Batman and Harley Quinn
"Batman and Harley Quinn" is an original story by DC Comics animation guru Bruce Timm, inspired by the classic continuity that started with Batman: The Animated Series and culminated with Justice League Unlimited, that stars Batman, Nightwing, and Harley Quinn in a wacky road trip that puts the Three Stooges to shame. The Floronic Man and Poison Ivy get their hands on a formula to save Earth's ecology but whether it works or not, it's bad news for humanity. Batman and Nightwing attempt to exploit Ivy's best friend for life, Harley Quinn, to track the villains down and save the world but even on meds, Harley proves to be a wild card they can't afford to turn their back to. "Batman and Harley Quinn" breaks the mold set by the DC Universe line of movies and forges onto new territory with an off kilter superhero comedy. If Batman: The Animated Series was our "Hamlet", "Batman and Harley Quinn" is our "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead".
"Batman and Harley Quinn" starts off with Floronic Man and Poison Ivy raiding a S.T.A.R. Labs facility to glean the research of one Alec Holland. Batman and Nightwing look into the case and split up. Batman follows up on a lead with A.R.G.U.S. while Nightwing is tasked with finding Harley Quinn in an effort to find Poison Ivy. Problem is Harley has gone straight, stayed under the radar, and has been waiting tables at Superbabes, think Hooters but with superheroines. She's none too interested in revisiting the world of capes and cowls but a fight with Nightwing gets her juices flowing. Coupled with the prospect of the world ending and Ivy getting killed, Harley signs up to help Batman and Nightwing. Ivy and Floronic Man continue to tinker with recreating Holland's formula while Harley leads Batman and Nightwing on a foot chase in pursuit of a prom date then to a secret henchman watering hole that ends in a song and barfight. The two sides clash but a life of a kidnapped scientist is lost. Floronic Man initiates a mind trip to get them to Louisiana and bypass all the police roadblocks. Batman, Nightwing, Harley and the feds are in hot pursuit but nothing works... not even the big honkin' surprise cameo does much then Harley points out the obvious solution. The pacing might throw the audience off, especially with the extended song and dance from first Min and Max then Harley, but take some comfort that this isn't a conventional action movie and thus not a conventional story structure. Some of the comedy beats might also throw you off, but as they say - 'drama is easy, comedy is hard'. Some jokes might land. Some might not. Some might offend.
On the surface, "Batman and Harley Quinn" has the trappings of an over the top, raunchy comedy. "48 Hours" meets "Rush Hour" meets "Dude, Where's My Car?". Something like that. An unlikely team of polar opposites in a race against time to stop the bad guys sprinkled with innuendo, sexuality, and a fart joke. But on a subliminal level, the movie is more akin to Bruce Timm deconstructing the past 25 years of his body of work and reaching back to the farcical fantasy sitcoms of the 60's - "I Love Lucy", "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie" - and using Harley as the woman of great power to cause some upheaval and subvert the traditional Dynamic Duo dynamic that's lasted fine on it's own for decades and decades. Heck, even the opening title sequence looks like the twisted stepsister of the "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie" titles. You can look at Harley trying to live a normal life as dulling herself with medication and working at a place that is the very definition of objectification but as the movie goes on, it's quite apparent she's always meant to be a force of nature. Or instead of punching his way out of a bar like an episode of "Bonanza" or any John Wayne movie, Batman makes a freaky grin and the camera pans out to the exterior of the bar then cue the totally unexpected sound FX that would never appear on an episode of the Batman '66 television series. No fight is seen. The final battle isn't won by the superior combatant nor the right weapon nor a last minute intellectual brainstorm by the unstoppable Batman. Not even the magical deus ex machina, here in the form of Swamp Thing, does squat. Instead, it's little ol' Harley batting her eyes, a la Merrie Melodies, at Poison Ivy and by pointing out the obvious about Floronic Man. Plants and fire don't mix. And like Ricky Ricardo, or Darrin Stephens or Tony Nelson, Batman and Robin gives in and can't help but be smitten with Harley.
I would be remiss to not mention the white eleph -- white gorilla? -- in the room. As soon as you look at footage of the movie, it takes you back to the days of Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures. But is it canon? It's complicated. Bruce Timm has gone on the record saying at the very least, in his own head, it is canon but admitted to not checking for any contradictions. Harley is no stranger to trying to reform. The movie definitely has the DNA of episodes like "Harlequinade" and "Harley's Holiday". Harley even references Nightwing's mullet from The New Batman Adventures. But this Batman looks like the one from The New Batman Adventures and he's driving the Batmobile from Batman: The Animated Series! Yes, we've seen odd mixes of designs before in canon stories like Static Shock's "The Big Leagues" where we saw a The New Batman Adventures designed Batman fighting a Return of the Joker flashback/Justice League designed Joker. Canon survived. But we do know the canon never had a Powergirl nor did it ever have a Hal Jordan that became Green Lantern. Yet, they're referenced in Superbabes in the form of a waitress and wall decoration. The closest we got to Powergirl was Cadmus clone Galatea and to Hal, we got to see briefly when Chronos broke time in "The Once and Future Thing" but neither of which was made public. Sure, Powergirl could have appeared after Justice League Unlimited but it seemed pretty apparent Hal stayed a test pilot in this canon. Then you have Nightwing. Working with Batman. Sure, he did to a degree in The New Batman Adventures but didn't he move to Bludhaven already? Well, sure. But as "Grudge Match" revealed, like in the comics, not that far from Gotham. And maybe, just maybe, Dick Grayson matured a little and buried as much of the hatchet as he could with Batman. Aside from Elongated Man, none of those heroes Booster Gold mentioned were on members of the JLU! Well, they could joined after the show ended? Would Harley go through all this just to regress and help the Joker torture Tim Drake in that Return of the Joker flashback? Shrug. Would Batman really smile? Catwoman never had henchmen in this canon! How can Captain Clown and Randa Duane be around and dancing so fluidly?! Did I say it's complicated? As much as I'd like it to be canon, my own conclusion it's not but that doesn't damper any of my enjoyment of the movie. We've been to parallel universes before that look like the Timmverse style and they were loads of fun and fisticuffs. Justice Guild. Justice Lords. Brainiac Atta--- eh. But I'm open minded to conclude a version of this movie does happen in the Timmverse canon in the same way we know a version of the "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" happens in the canon and was called "World's Collide".
