Review – Batman and Harley Quinn

My stance on DC over the last few years has been pretty unwavering. Their efforts on the big screen have been laughable, as evidenced by the sheer amount of derision slung its way; television productions have been split down the middle, with the Flash and Arrow bringing some exceptional quality that has not been reflected in Legends or Super-Girl, with Constantine being cancelled, and Gotham falling short of its promise; and finally the creations of the animation studios.

So far the DC Animated Universe has presented a mixture of animated epics, at worst suffering a flaw or two large enough to mar complete enjoyment. For example, the Killing Joke’s padding-arc irritated a lot of comic fans, and I found the plot of Judas Contract rather bland. Never the less, every film so far has been a joy to watch, and certainly if one were to look for things to complain about there are better places to look – such is the critics burden.

Batman and Harley Quinn leaves me more firmly on the fence than ever before. Did I set my expectations too high perhaps? Or am I seeing a bad film through optimistic lenses?

Melissa Rauch may be my favourite actor for Harley, apologies to Tara Strong and anyone else who has taken up the psychopathic southern drawl. She’s dour, crude, rambling and excitable, blending melodic and harsh in equal measure. Kevin Conroy is the immortal voice of Batman, John DiMaggio, Paget Brewster, Kevin Michael Richardson amongst others give great performances with a decently written script, although the story behind it just bobs along without much complexity to really dig the mind into. It’s a similar issue I took with Judas Contract, the plot seems designed for kids, but there’s no way you’re going to let a kid watch it.

Poison Ivy and some extra-dimensional plant-muscle are working on some great act of biological terrorism and is proving hard to track, so Batman puts Nightwing on the job of tracking, and subsequently babysitting Quinn while she helps them take down her best friend. They get to the bottom of the plot, track Ivy to Swamp Thing’s corner of the world, and start fighting it out. Spoilers but the end result is they should have trusted Harley to deal with Ivy because they know each other well enough, and Swamp Thing takes down the lesser-known goon End Spoilers.

There’s a detour into a henchman pub filled with retro batman villains from the old animated series, and a singalong that actually proves to be a lot of fun, and really that’s the point of this film. It’s fun! It touches on the old 60’s/70’s Batman right down to the big-band soundtrack, ridiculous villain plot, and the onomatopoeia fights. Really that’s what a Quinn-centric story should be, slightly off-focus with plenty of jokes and off-pace distractions, a little erratic and off-step at every moment. Hells, the fart scene is actually hilarious, if only for the deadpan “It’s fine. Smells like… discipline.”

So that’s all of it, right? Fun romp forgives a bunch of sins in the mental plot? It could have been, it could have been fine.

What happened to the animation budget? Actually, just the animation as a whole. There are sins that are simply unforgivable no matter how much money is available, a rather obvious spot where Harley levitates, a room full of people making identical movements, vanishing props, a few still frames held for too long, some lipsynch that’s just wrong. I can forgive a plethora of continuity error, but no part of the film looks outstanding, and while I can fully appreciate little tricks like recycling run cycles and the like, there are plenty of ways to make a job look less… cheap. If anything it looks more rushed, and badly so. There’s a clear attempt to ape older animation styles, and that’s a nice throwback for sure, but the net result is… unpleasant.

As a character study of Harley Quinn, it’s a good film, exploring how trying to go straight after a life of crime with The Joker of all people can be impossible. A sad flat next to a pile of rejection letters, jumping the bones of the first nice guy who doesn’t disgust her because she’s used to getting what she wants when she wants it, and has gone for too long without. She’s a survivor who outfoxes Ivy in the best possible way. But Quinn is supposed to be animated – as a character, not a cartoon, she moves around a lot is what I’m saying – and Batman and Harley Quinn simply isn’t, and it’s far less enjoyable for it.

Never mind, I’ve been watching some previews of Gotham by Gaslight. Always something to look forward to.