Batman and Harley Quinn review

Batman & Harley Quinn is a unique beast! Yes, it’s presented as a continuation of Batman the Animated Series, but beyond the design, animation, and roughly the first two to three scenes, this is nothing like its source. So be warned, if you’re coming into this expecting a film along the lines of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm or Batman: Sub Zero but with added humor, then turn back now. This is strictly a comedy, and may not be for extreme loyalists. I mean it. Batman and Harley Quinn is an absurdly outrageous movie… and I’m completely ok with that.

THE SOURCE MATERIAL

Note: This section can be skipped by those who have never read or have no interest in the source material.

Harley Quinn – The movie doesn’t pull from any specific Harley Quinn graphic novel, but it does mirror the tone that can be found in Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s run. If you’ve never read their interpretation of Harley Quinn, it’s a crazy, good, lurid, absurd, inappropriately funny ride that is absolutely bonkers. Most of what takes place under Conner and Palmiotti’s pen is random, but well worth your time if you’re looking to add a little humor to your life. Check out our coverage of the title here.

THE MOVIE

Synopsis: Batman and Nightwing are forced to team with the Joker’s sometimes-girlfriend Harley Quinn to stop a global threat brought about by Poison Ivy and Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man.

If you’re familiar with Batman in any way, then there’s a good chance you know who Harley Quinn is. What you may not realize, is that over the past ten years, Harley has become one of DC Comics’ most popular characters, and her sales (clothing, accessories, books, collectibles, etc) aren’t far from Batman’s. Yes, it is true, she’s more popular than a number of your favorite heroes! Because of this fact, I knew it was only a matter of time before she’d headline or co-headline her own movie… and that day has finally come.

Upon hearing the news of Batman & Harley Quinn, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt. I enjoy Harley, but the announcement stated that the film would take place in the same universe as Batman the Animated Series – which I love. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find myself desiring to see a film based on Batman and Harley teaming up in this universe. Yeah, I’ll take an episode, sure… But a movie? To prevent myself from being overtly negative without reason, I decided I’d hold my judgment until I at least saw the trailer.

Fast forward a few months, and DC drops their trailer… Not. Impressed. The first thing I picked up on was the recasting of Harley Quinn. Melissa Rauch – for whatever reason – took over the character, and her approach didn’t resonate with me. Her accent is fine, but it didn’t seem to fit the caricature version of Harley I’d grown to love in Batman the Animated Series.  In addition to that, my initial reservations about the concept itself appeared to be valid. Nothing in the trailer felt natural. Based on the trailer, the story presented is played rather straight, with attempts to infuse comedy here and there. Comedic attempts that ultimately fell flat. All I kept thinking was “I can’t imagine this taking place within the same continuity of BtAS.” And after the tragedy that is Batman: The Killing Joke, I had no hope for this film.

Fast forward (again) to SDCC 2017. DC announced they would show a special, advanced screening of Batman and Harley Quinn. Naturally, we moved straight to business here at Batman-News.com. “Who wants to cover Batman & Harley Quinn?” I had hoped that by staying quiet, someone else would jump on the opportunity, but all that came from the other writers was a lack of interest. Can you blame us though? I quickly made a point to say I wasn’t interested, and finally, Jay stepped in and said he’d (at least) do the press junket tied to the film, and attend the screening. Sweet! My immediate thought was that I was off the hook! And yet, somehow, the day of the screening, I wind up in the ballroom with Jay right as the film is about to start. I figured that since I was in there, I might as well check it out… And I’m incredibly happy that I did because I had a lot of fun! So here’s my advice for you before you watch this film:

The trailer gives Batman & Harley Quinn no justice and is a completely inaccurate depiction of the actual movie.

This is a stupid movie with juvenile and inappropriate (potentially offensive) jokes. If you can’t bring yourself to appreciate that, then this is not the movie for you.

