I miss Bruce Timm.
Not because I think Bruce Timm is better, or smarter, or more creative, or any other superlative you can use to fill in the blank. But there has been a definite shift in tone since James Tucker took over as supervising producer for DC Animation, and it’s darker, something many people would breathlessly describe as “edgier” and whatnot. And that’s fine, if that’s the kind of thing you want to watch.
Unfortunately, DC doesn’t seem to understand they have a mixed audience — some of us like the gritty, urban, blood and boobs type of story; others of us like animated pictures to be a little less than that — something we can watch with the kids, who share an interest in comics and superheroes. After all, isn’t DC trying to prime the pump to get kids hooked before they grow up into teenagers and adults with disposable income?
As we’ve noted when discussing the New 52, DC has an opportunity (and it’s a strong one, with the 30th anniversary of Crisis around the corner…) to appeal to more than one crowd. Just put the multiverse back in place (and the New 52 ‘verse could be DC’s “Ultimate” line) and let us old fogeys have the pre-Nu52 continuity back. It’s not rocket science. More product, more buyers. Right?
But it’s pretty clear that as long as this product sells enough, DC isn’t going to make any changes, and that applies to the filmed media as well as the comics.
Batman: Assault on Arkham (out August 12) is one of those animated films that clearly targets the older teen and young adult video game crowd. The shoot-’em-up crowd that doesn’t care about a story so much as they like to see the blood and violence and sex inherent in most video games nowadays. And if this makes me sound like the bitter old man who doesn’t want anyone on his lawn, I’ll take it. Because again, this is yet another DC Comics film I can’t watch with my kid. James Tucker has taken that away from me, and I will complain about it any chance I get because not only am I a critic, but I’m also a consumer, and this is not something I would actually pay to see.
Now, having ranted a bit, I will say that there are some high points (although the bar isn’t set very high anymore…), and the voice work is on that list. After some questionable casting on the last two or three projects (Peter Weller is the worst Batman), Andrea Romano has assembled a rather impressive bank of talent for this one — most notably Kevin Conroy and C.C.H. Pounder reprising their roles as Batman and Amanda Waller (the pre-Nu52 “Wall”). Troy Baker does a spot-on channeling of Mark Hamill’s Joker, and Hynden Walch (Princess Bubblegum, Starfire) is almost giving a Tara Strong Lite with Harley. But one wonders where Tara Strong actually is…
Neal McDonough does the heavy lifting here as Deadshot, and while the story is paper-thin, he does well with what he has to work with. The problem is that, since this is based on a video game, there’s not much of a story — Waller brings the Suicide Squad together (and totally wastes KGBeast) to break into Arkham Asylum to steal a data drive the Riddler has hidden in his cane. Pretty straightforward, with the expected video-game-scenario shootouts along the way, but it gets complicated by a few bits — Harley losing it at the sight of Joker, Killer Frost getting a little “side job” to go with the main mission — and those bits serve to make the whole mission a hot mess by the time we get to the third act.
On the surface, it seems like a pretty interesting idea: a movie focused on the bad guys. And the Suicide Squad is certainly getting its share of the spotlight of late, having shown up on Arrow with rumors of a TV spinoff. But besides Harley, I don’t care much for these characters. Deadshot has the most to lose, as the constant glances at the photo of his daughter show us (beat us over the head, more like). But aside from the fact that Killer Frost has a killer figure and a weakness for King Shark, and that Captain Boomerang and Deadshot don’t really like each other (trope), there’s really no effort made to attach any emotional investment to these characters.
And while we’re on the subject of Killer Frost’s figure, let’s just get this on the table right now: I don’t need to see Harley Quinn naked. I don’t need to see Killer Frost naked. The scenes where this happens — juvenile fanboy service just to push the envelope a bit and go for that hard PG-13. The same story can be told without these elements. They’re gratuitous and unnecessary.
The animation style is clunky. As in “let’s imitate anime” with out understanding the basics of anime clunky. Every now and again, characters walk without all of the required points of articulation in their joints. The color palette is appropriately drab and grimy like you would expect to see in a place like Arkham. And I find it interesting that this is the first time I can recall seeing Batman’s eyes behind the white lenses in his mask. An interesting touch, and one that gives the character a little more “believability”
But really, this is a paint-by-numbers heist-gone-wrong flick with the usual tropes mixed in. Some solid performances from the voice cast, but outside of that, there’s not much here to cause me to recommend it. Now, after having conversations with Mr. Harvey — “what do you expect from a movie about the Suicide Squad?” — I’m at the point where I’m probably too old and cranky to be writing reviews of DC Animated films anymore. It’s time to hand these off to someone else.
You will definitely see other sites praise this entry in the DC Animated Universe. Some — many of them fanboys in their tweens — will call it “brilliant” or some such, but it’s not.