There’s some dick-measuring that has to occur before they can gel as a team. In a bar, Captain Boomerang and Deadshot get into a ridiculously show-offy game of darts to assert marskmanship dominance.
Stylistically the animatists definitely mimic a modern live action movie that’s trying to be hip. With drawings they sort of re-create a handheld camera style and quick cuts, and they have lots of fast electronical music when they fight.
They have fun with making it take place in the DC Universe (or Det Com Univ for short). When they have to get information from a guy it’s not just some guy, it’s The Penguin (Nolan North). When they bust into evidence storage to get weapons it’s, like, The Joker’s playing cards and Mr. Freeze’s famous what-killed-the-dinosaurs-the-ice-age gun. When they let out a bunch of inmates to cause a riot it’s Bane and some guys like that. They can do that kind of stuff easier in animation because they don’t have to worry about casting actors who could carry a spin-off movie and sign for sequels and all that. They can just draw them.
I’m not seeing the live action version until tonight, but I get the feeling it took some influence from this. There’s a moment in the trailer where they hear the Joker’s laugh echoing from somewhere in the building and everybody, especially Harley, is like, oh shit. Same thing happens in this movie. I know Batman makes an appearance in SUICIDE SQUAD, and maybe he has a similar sort of lingering-but-not-the-main-character-at-all presence. It would be cool if they copy the gimmick of having him pull tricks like being in disguise among them and even the audience doesn’t know it’s him.
This is a solid super hero – or actually super anti-hero – story. These tried and true action movie formulas are tried and true for a reason, and it’s fun to see them play out in this comic book world. I gotta say this is a pretty cool cartoon although it doesn’t have a crying part like a Pixar.
History: The Suicide Squad name was originally introduced in comics in 1959, but the version that is made up of super villains started in 1987. The team has appeared on the cartoon Justice League Unlimited, the live action shows Smallville and Arrow and some video games before having its own live action movie opening this week.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.