Warner Bros. Animation’s steady assault of direct-to-Blu-ray superhero movies continues at a frenetic pace, so much so that the subjects keep pushing further into the fringes of the DC Comics universe. So it is with “Batman: Assault on Arkham,” which assigns the Dark Knight top billing, but really focuses on a thrown-together team of lesser villains given the suicide mission of conducting a raid on Arkham Asylum. Yes, Batman shows up, as do a number of better-known members of his rogues gallery. Still, the movie will play best with those who don’t need to consult Wikipedia to identify King Shark.
Aimed squarely at hard-core comics fans (and given the carnage and implied sex, clearly not intended for bat-tykes), these Warner Bros. titles are defined by their frenetic, near-nonstop action, and the short-hand they can employ. Unlike live-action features, there’s no worrying about crossing over or pausing to explain anything, with the barrage of villains quickly introduced during a pre-credits sequence.
Those baddies — Deadshot, Killer Frost, Captain Boomerang, Black Spider, the aforementioned Mr. Shark, and Joker sidekick Harley Quinn — are assembled by a ruthless government operative (voiced by CCH Pounder) to retrieve one of the Riddler’s devices being held in Arkham, where Gotham’s worst villains are kept. In echoes of a certain war movie, the team — a.k.a. the Suicide Squad — is promised reduced sentences (call them the Horrid Half-Dozen) if they complete their assignment, though dying is considered an at least equally likely option.
Inevitably, Batman (once again infused with the gravelly voice of Kevin Conroy) gets drawn into the action during an extended stretch when all hell pretty much breaks loose. Yet much of the attention is devoted to the assassin Deadshot (Neal McDonough), who tackles the thankless task of holding the squabbling band of psychopaths together.
Directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding from Heath Corson’s script, the idea of putting bad guys front and center certainly allows for an organic level of nastiness, beyond even Batman’s vigilante ways. That said, there are some elements “Assault on Arkham” could clearly do without, including an intrusively thudding soundtrack that at times sounds culled from a 1990s porn film.
It’s mindless fun, perhaps, although there’s a sense these titles have been running on fumes a bit since peaking with adaptations of the graphic novels “The Dark Knight Returns” (captured in two glorious parts) and “Batman: Year One.”
The DVD includes a tease for the next animated movie (featuring the Justice League), so the hits — as well as the kicks, grunts and laser blasts — just keep on coming. From that perspective, whatever one thinks of a relatively narrow effort like “Assault on Arkham,” there’s clearly a method to Warner Bros.’s detour into madness.