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"Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."

~Ephesians 5:16

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham Review

Assault on Arkham was a pretty intriguing announcement. The Batman Arkham games are critically acclaimed for their gameplay and story, so one would assume that one day DC would make an animated adaption of them. Instead of going that route, the company decided to add another installment into the series. The games have some of the best characterizations of Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, so it was fantastic to see the film utilizing this universe. Assault is a very good watch, though one has to wonder why the Suicide Squad is featured so predominantly to the point of making Batman a guest star. (Maybe to hype the new comic series?)

When the government teams up a group of supervillains with the code name Suicide Squad and forces them to break into Arkham Asylum to bring back top secret information the Riddler has stolen, Batman soon becomes involved. But things go from bad to worse when one of the Squad (Harley Quinn) frees the Joker, who has the means to not only blow up the asylum, but most of Gotham City as well.
Joker is technically the main villain by the end, but he isn't featured on the cover or mentioned in the summary on the back, interesting. Without prior knowledge, it would gave been a cool surprise. So based on the description above you would think you'd have this film down. It plays out pretty different than you'd expect. The first scene is great for a few reasons. Besides Matthew Gray Gubler's standout portrayal of the Riddler, the scene where Batman battled a government guard comes to mind instantly. Not only is the fight well choreographed, it perfectly mimics the style from the games. After that the film gets better or worse depending on your liking of the Suicide Squad. Since this is only a 76 minute film, there's not going to be much time to introduce six characters that, outside the hardcore comic audience, people have no idea who are. To be fair what we get is pretty good; every character is distinct from one another. The thing we to care?

Most people buying this film will fall under two camps: the first being players of the Arkham games looking for something before Arkham Knight next year, and people who just love a good Batman film. The climax is the most exciting part because Batman and Joker feature predominantly. While the Suicide Squad is far from bad, by the end it's unknown exactly what happens to some of the few that don't get their heads blown off. We have no idea what happened to Killer Frost or Captain Boomerang. Deadshot and Harley Quinn are really the only ones in the climax that do anything. Still, it's commendable that the characters were introduced and made distinct in such sort time.

Batman's portrayal is a perfect rendition of his self from the Arkham games. Kevin Conroy as expected delivers a fantastic performance. Thankfully the title character becomes a primary focus in the climax. There's nothing against the Suicide Squad, but most viewers are picking this up for Batman, and every scene he's in doesn't disappoint. While it takes a bit for the Joker to leave his prison cell, when he does the film becomes 10x more epic. The games are known for their fantastic portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime. For some, it's the definitive version. Troy Baker from Arkham Origins reprises his role, and it's fantastic, arguably the standout performance. The Joker commands every scene he's in. Another plus is that he actually fights. He is rarely seen having an extended fight scene from anything, so it was great to see this. (And fighting a character other than Batman, that battle was one of the highlights.)

The soundtrack is unique, considering the universe the film is in. The games are pretty dead serious, yet a lot of the music here is pop rock. Still, it isn't bad, just unexpected. The other part of the soundtrack features good themes, such as the very soft choir when Joker escapes. The climax of the film features a breakout of the Arkham inmates. Somehow the film managed to squeeze this in. It is a bit rushed, since Bane, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and among others are among the escapees. Amidst the chaos is when the Suicide Squad is put to the side after being the primary focus. While perhaps not wrapping up that great, it's still a pretty exciting scene, especially for Batman fans.

Overall, Assault on Arkman is a very fun watch. It successfully brings the fantastic Arkham game universe onto the small screen. Both Batman and the Joker are great, easily one of their best animated portrayals yet. (It is a bit disappointing that the two of them didn't get much back and fourth dialogue.) For better or worse however this is more of a Suicide Squad movie with the Batman/Joker conflict taking the focus near the end. The team is established nicely, though one has to imagine just how much better the film would have been without them.

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