Bruce Timm may claim that Batman & Harley Quinn exists in the same continuity as Batman the Animated Series, but don’t believe a word of it. That proclamation is one, big, steaming pile of crap for anyone who cherishes the integrity of that television series. I enjoyed the film, but only as its own, stand-alone project. Nothing rings true here, especially concerning characterization. So much of what takes place in this film is so out of character that it’s a joke to even imply it’s part of continuity. To quote (Andrew Asberry), “I will not admit (Batman & Harley Quinn) into continuity. For crying out loud, the robot from Joker’s barge and Ubu are dancing at a bar.”

With those brief notes, let’s discuss the film itself. Potential spoilers below!

I know that some of my comments about this film have contained a negative connotation, but I want to be clear that I did enjoy this movie. My enjoyment stems from a sum of its parts though – mostly a collection of irrelevant, random jokes – and is in no way because of the “story.” The moment the title sequence started, I realized that Batman & Harley Quinn would be better than I expected – granted, my expectations were LOW. The title sequence felt like a Batman themed Spy vs Spy montage, injected with a dose of camp – similar to Deadpool’s end credits montage. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it!

The first few scenes of the film are played straight to set up the story. Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man break into a research facility with the intention to steal vital information to support their nefarious mission. There’s a bit of action in the opening sequence, and it’s quite entertaining! I’ll speak to the animation in depth a bit later, but the fight scenes were done incredibly well – which only makes me wish we would have been gifted with a few more of them. There’s also a tease of Dr. Alec Holland early on. If you know who that is, then you know you’ll have something to look forward to. If you don’t know Holland… Well, we’ll just hug you, promise everything will be ok, assure you that it’s not your fault, and give you a cookie.

The story then progresses to showcase Batman and Nightwing investigating the research facility to determine what Ivy stole. After some quick deductions, Batman realizes that they need to find Ivy immediately, and the best way to do that will be recruiting the assistance of one of Ivy’s best gal pals – Harley Quinn. There’s a great “Oh crap” line from Nightwing when he realizes that Batman is going to ask him to track Harley down, and it’s at this moment that the tone and direction of the entire film shifts.

From this point on, Batman & Harley Quinn begins to abandon its plot and starts to feel more like a fan fiction than an actual Batman story. Jokes become the priority, and most of what occurs is strictly a means to an end. I would say I’m surprised, but this is a Harley Quinn story more than anything, so I don’t know why I’d expect anything else.

Actually, if I’m being honest, Batman & Harley Quinn appears to be a project of self-service for Bruce Timm above all else. Yes, it’s a solid moment for Harley, and a great stepping stone for her character, but really, this just feels like a Bruce Timm fantasy once you move past the jokes. I don’t want to complain too much because I did enjoy most of what I saw, but I’d be lying if I said there was a point to any of it. Timm has a history of taking characters and sexualizing them greatly in a number of mediums, and he continues that here. My first encounter with Timm’s overt sexualization occurred when I stumbled across his pinup art.

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I didn’t mind the discovery of Timm’s pinup art and wasn’t offended by it either. If sexualizing characters from various medias interests you, and you play with that concept outside of official projects, then that’s fine. Unfortunately, Timm has slowly started injecting his preferences and desires into official projects, and they occur at the expense of characterization and plot. We got a hint of this in Batman Beyond, then a heavy dose of it in Batman: The Killing Joke (which lead to controversy overshadowing the film itself). He continues the objectification here.

There are numerous, blatant shots of scantily clad female characters throughout the Batman and Harley Quinn. Harley has multiple moments where she falls victim to this, but there are also random females that are subjected to this treatment as well. I will admit that most of these instances are executed at the expense of telling a joke, and I even laughed out loud at one of them (it was a sexy Granny Goodness in a Hooters-esque, hero themed restaurant called Superbabes… I mean, come on… Sexy Granny Goodness… That deserves a laugh). Unfortunately, there’s not a single scene featuring a male character being physically objectified, so it all begins to feel a little awkward. Had they taken the time to let Harley or citizens objectify or catcall Batman or Nightwing, the comedy would at least balance or curb some of the sexist connotations.