Truly, a highlight of the movie was getting to hear Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester roll off each other again as the Dynamic Duo after 20 or so years have passed. If you would told me we'd be hearing Adam West and Burt Ward then Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester reunited again, I'd have thought you took one too many dips in a Lazarus Pit. It's good to feel that old magic again. Melissa Rauch had to do the heavy lifting to 'earn' the role of Harley. It's understandable since the most recognized voice of the animated Harley has been Arleen Sorkin, but she's retired. Why not Tara Strong then? That just discussion just does down the rabbit hole. Back to Rauch. Harley, herself, has proven to be a malleable character over the past 20 years as she debuted in the comics and surged in popularity. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to listen to a Harley with a Jersey accent. Paget Brewster and Kevin Michael Richardson voiced Poison Ivy and Floronic Man respectively, but didn't have as much screen time as the rest of the cast to develop and find their voices. But on the other hand, they were for the most part straight up villains and more constrained to the story.
The home entertainment release of "Batman and Harley Quinn" features three decent special features. "The Harley Effect" is a 21 minute look back on Harley Quinn by co-creators Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and comments by DC Entertainment Creative Director Mike Carlin and analysis by clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg. The "Loren Lester: In His Own Voice" is a about 12 minutes of Loren Lester looking back on his start in the voice acting industry and reflecting on voicing Dick Grayson. The sneak peak of next year's first release, "Batman: Gotham by Gaslight" is 8 minutes, 30 seconds and is a mix of comic book panels, designs, and finished footage with comments from Timm, Carlin, and an inexplicably Victorian steampunk-dressed Jim Krieg. They talk about exploring Elseworlds content, adding their own twist to the story like the inclusion of Selina Kyle, and doing a period piece. Also included in the special features are previews of past releases "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" Part 1 and Part 2 and "Batman: Assault on Arkham, bonus episodes of "Harley and Ivy" and "Harley's Holiday" from Batman: The Animated Series, and trailers for "Teen Titans: The Judas Contract", "Justice League Dark", and the live action "Wonder Woman" and "Justice League" movies. The limited edition gift set comes with a Harley Quinn figurine by Gentle Giant Ltd. And cue the "there's no commentary track, making of featurette, character design featurette, or making of the score featurette" talk. The quantity and quality of the special features leaves a lot to be desired to say the least.
Ever since the DC Universe line started, I don't think any convention panel got a past a "Will you make another Timmverse" movie kind of question. But we knew from the get-go that company executives wanted to brand the DC Universe movies and not revisit the past right away. Many years later, "Justice League: Gods and Monsters" certainly was the start of that door creaking back open with the design aesthetic of Bruce Timm and Shane Glines but "Batman and Harley Quinn" really kicks that door down. The desire is there among the cast and crew to revisit things but it will probably come down to sales that much we know. And we definitely know there could be boxes of ideas, treatments, outlines, and scripts that were never made. We've seen that infamous Catwoman Beyond movie idea grafted onto Justice League Unlimited's "Epilogue" or Batman: The Brave and The Bold salvaging that Batman Anime pitch by using Alpha Red in a Batman of Zur-En-Arrh episode or another unused movie idea in "Bold Beginnings!" with superheroes retelling old cases they had with Batman. And we know every year at a comic convention, a fan asks about Batman Beyond then the crew reaffirms it's been talked about. Or maybe Bruce Timm finally has a strong pitch for that infamous Nocturna idea...
"Batman and Harley Quinn" is a breath of fresh air for the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line that kinda smells like discipline... but seriously, "Batman and Harley Quinn" punctuates a year of strong releases that begins to broach and experiment with genre and structure. "Justice League Dark" delved into horror and supernatural. "Teen Titans: The Judas Contract" continued to explore the teenage angst. "Batman and Harley Quinn" delves into comedy and farce, throwing the classic structure of action, adventure, drama and interpersonal dynamics we've come to know and expect... into an extended spin cycle. The movie may take some or a lot of fans out of their comfort zones, but I think it's more important for the future of the movie line that we get new things instead of the same old thing for the next 10 years. Progress in small steps. "Batman and Harley Quinn" is a recommended purchase.
Main Feature: 3.5 out of 5
Special Features: 3.5 out of 5
Average Rating: 3.5 out of 5