"Batman: Assault on Arkham" is one helluva fine animated feature, and unique, not because it teams villains (that's certainly nothing new), but because its criminal sect is forced on a questionable jaunt that may actually lead to a positive outcome.
Directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding, and written by Heath Corson, "Assault" is based on the popular "Arkham" video-game series. Putting that tidbit aside, the standing story is taut and edgy, its style smacking of Frank Miller, Guy Ritchie and any number of recent heist/mission-fueled tales.
The ensemble is recruited by Amanda Waller, a governmental Ma Barker/Parker type with a history of gathering talented, unsavory foes for furtive sprees. In the case of her current rogues, she has implanted tracking/explosive devices in them, geared to explode if they dare stray: a measure similar to that used to keep Snake Plissken in line.
The group is fancifully labeled the Suicide Squad and consists of Black Spider, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, KGBeast, Killer Frost and Shark King. Per Waller, they are to enter Arkham, where the Riddler is stationed (after having been nabbed once again by Batman) and retrieve his stored cane, which is allegedly equipped with a thumb drive containing all of Waller's recruits. (The Riddler apparently planned to plant the info on the Internet before being apprehended.)
In the process, we learn that the Joker has, in fact, installed a bomb, which would annihilate a large portion of Gotham's citizenry. Can the fiend be stopped? Does the Riddler possess the skill to detonate the device? Such profound questions permeate "Assault" and effectively perpetuate its escalating tension.
Adding to the story's gleeful dementia are supporting appearances by Bane, Commissioner Gordon, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, Two Face and a cool utilization of Mr. Freeze's ice-ray gun.
In that the villains never truly go good, they are graphically ruthless in their attacks, particularly on the Arkham staff, which squashes any sympathy they might otherwise gain. The film is also further adult-oriented for its surprising but satisfying nude scenes of Frost and Quinn.
Though the Dark Knight significantly figures into the plot, the Squad remains the essential focus: a unique and successfully rendered twist, which is likely to be extrapolated once "Assault" catches on (case in point: the proposed, live-action Spider-man villain-heist film).
Running under 90 minutes, "Assault" is fast-paced yet remarkably character-driven: overall, probably the best direct-to-disc, animated feature to surface in years, which is saying a lot, since there have been several other exemplary examples from both DC and Marvel. If it had been extended to live-action, it surely would have been a theatrical blockbuster.
Nonetheless, though its variables may be unorthodox, "Assault" never forgets to distinguish good from bad. At its heart, it still promotes an ethical stance, and for that, admirably fits the superhero genre to a tee: a most satisfyingly complex hybrid, if ever there was.