If you find scantily clad women offensive, then be warned that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The most discussed moment in Batman & Harley Quinn is probably the hook-up between Nightwing and Harley – but I don’t feel it’s not as bad as some people are making it out to be. Once again, the moment is there for the sake of telling a series of jokes, and both characters consent. Yeah, Nightwing is tied up against his will, but he accepts the advances, and the characters are already so far from any realistic depiction of themselves that I can’t get angry. Plus it sets up a hilarious “morning after/ you got caught” moment of shame between Nightwing and Batman.

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Beyond the potential risqué nature of the scene, it doesn’t fall into the pits that Batman: The Killing Joke did by making a character completely and utterly dependent on that relationship. There’s no sulking guy or girl who can only find worth in the person they’re with or racking their brain to determine why they were rejected. No, there’s none of that crap here. These are just two adults who want to have a good time. It is still ok to have a good time, right?

Timm’s attempts to push the limits don’t end there, however. As the movie progresses, more jokes occur that even I start to question, and I’m not easily offended! Although I never actually reached the point of being offended, there are definitely moments that are a little unsettling. Jokes pertaining to vibrators, porn offers, sexual harassment in the workplace, drugs, and even a heavy reference to incest pop up throughout the film. Yes, you read that correctly… Incest. And that particular joke goes on for way too long…

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Despite the slew of controversial subject matter that is sure to upset a decent amount of people, there are plenty of fun elements to be considered. The dynamic of Batman, Harley, and Nightwing is fun, and when the film manages to escape its random, comedic, side-bars, you’ll find some intriguing elements.

Jokes pertaining to the history of these characters and comics come into play, as well as some good, old-fashioned slap-stick comedy. Yes, it’s over the top and wacky, but that’s part of what makes this movie so much fun. There’s also, surprisingly, a nice, heartfelt moment in the film. Add the humor, action, and heart together, and you have a solid final product. Not great, just solid. A better story could easily move this film into the “great” category though.

THE PLOT

The plot of Batman and Harley Quinn is a rather simple one that is covered perfectly by the synopsis. There aren’t any complex or intriguing layers to the plot, so don’t expect anything more than a paper-thin narrative. The “story” really is Batman and Nightwing teaming up with Harley Quinn to stop Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man from turning the world into unstable, plant people… and this plot is only here as a technicality. I mean, if you’re going to make a film, you have to tell some type of story (beginning, middle, and end), even if it’s just a means to an end. The real point of Batman & Harley Quinn is to tell jokes – potentially jokes that came to fruition years ago during the production of Batman the Animated Series as fleeting, “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” comments.

THE HUMOR

As I mentioned earlier, this is strictly a comedy. Because of that, I feel like I need to speak specifically to the humor found in the film. A chunk of the comedy is quite juvenile and inappropriate at times, but it manages to work on some levels, while other moments fall flat. I never thought that a Batman series/ film would stoop low enough to tell fart jokes, but alas… There are actual fart jokes. Don’t let this detour you from seeing the film though. Even when there are juvenile jokes, at times they work simply because of the characters’ reactions, or lack thereof. There are plenty of other examples of humor that honestly deserve recognition though.

Harley has some incredibly funny moments that feel true to her as a character. One of these instances involves a man who may not be who Harley claims he is, and another one involves Ivy, where Harley goes “nuclear.” There are also dozens of meta-inspired jokes that will entertain any Batman/ DC fan! Everything is fair game here: from the relationship of the dynamic duo, to the likability of members of the Justice League, to Nightwing’s former mullet. It’s in these moments that the film finds its success, and is the reason I’ll recommend it to fans.

I also want to acknowledge why the humor works so well! We expect random, funny moments from Harley, but we clearly don’t expect them from Batman. Bats is known more for his brooding, and it’s this very juxtaposition that creates a large part of the humor he’s involved with. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Nightwing has always been known to joke and quip, so while Batman ignores/ rejects Harley’s insanity, Dick embraces it! With nearly every joke, you’re treated to two reactions, both covering opposite ends of the spectrum, and they result in comedy gold! The best is when Batman decides to give in and not be so broody. It’s rare, but it’s a good laugh when it happens.

