17th Aug2017

‘Batman and Harley Quinn’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Melissa Rauch, Kevin Conroy, Loren Lester, Paget Brewster, Kevin Michael Richardson | Written by Bruce Timm, Jim Krieg | Directed by Sam Liu

Batman-Harley-Quinn-2D

AKA Dr Harleen Quinzel, Harley Quinn first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. Originally voice by Days of Our Lives’ Arleen Sorkin, she was created by series writers Bruce Timm and Paul Dini as an object of amusement for the Joker. A squeaking sufferer of “Histrionic Personality Disorder”, she has gone from kooky sidekick to become the star of the New 52’s most original – and most insane – new series.

It’s immediately apparent that Batman and Harley Quinn, the new standalone feature from Warner Bros. Animation, written by Timm and directed by DC veteran Sam Liu, is firmly rooted in the classic TV show. Everything is here, from the minimalist Art Deco styling, to the perennial orange sunset, to that definitive half-Elfman score.

The sliver of a plot sees Floronic Man (Kevin Michael Richardson) team up with Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) to synthesise a formula which will turn the world’s human population into plant people. “Like Little Shop of Horrors on steroids,” as Harley puts it. They believe they are saving the world, because the Earth is doomed from climate change anyway. The plan is for an old-fashioned, mythic cleansing.

Knowing that she is old buddies with Ivy, Batman and Nightwing (Loren Lester) reluctantly join forces with Harley. She has allegedly gone straight. No mental health facility will hire an ex-super-criminal, so she’s forced to demean herself in a Hooters-like bar. Even Harley thinks Ivy’s plan is bonkers, so she agrees to tag along.

The ensuing road trip takes the trio to the Louisiana swamps, via Bludhaven. Along the way they have various amusing encounters, and there’s a constant flow of banter with the new recruit. While “Night-Wig” (as Harley would have it) kind of warms to this most unlikely of Justice League applicants, Batman is unmoved and unamused.

From the ‘60s-style crime caper opening theme, accompanied by stylised scenes of Harley outwitting Batman and bonking him on the head with a giant mallet, to the “Ask Dr. Quinn” epilogue (now that’s how you do a post-credits sequence, folks), it’s clear that we’re a far cry from the macho doom-mongering of Suicide Squad, or the grimness of the recent WBA bad joke, The Killing Joke. Batman and Harley Quinn is consistently funny and sometimes crass. The Dark Knight never had fart jokes.

Given the thinness of the story – it’s no broader or deeper than a Series episode – it’s no surprise that there is a fair amount of padding. For example, five minutes of screen time is devoted to an irrelevant sequence in which Harley chases down an ex who stood her up; and there’s a fairly surreal (and hilarious) musical interlude at a roadside diner catering exclusively to gangsters and henchmen. Yet, to say that the film suffers as a result of such digressions would not be fair because these scenes are so enjoyable.

Besides, Harley is herself a walking digression. She confuses her prey – usually men – with every possible distraction, beginning with her appearance and her demeanour, before finishing up with a kick to the balls. Harley is fascinating because she’s contradictory. Sexy and provocative, yet available only on her terms; tiny and meek, yet ferocious in a fight. She confounds notions of feminism by embodying both the best and worst of comic book female depictions. That’s why we love her, and why she’s so dangerous: because she’s genuinely unpredictable.

She is voiced by Melissa Rauch, who is best known for playing Bernadette in The Big Bang Theory. And when you think of that voice you realise it’s a perfect fit. She absolutely nails the dizzying combination of dizzy blonde and Atomic Blonde. Kevin Conroy, meanwhile, is the definitive voice of Batman. But honestly, this is not his movie – Batman’s chief contribution here is in the face: the narrowing of disapproving eyes, or the rumour of a smile.

Heavy on the humour and light as a feather, this is the irreverent caper that Harley Quinn deserves. Perhaps the meta-madness of her recent print outings could have expanded it to classic status; nonetheless, this is an essential purchase for fans of the Animated Series, and for those who felt Margot Robbie’s game efforts in Suicide Squad were lost in the boysy malaise. With an ending that mocks the sky-portal epicness of the modern live-action comic book movie, it’s purposefully silly and slight, and an unapologetic joy.

Batman and Harley Quinn is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 29 August 2017.

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