Now that I’ve finished playing all the Arkham games, I desperately wanted to learn more about that particular universe. Unfortunately, Arkham Knight isn’t out yet. So imagine my joy and happiness when I stumbled upon Assault on Arkham, an animated movie that takes place between Arkham Origins and Arkham Asylum.
Our protagonist this time around is Deadshot, one of Batman’s villains. He, Harley Quinn, and numerous other villains have been taken by Amanda Waller to be part of her Suicide Squad. After she plants explosives into their necks that can blow up and decapitate them if they refuse to follow her orders, she sends our team of villains to infiltrate Arkham Asylum. The Riddler has information hidden inside his cane that she desperately needs. But she also has another motive. The Riddler knows how to defuse the explosives, and she wants him dead as a result.
Our team must avoid both Batman and the Arkham Asylum security in order to complete their mission. Also, as they refuse to be Amanda Waller’s pawns, they enlist the Riddler’s help to defuse the bombs in their necks instead of killing him. Unfortunately, if Waller figures out what they’re up to before they succeed, she’ll kill them, making the story all the more suspenseful. Assault is incredibly engaging, and it makes you root for the villains to come out on top for once. Sadly for our team, only Deadshot and Harley Quinn make it out of this situation. Boomerang ends up trapped at Arkham in the end. And the other three team members—King Shark, Black Spider, and Killer Frost—are all killed.
The main reason I love this story so much is because Harley Quinn ends up playing a huge role, and she is quite possibly my favorite Batman character. I just love everything about her. Her quirky, upbeat, problem-free attitude, mixed in with her psychotic nature, just makes her so enjoyable. Hell, the very first scene she’s in, she rips off someone’s ear with her teeth, because that someone got in her way of watching Looney Tunes. And all the while, she still manages to look cute and adorable.
Furthermore, since Harley’s a big part of the story, Assault explores her relationship with the Joker in much more depth than the other games. When the story starts, Harley’s broken up with the Joker, because he’s a jerk and she wants nothing to do with him. During the break in, she even attempts to kill him. She also briefly hooks up with Deadshot, in what is possibly one of the more hilarious sex scene I’ve ever watched, and uses that new fling to get under the Joker’s skin.
In the end, she does sadly reunite with the Joker, as she’s wont to do—though it’s implied that she only gets back with him to save Deadshot. Even then, Assault still takes the time to explore how the abuse she faces at the Joker’s hands affects her and how she justifies staying with him to herself. As the movie nears its end, Harley ends up facing off against Batman, and says:
Sure, he smacks me around sometimes. But you’re the one who’s always hurting me.
Assault doesn’t explore this abusive relationship as much as I wish it would. But I felt as though it does a better job of it than the actual games. Unfortunately, this movie is not all that great when it comes to representation. Assault is obsessed with nudity. At any given time, it comes up with excuses to undress Harley and Killer Frost. While it is understandable for Harley to be naked during the sex scene, it was significantly less understandable for her to undress in order to distract an Arkham security officer at one point midway through the movie. This is especially unnecessary since that security officer, who they were planning to kill anyway, was alone in a room with all six of the Suicide Squad and wouldn’t have been able to do anything, distraction or not.
In another scene, while breaking into Arkham, Killer Frost pretends to be a cadaver in a closed body bag so Boomerang can take her to the Arkham morgue. When the mortician unzips the bag, she’s undressed from the waist up. Again, I have to ask why that is. There was no reason. The mortician was alone in the room with both her and Boomerang, and she killed him so quickly upon his opening the body bag that once again, using her nudity to distract him made little to no difference.
I also don’t like how these scenes use a woman’s body and sexuality as a weapon. Female sexuality is villainized so much as it is, we don’t need more stories enforcing this trope. These scenes played on the idea that men are helpless victims to a woman’s sexuality as well. Even if that were true, it’s made all the worse here, because Harley and Killer Frost easily have other means to accomplish their goals without resorting to doing something that panders explicitly to the male gaze.
The ending to Assault is not that great, either. All the prisoners are released from their cells and overrun all of Arkham. Bane, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy—just to name a few—are all running around loose, doing exactly what they do in the original game. It takes only a couple minutes for Commissioner Gordon, his men, and Batman to round them all up and get them back to their cells. But in Arkham Asylum, when the exact same thing happens, it takes Batman all damn night to defeat them all. I really think Assault would have been much better off without the giant prison break.
Like the games, Assault on Arkham is sadly borderline offensive when it comes to representation. However, this is still a really fun movie, and it’s definitely a must watch for anyone who loves the games and wants to learn more about the Arkham universe. And despite my complaints, we do get to spend a fairly decent amount of time with Harley, watching her character develop. If you’re a Harley fan as well, that alone makes this movie worth watching.