The new animated film “Assault on Arkham” is an edgy, fun, and light story compared to what you typically expect from a Batman movie. The animation is smooth, the music is good, and the voice acting is superb. It is loosely based on the Batman: Arkham Asylum game, which I haven’t played yet but now definitely plan on playing after watching this film! Even though this is a Batman movie, Batman’s role is minimal (and a tad mediocre). Instead it is the team of villains that take center stage. For those of you with kids at home this is something you should watch after putting the kids to bed. “Assault on Arkham” doesn’t shy away from depicting violence or sexual content.
The plot does not contain many surprises, but what makes this film worth watching is the character development of the villains. The suicide squad is comprised of the following baddies:
- Harley Quinn
- Killer Frost
- King Shark
- Captain Boomerang
- Black Spider
But of course, the squad wouldn’t exist without Amanda Waller. She rounds up the group with questionable methods, completely against their individuals wills, in order to serve her own vendetta against the Riddler. I’ve seen all the Batman live action movies, and even watched the animated TV show when I was a wee lass, but this was the first time I’d been introduced to this character. She is one tough cookie. Waller knows what she wants, and has the power and might to get it. I watched with frank admiration when she demonstrated her “don’t-f***-with-me-ness” to the Suicide Squad right out of the gate. One thing I had to wonder though was, why did she show so much cleavage? It doesn’t really make sense given her tough, business-like personality.
Of the three female speaking roles in the movie, my favorite is without a doubt Harley Quinn. Her maniacal, cotton candy over steel demeanor is legendary, and they showed this perfectly with her introductory scene. We see Harley sitting in a waiting room playing a video game. A woman walks up to her, interrupting her play, and Harley get’s even by ripping the woman’s ear off. See what I mean about the portrayal of violence?
I particularly liked a scene where Harley expresses her own sexual agency in requesting help with “an itch she can’t scratch” from one of the male villains. It was refreshing to see the encounter be initiated by her, as well as have the male character be momentarily unsure of whether he wants to sleep with her or not. Kudos to the writers for not succumbing to lazy misogynistic tropes that are so rampant in comic book culture! However, the hardest thing for me in this movie to watch were the allusions to the abusive relationship between Harley and the Joker, and the actual abuse the ends up taking place between them. I think the film did a good job not romanticizing their relationship and making the audience uncomfortable with the portrayal of the abuse. I was rooting for Harley and trying to send her mental messages to not reignite her feelings for this creep.
Last, but not least, is Killer Frost. In sharp contrast to Harley Quinn, Frost keeps a cool head (pun intended) and exudes confidence. Ironically, some of the cutest moments in the film come from watching a friendship grow between her and King Shark. Her skimpy outfit can be forgiven since it is only with her bare skin touching something that she is able to use her powers (although I am unsure why they gave her gloves). Similarly, Killer Frost is naked at one point because she is disguising herself (through the use of her powers) as a corpse being taken to the morgue in a body bag. Again, since this works given her unique powers and makes sense for the plot it can be forgiven. Female nudity does not necessarily mean that the woman is being objectified, and while I cannot speak for other women, this did not bother me or inhibit my enjoyment of the movie. Killer Frost and Harley Quinn both have definite sex appeal, but I did not feel they were objectified. Again, I speak from my own point of view only and welcome others to share their thoughts in the comments section.
At the end of the movie we get a short snippet of Poison Ivy (who I adored in elementary school because of the movie “Batman and Robin”) and I did find her costume problematic. It was skimpy and overflowing if you know what I mean, and I don’t really think there is a good reason why. Why wouldn’t she be wearing the garb the other prisoner’s wore? In my opinion, if the prison clothing isn’t an option, it would make the most sense if Poison Ivy simply walked around in the nude. And I don’t mean vines strategically placed nude. What need does Poison Ivy have for clothing? She is not quite human any longer and is in touch with nature to the point I don’t think she would have any qualms with breaking that taboo. However, I was reminded of a blog post on Emma Frosts’s costume that I thought would be appropriate to link to here that discusses another way of looking at costumes in comic books.
In conclusion, Assault on Arkham does an overall good job in their portrayal of women. It passes the Bechdel test and gave us some pretty awesome villains to root for. I enjoyed the movie despite the few problems I mentioned, and I do recommend it to other Batman fans.
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16 thoughts on “The Female Villains in “Assault on Arkham””
For me not romanticizing the Joker harley Quinn relationship wasn’t enough. Why couldn’t she simply be a female character who has really had enough? You can still be crazy and stand up to abuse. That and the fact they played jokers abuse of her for gags as well as her anger at him. It just felt tired and well tread. It would have been nice if the hero of the story was HARLEY Quinn who takes out the Joker because she realizes she’s as strong a character in her own right (considering how her popularity exceeds the Joker in many cases). Alas.