To see some of my favorite moments, click the spoiler tag.

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THE ACTING

Unlike other recent DC animated films, the voice actors killed it here! Kevin Conroy is the best he’s been in a while, and I can’t help but find an irony in that. He’s become an icon for portraying Batman in so many respectable projects, that it’s interesting to see him in a role such as this. It’s clear he had fun with the project though, and that comes through in the film, not only for him, but for every other character as well. And the return of Lorn Lester as Nightwing is perfect! These two play so well together, plus the nostalgia factor is peaked when you hear both of these actors in their first scene!

If anyone deserves my praise though, it’s Melissa Rauch! I know I previously mentioned that I wasn’t fond of her portrayal based on the trailer – and to confirm, I wasn’t – but watching her in the film is a completely different experience. With each scene, her approach started to grow on me, and it became more evident that her instincts are outstanding. Vocally, Rauch’s approach to Harley is a little more realistic and played into the strengths of the film itself. As much as I love Tara Strong, I can’t help but feel that if she had portrayed Harley for this film, it would have been way too much. An over-the-top voice in an over-the-top-film could have been… well… way over the top. But Rauch fit perfectly in a pocket to hit all the right points needed to make Harley and the film successful.

After winning my favor, Rauch then proceeded to impress me even more by singing as Harley for a scene in a karaoke bar. The entire sequence is odd, random, stupid, and for some reason highly entertaining – even if it is a little too long in my opinion. Despite the singing – which I was oddly impressed with – the scene also provides a who’s-who of D-list characters from Batman the Animated Series (Captain Clown, Min and Max, El Gancho, Lar, Moe, and Cur, Ratso, Rhino, and more).

Paget Brewster and Kevin Michael Richardson were also brilliant as Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man. Part of what made this work so well is that these two didn’t receive the entire script. They just received their scenes – which were all of the “straight” scenes in the film, so they played their characters that way. Brewster and Richardson came into the project as if it were a serious story, and that helped provide some desperately needed tonal changes! If there’s one complaint I have about Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man, it’s that there wasn’t enough of them. Well, not enough Poison Ivy anyway. But hey, during the SDCC screening, a fan asked when they were going to get a Gotham City Sirens film in this style, and all of the creators seemed pretty keen on the idea… One can hope, right?

THE ANIMATION

I can’t describe how overjoyed I am to see the classic Batman the Animated Series costumes presented with a higher quality animation! Don’t get me wrong, the animation from the original television series is outstanding – especially for its time – but the added benefits of technological advancements since then only helps! The action sequences are outstanding! The choreography is good, so that helps, but the execution is superb! The movements are smooth and flow well, while also telling a story!

There are moments where simple animation looks a little cheap, but it doesn’t ruin any of the movie for me. The most notable example of this is a scene where Batman is walking. You can only see him from his waist up, and each step looks as though someone had taken a picture of Bats, glued it to a popsicle stick, and bounced it up and down while moving it forward to give the illusion of walking. With all of the strong animation in the film, it just made these moments stand out.

OVERALL

Batman and Harley Quinn is a riot of a time. Depending on your taste in comedy and your limit for crudeness, well that will decide if this riot is good or bad. For me, I found it highly entertaining. I’ve watched the film a total of four times now though, and the more you watch it, the less it holds up because you learn all of the jokes. I will advise that the film is more fun to watch with a group of people who can find humor in this. I loved the experience I had at SDCC while watching it, mainly because I was able to actively comment on the absurdity of moments, then laugh at the said absurdity. The energy of others also plays well into the energy of the film, so just keep that in mind.

Regardless, whether you have friends with you or not, if you’re a Batman/ DC fan, and you want to kill some time and enjoy a few laughs, I highly recommend this film. You’ll most likely lose a few brain cells during it, but if that’s all you lose after an encounter with Harley, then you’re lucky! If you choose this isn’t the film for you based on the sexualization of some scenes and the nature of the comedy, I at least recommend you check out the post-credits short! It’s easily a 9/10, and managed to raise my score for the overall film an entire point!

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SCORE: 7/10

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