When Batman: The Animated Series (B: TAS) premiered way back in 92, it was quite unlike any other cartoon or batman show of its time…. or before. The dark feel, the very 40s-esque art deco look and mature story-telling set a precedent; which to this day (In my opinion and many others) has yet to be surpassed. Of course, there have been fantastic depictions of the caped crusader on the big screen. Tim Burton and Nolan especially have really provided the audiences with some of the grittiest batman-stories ever seen. Animation however, is an entirely different story.
There have been some terrific batman cartoons since. Batman Beyond (Which holds a special place in my heart) and Batman: The Brave and The Bold (An Under-Rated Gem) are no doubt brilliant shows in their own right. B: TAS however, set the tone for these shows and all the other beloved series in the DC Animated Universe (DCAU). I could go on and on about these shows, especially B: TAS but I’ll save those reviews for future posts. On to the film at hand…
Harley Quinn & The Throwback to The Past
I was obviously very excited when I heard that Bruce Timm was working on a stand-alone Harley Quinn film set in the original DCAU. After all, Harley Quinn was probably the most popular character solely created for the series. As Joker’s side kick and on & off love interest, she was so much fun to watch. Her playful shenanigans set against the back-drop of a toxic relationship with “Mr.J” made for some interesting story-telling.
Most incarnations of Harley Quinn, ever since have been very sexualized. It must be said here that her original portrayal was in itself fairly sexualized. Perhaps, the censor boards prevented it at the time but this can be seen in many instances even if subtle (More on this later.)
So, how does the film hold up ? Bruce Timm, the creator, had clearly stated that this movie would have a lighter tone compared to the original show. This movie is full of crass humor and sometimes extremely raunchy jokes. In certain ways, this is almost an anti-thesis of the source material. A joy-ride though, it most certainly is !! Where this movie really shines is in its ability to make fun of itself. Yet at the same time, it pays homage to B: TAS and The New Batman Adventures (The Animation Style in which it is set) at every possible opportunity. The movie is riddled with references and Easter eggs (The Hooters Club Scene especially).
Come in to this movie expecting a loud, crass comedy and you’ll have a blast. Anything more than that and you’ll be disappointed…by a long shot. I had earlier mentioned Harley Quinn’s sexualization. Now, a lot of die-hard fans of the show aren’t too pleased with her depiction in this film and understandably so. There is a scene which clearly hints at Harley and Nightwing having a romp between the sheets (You can’t miss it !!). She follows this up by later telling Nightwing that she’d call him if she wanted to recharge her batteries !! The film certainly doesn’t pull too many punches when it comes to taking liberties with its rating…
While she is definitely over sexualized in the movie, this doesn’t really take too much away from the film. I believe that Bruce Timm would have pushed the limits in her first appearance if he were given the freedom. Much of his artwork revolving around Harley & female characters in general has always been very suggestive. In this sense, I feel that criticism directed towards Timm is unfair as there was quite a bit of this aspect in the original show, although toned down.
What, however does hold true is that there is not much depth in terms of story-telling & characterization. Then again, this movie was never meant to be any of that. So what exactly is the plot ?
So Harley’s old pal Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man (A D-List Villain) are trying to get their hands on some classified biological research papers. As it turns out, these papers contain a formula that is capable of turning the entire world green; and in the process could cause a cataclysm that destroys humanity as we know it.
Batman and Nightwing decide to stop the duo with help from Harley. There isn’t really much to write home about in terms of story. It is fun though, to watch Harley’s loose cannon ways get in the way of the former dynamic duo. There are some surprise cameos too.
The most heartening part of this movie is that it is set in the DCAU. The art-deco backgrounds and Bruce Timm’s legendary character designs look as fantastic as ever. It’s also great to see Mr. Batman himself, Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester reprising their roles from the animated series. One of the most nostalgia-ridden moments in the movie is hearing Danny Elfman’s theme from the original series. It’s a bit modernized and so subtle that one could easily miss it. Many of the 90s show references along with other pop-cultural references may fly by modern DC fans. Ultimately I hope that this doesn’t affect the DVD sales. Nevertheless, modern day Harley fans should have a blast with this movie.
Batman and Harley Quinn may not be the finest addition to the DCAU but is nevertheless full of nostalgia. This film is worth a watch, if not for the story but just for a return to Timm’s beloved DCAU.
Timm has gone on to state that more films set in the DCAU will follow suit if the DVD sales on this one are good. This is something I really look forward to. Let’s hope that the next DCAU film returns to its roots.
P.S: Timm has always stated his desire to continue working on Batman Beyond if given the chance. Fingers crossed !!