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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham [2014] direct-to-video animation movie review



Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: Stunning detailed artwork and character designs, dynamic fight sequences, smooth character motion, timely comedy without going overboard, badass soundtrack, marvellous cast chemistry and acting.

The Bad: Misaimed marketing (Batman), short running time, 

3D Readiness: none


******************************Review*****************************

Villains get the spotlight in BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, a loose prequel set before the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum video game. A black ops mission to assassinate the Riddler is foiled by Batman, prompting CIA operative Amanda Waller to assemble "Task Force X", aka The Suicide Squad. Morally ambiguous Vigilante Black Spider, seductive ice queen Killer Frost, savage brute King Shark, Australian scoundrel Captain Boomerang, crazy Harley Quinn and the cynical assassin Deadshot. These sociopathic misfits have to put aside their differences to work together, lest they "lose their heads".

Playing out like a good ol fashioned heist film in the vein of THE ITALIAN JOB or OCEAN'S ELEVEN, we see six villains assembled by Amanda Waller and sent on a mission impossible deep into the heart of the dreaded Arkham Asylum to retrieve a thumb drive containing sensitive information, that was in the Riddler's possession. From the electronic heavy rock soundtrack to the Taratino-esque roll call opening credits sequence, you know you are in for a completely different animated movie. The fun begins when we get to see how well these bad guys play off one another in a script that is chock full of dark humour and depth.

Although each villain does not get much development, we do get a "keynotes" look into their personalities, their motivations and their minds as the brisk pace of the movie sprints from action scene to action scene. Their roles in the team are familiar archetypes for classic villain teams: the alpha male leader (Deadshot), the butt monkey backstabber (Captain Boomerang), the dumb muscle (King Shark), the seductress (Killer Frost), the mysterious odd one out (Black Spider), and the psycho (Harley Quinn). Yet in this familiarity comes the opportunity for the characters to truly shine thanks to some magnificent chemistry and voice acting. 

Alas, for a title named "Batman: Assault on Arkham" the titular Batman plays a supporting, almost cameo, role. But when he does appear, he exhibits a powerful onscreen presence. Those barely visible eyes staring intensely from within the cowl, the new look of the costume which blends the dark blue streamlined design of Justice League Unlimited with the armoured detailing of New 52, not to mention the return of the classic Batman voice Kevin Conroy. But I digress. Batman is not the focus here, the Suicide Squad is. And they get one hell of a 75 minute showcase. Throughout the movie, you get a sense that some of the team members have their own agenda and secrets. What looks like a crazy outburst turns out to be a well calculated distraction for example. This movie keeps you guessing and keeps the tension up from start to finish. 

Like previous DC Animated movies, ASSAULT ON ARKHAM does not shy away from bloody violence or semi-sexual depictions. The near nudity, the blood letting, it is insane, threading close to an "R" rating. Action is smooth, fluid, with a very high budget quality which combines detailed artwork with dynamic animation. Visually, Moi Animation studios have outdone themselves once again delivering top notch animation that surpasses many of their Japanese anime counterparts. For quick comparison, take a look at the animation on SON OF BATMAN done by Japanese anime studio "TheAnswerStudio" and then compare it to the visuals in BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM. No contest. 

BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM was a risky experiment, but an experiment that pays off. Edgy but fun, dark but not brooding, intense but not shallow. There seem to be things you can do onscreen and a dark sense of fun you get with villains instead of heroes. Here I am hoping that DC would consider releasing a villain centric animated movie for every two hero centric movies per year. The DC rogues gallery needs to be tapped and tapped well. This is a good start.

*****************************Review End***************************
Entertainment: A-
Story: B+
Characters: A-
Animation: A
Art: A
Music: A-
Voice work: A
Replay Value: A-
"Brains": C-

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