'Batman & Harley Quinn' Reunion Overly Juvenile, Smutty

Directed by: Sam Liu; Runtime: 74 minutes
Grade: D

Criticisms are in no short supply for the current state of DC's cinematic universe, but there's one so widespread that it approaches being a running pop-culture joke: that these movies, especially the ones featuring Batman, are exceedingly dark and lack humor. It's such a prevalent issue that reports (true or not) circulated that David Ayer's Suicide Squad -- starring everyone's favorite Joker minion, Harley Quinn -- underwent reshoots to alter the tone and pump more humor into its heavy chaos. Over the years, even pre-Zack Snyder, the versatility of WB's animation department has swooped in to offset this "grimdark" perception, executing more upbeat, comic-book style elements tangled within the Caped Crusader's signature brooding. Thus, Batman and Harley Quinn seems like a sure thing, boasting deliberate levity and unquestionable potential with the involvement of Harley's creator and Batman: The Animated Series co-creator Bruce Timm, which makes it rather shocking to be left thinking, "What the #$&% did I just watch?!", following its juvenile, bewilderingly trivial escapades that fly too far in the other direction.

Pegging down a specific point in the Batman mythos for when Batman and Harley Quinn takes place isn't a straightforward process, and that's primarily because this caper has been designed to exist in its own little self-contained, inessential space. There are some "clues" one can follow to get a grip on it, though. Harley Quinn has recently gotten out of Arkham Asylum on parole -- considering the existence of the Suicide Squad, the release of this murderous, dangerous henchman to the Joker isn't the biggest leap in believability here -- and has been trying to live as normally as possible for a discredited psychologist and ex-rogue. In response to a dangerous plot cultivated by Poison Ivy and deep-cut DC baddie Floronic Man, Batman and Nightwing (aka a grown-up Robin) hunt down Harley Quinn for help due to her close ties with the plant-based villainess. Reluctantly, she teams up with the Dynamic Duo to unearth the details of their plot and prevent the world from being turned into an overgrown disaster area.

Upon the sight of vaguely art deco scenery and familiar wide-eyed and square-jaw characterization, Batman and Harley Quinn gets one revved up for a detour back into the realm of The Animated Series, even more so with the assurance that Bruce Timm's behind the wheel in the story department alongside director Sam Liu. Something quickly feels … off about what's going on, though, beginning with jokes involving Batman's blackmail tactics and leading into blunt sexualization of female heroes and villains in a Hooters-like diner -- SUPERBABES -- and an unexpected carnal rendezvous that seems yanked off someone's fanfiction.net page. The resulting tone attempts to mix the zany, frivolous rhythm of the ‘60s West television series with modern, adult-leaning brashness, eventually even incorporating literal dick and fart jokes into its comedic pursuits. Where side-story comics like "Mad Love" and "Harley & Ivy" naturally entwine silliness and vulgarity with the accepted constraints of their universes, Batman and Harley Quinn clumsily pushes for its blatantly pubescent shenanigans to veer outside those limits, and it doesn't wear that look well.

Expectedly, vets Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester turns in wonderfully grumbly, nostalgic performances as the Caped Crusader and Nightwing, yet they largely take a backseat to the presence of Harley Quinn, whose saccharine nuttiness and sexuality are given a different voice, literally and figuratively, by The Big Bang Theory's Melissa Rauch. Whereas recent comics feature her in an enjoyably wild situation following her release where she owns an apartment building and cracks skulls in roller derby, Batman and Harley Quinn takes a more solemn approach, depicting her as a near-unemployed waitress weighed down, dare I say depressed, by her post-villain lifestyle. Considering her evolution into a Joker-rebuffing antihero in other iterations of the character, this seed of an idea might seem appealing, yet it doesn't communicate well with the inanity of her "hiding in plain sight" at this diner and the deliberate male-gaze exploitation that occurs shortly thereafter. There's always ruffled feathers whenever Harley's voiced by someone new, but Rauch tones down her vocal registry for a familiar, yet grounded take that would've played fine with better material.

Better material this isn't, though. Batman and Harley Quinn swings entirely on Harley's personal, documented connection to Poison Ivy -- that can range from mere partners in crime to outright lovers depending on which iteration of the DC universe you're in -- as justification for a joyride she takes with Batman and Nightwing to follow her scent and cause trouble. Between cruises in the Batmobile that coax humorous banter, among other things, out of this Dynamic Trio, the pitstops they make amount to little more than shallow, tedious diversions, especially a lengthy sequence that takes place in a whacked-out bar between the spaces of two metropolitan cities. It's at a point where an unabashed sexual innuendo featuring twin male singers and a microphone (one on his knees front and center on the bar's stage) soon moves into a shot of a grinning Batman after he guzzles milk to prepare for a barfight that this roadtrip really goes screeching off the road. Imagine The Lego Batman Movie's satirical self-flagellation on a "mature" level, and without its sweetly reverential consideration and love for the character's history.

Considering the energy that's been devoted to Batman and Harley Quinn's exaggerated character moments, it's unsurprising that the end-of-the-world scenario at the root of the story doesn't lead to something fresh or particularly intriguing. Mixing apocalyptic transformations that'd lead to a garden world with the same sociological even-playing-field component as that of Lizard's motivations from The Amazing Spider-Man, this all blossoms into essentially every other scheme that Poison Ivy has cooked up beforehand, with a mini-Swamp Thing as her partner and a climate change undercurrent tossed in for some timely geopolitical inspiration. Therefore, yes, it's a fantasy-driven Batman story instead of one that tries to preserve the illusion of staying grounded, and most of the action sequences respond accordingly. Unfortunately, so much effort has gone into the attempts at humor that equal, if not more, commonsense gets overlooked about the potential for the villains to manipulate their verdant surroundings. Yet, with a wink and a kiss at the end, Batman and Harley Quinn suggests that it doesn't really care, so long as it keeps things light.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]


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