Seeing the trailers for Batman and Harley Quinn initially had me excited, notably for returning to the visual Art Deco aesthetics of the 1990’s Animated Series. The trailer also depicted a lighter, more comedic tone, which I am also a fan of, as Batman can work well in a humorous context (see Batman ’66 and Brave and the Bold). With Harley Quinn being more of an “anti-hero” these days, I was curious to see how they would integrate this new interpretation from what started as Joker’s misguided girlfriend to wacky heroic adventurer within this beloved and long established continuity.
Did Batman and Harley Quinn succeed?
Well, that answer is uneven as the rest of the film.
The film starts with Batman and Nightwing (reprised by Keven Conroy and Loren Lester of the original series) on the hunt for Poison Ivy and Floronic Man (Paget Brewster and Kevin Michael Richardson). The green villains want to introduce a virus that will turn all organic creatures around the world into plant based lifeforms. Taken into considerations that one of Poison Ivy’s longest running associates has gone straight, the duo tracks down information and the assistance of the now reformed Harley Quinn. (Melissa Rauch).
Harley Quinn’s new voice actress wasn’t bad by any means, but when placed in this setting, the change didn’t seem to mesh quite as well as it should. The same holds for Poison Ivy’s new voice. Arleen Sorkin and Diane Pershing were missed.
Still, the film’s premise is a great idea, and the dynamic between this “terrific trio” is fun. Nightwing is actually enjoying their newest partner, while Batman is exasperated at this seeming self-inflicted punishment of retaining her services. Harley Quinn makes a legitimate run at being a “model citizen”, but can’t help but have a little fun along the way.
When this dynamic works, it’s quirky, flirty (and sometimes sexual), and adds a nice twist to the Animated Series continuity. This feels like what the 1990’s show would have become in time, with a more “comfortable” Batman that can afford to relax his attitude once in a while. And there are some great one-liners and throw-away gags.
This is, however, compromised by some “easy”, base jokes. I get that Harley is a reformed sociopath, and her unpredictable zaniness is part of her character, but some of the jokes seemed a little immature and obvious when compared to the more sophisticated tone of the the original series. There were some moments that did get a chuckle out of me, especially when Batman’s resolve is broken by humor in a way that even the Joker could never get through.
The pacing also feels very uneven. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s serious. Sometimes jokes fall flat, or it’s unintentionally funny. And sometimes, they just let segments such as the “villain’s bar” scene run on far too long for it’s own good. The goodwill the scene was establishing diminishes due to it length, and singing two songs in a row is asking a bit much from any film that’s not a musical.
The largest offender was the animation in this particular scene. I enjoyed the overall comparative look of the Animated Series throughout, but the animation here was choppy. Dancing characters felt like they had two frames of animation to work with, and really added awkwardness to a scene that was already overstaying its welcome.
Even cameo appearances are mixed. There was a funny hero voiceover in one scene, a surprisingly obscure villainous visual in another for old-school Bat-Fans, but the end cameo? I honestly have no idea of what the point of that was. The last surprise appearance ultimately served no purpose, and ranks high on the “throwaway” list. When the movie itself stops to address this, there’s a problem.
And while the viewer remains scratching its head in confusion about said cameo, there’s an ending. If that explanation seems abrupt, you will find this to be an accurately fitting description to the final minutes of the film. It honestly felt like the writers had absolutely no idea how to wrap this story up, so they simply did. In fact, the drive home discussion for this movie provided multiple scenarios that would have better tied up the plot neatly, instead of the total ball drop presented as “resolution”.
I didn’t dislike the movie. I felt it had great potential, a solid universe to draw from, and some really funny scenes. Even the overall story threat held promise. The film simply could have used some help in pacing and a better ending. In fact, an ending at all would have sufficed. It’s no Killing Joke-level disappointment, but then again, what is?
Batman and Harley Quinn is released digitally on August 15, 2017, and hits the DVD/Blu-ray scene on August 29. It released August 14 in theaters as part of a Fathom Events premiere. The film features sexual situations, violence, and strong profanity, so keep that in mind if you think this is one for the Bat-Kids.