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I’m only just becoming aware of how popular she is, and I can definitely see your point. For a character that has a loyal following, you would think the story of domestic abuse would have faded into the sands of time like other nastier aspects of entertainment, like blatant racism. ( I know racism is still a problem, and so is representation of people of color, but I’m alluding more to things like use of blackface. Hopefully that makes sense.) I’m don’t know her Harley’s treatment in other story arcs, but if the abuse is a consistent story point there is a definite problem.
I’m also disappointed in how she looks in the video game Arkham Asylum. I haven’t played yet, but I’ve seen pictures online and am unhappy with what I’ve seen so far.
The abusive relationship was unique to this movie as far as I can tell. As a gimmick to make her a independent woman and not a joker lackey.
I hadn’t heard of this before, but I will certainly be checking it out! Thanks for the post!
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Awesome! Let me know your thoughts whenever you do watch it 🙂
I ended up watching it this evening, and thoroughly enjoyed it! Some of the action scenes dragged on a bit too long for my tastes, but it was a really interesting, edgy portrayal of characters who don’t normally get such developed screen time! It was refreshing to see such interesting, independent female characters in a ‘superhero’ film (perhaps that’s not the right word in this case), although the sexualised/victim role of female characters is not entirely eliminated, in my opinion. I particularly liked the style of the opening credits! Thanks for the recommendation!
Yeah, I don’t think the film is perfect either. The victimization and sexualized roles are still present, but I’m glad that you enjoyed it nonetheless! I think the character development helped take the edge off the negative aspects, if that makes sense.
Yes, I completely agree 🙂
Thanks for linking to my post 🙂
I’ve not seen this one yet but it looks like it’s worth a watch! Some of what you’ve touched on there with the costuming and portrayal of women (and abuse – glad it wasn’t romanticized!) sounds interesting to delve into.
I’ve personally found from the comics, and to some extent the animated spin-offs, that DC and Marvel have very different approaches to both portraying female characters and, subsequently encouraging female readership.
That’s why, when Marvel relaunched most of the female costumes with Marvel Now I was ok that they didn’t change Emma Frost. The flip side of this in DC is Power Girl. Whose costume DC changed with the launch of the New 52 – though it was still pretty awful on some levels (a giant P on one of her boobs!) – but then ended up changing it back to the old costume. It actually made me feel sick when I found out they had done this, and I couldn’t keep reading World’s Finest (even though I loved the Huntress). The main reason behind this for me is not the costume itself but then how the women are drawn in those costumes. I’m not saying Marvel are perfect, but most of their female character’s costumes and poses have context. DC on the other hand put women in objectifying clothing and then in objectifying poses and that is the problem. They are consumables rather than powerful. I touched on it a little in another post I wrote – http://mybrainonapage.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/greek-body-modern-mentality/
Not having yet seen the film I can’t comment in that context, but I can totally see your point about Ivy being naked. I think it would be totally awesome – a naked body doesn’t need to be sexualised, it’s our natural state of being – I just wouldn’t put much trust in to DC to do a good job of it (at least in the comics).
sorry for the ramble. Thanks for the movie recommendation 🙂
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No problem! I’m still getting back into the comic universes and didn’t realize that DC and Marvel treated their woman characters so differently. I’ll definitely be paying closer attention to that going forward! You’ll have to let me know your thoughts when you watch this movie. So far I only have my SO to bounce ideas off of, and he’s not as well-versed in the feminist perspective.
In regards to jumping into comics – for Marvel I would totally recommend Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel, they are two of the best titles out at the moment. In fact they have a lot of female-led titles that are pretty awesome – She-Hulk, Black Widow, and also the current run of the main X-Men title is an all female line up (with the Beast in geeky support role). The Uncanny Avengers is pretty awesome too 🙂
I’ve drifted away from DC because I just didn’t realise at the time how much it was dragging me down. This is a real shame as I have been a massive Superman fan for years, but it’s all gone a bit rubbish before you even get to the women in it. I wrote a review of the Lois Lane one shot they did (http://mybrainonapage.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/review-lois-lane-one-shot/) and I think that was the last time I even picked up a current DC title 😦
When comparing the two in how they portray women and engage female readers (or not) it just feels like DC is somewhere between not quite getting women and not quite getting that women are people!
(sorry for more rambling/ranting)
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Thank you for the recommendations! I really appreciate it, especially if it helps me avoid consuming content that will bring me down as well. If only my wallet could keep up with my “want to read” list ><
I hear ya, on all counts 🙂
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Also if you’d like to read a comic with a great female lead that has a full arc check out Alan Moores Ballad of Halo Jones
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Oh and You the Last Man has great female characters since there’s only one male left in the whole world. But bring a lot of kleenex for the end of the series!