Thursday, September 7, 2017

DVD Review: 'Batman and Harley Quinn' (2017)

We've been waiting a long time for an adult-oriented follow-up to Batman: The Animated Series. And after the release of this straight-to-Redbox offering, it looks like we'll be waiting even longer... 

By: Jimbo X

The old school Fox Batman cartoon is easily one of the best comic book adaptations in any kind of media, and that's no small accolade coming from a biased Spider-Man fanboy such as myself. Indeed, B:TAS at its apex was some of the best TV that's ever been on the air; I'd put Heart of Ice and I Am The Night up against the absolute best episodes of whatever en vogue live action "prestige" show is hot right now and I guarantee you the old cartoon episodes will hold up better 20 years down the line.

A lot of that success you have to attribute to producer Bruce Timm, who is pretty much the Colonel Sanders of the D.C. Animated Universe. By and large he's been involved with just about every D.C. cartoon that's come down the line since Batman: The Animated Series, and - for the most part - his work has been excellent to un-fucking-believably outstanding

It's no secret that the censors at Fox (and later, the W.B.) were pretty hard on Timm, and for years we've wondered just how great the already pretty freakin' great B:TAS franchise could've been had standards and practices given him a little more free reign to do whatever he wanted. We saw glimmers of that expanded creativity in the full-length B:TAS movies Mask of the Phantasm and Sub-Zero, and since those were rated PG, we could only fathom the sort of fascinating, adult-oriented storytelling Timm and pals could've worked under the Bat-umbrella with a hard PG-13 or soft R rating. And in that, the recent Batman and Harley Quinn straight-to-DVD cartoon is - theoretically - our prayers from 20 years ago finally getting answered.

Batman and Harley Quinn is undoubtedly a promising little arrangement. You've got a story by Bruce Timm, the guys who voiced Batman and Robin are returning to reprise their roles, and the PG-13-equivalent rating gives 'em ample opportunities to drop four-letter words and show all sorts of risque and brutally violent activity. On paper, this thing is an absolute can't lose prospect, but in execution, does it royally screw the pooch? Well, how about we stick this sumbitch in our disc player and see for ourselves, why don't we?

The movie starts off with some cops at the S.T.A.R. Labs fighting this giant vegetable monster who isn't Swamp Thing. His mucus-like skin absorbs all the bullets while Poison Ivy hacks a computer - apparently, they're trying to gather some top-secret intel on Dr. Alec Holland. 

Following a campy-ass into with paper cut-out characters getting into wacky and whimsical hi-jinks, Batman and Nightwing investigate the break-in and give the viewers some exposition on Swamp Thing. Batman tells the po-po the vegetable-monster they're looking for is Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man and the Dynamic Duo decides its time to ping Harley Quinn for some details on Ivy's whereabouts.

There's some more exposition about A.R.G.U.S. getting hacked by the French and Batman blackmails the sarge into giving him info on this one professor who got kidnapped because he was probably looking at porn or something on the clock. Then Nightwing shows photos of Harley to random hobos and senile old people for a couple of minutes before going to this one cafe called Superbabes where all the waitresses are dressed like Catwoman and Supergirl. Of course, Harley's working there and when some dude tries to grab her ass she karate flips him over a table. We get a long tracking shot of Harley walking home while doing a crossword puzzle then Nightwing asks her if she can help him find her BFF Ivy. She declines and Nightwing says he ought to haul her crazy ass to jail and then they have an alley kung fu fight that concludes with Harley subduing him with a Joker Gas ring.

Actually having gay sex isn't as gay as this scene.

Meanwhile, Batman investigates the missing professor's place and finds an alien leaf. Then Nightwing wakes up tied to Harley's bed and she makes fun of him for having a mullet on the old cartoon. Quinn asks if Nightwing and Batman were gay with each other (via a reference to, of all things, Seduction of the Innocent) and then they wind up having OFFSCREEN SEX

We learn Ivy has to kiss the kidnapped professor every six hours to keep him under her spell and Floronic Man thinks its gross as shit every time she locks lips (by the way, the dude voicing the Floronic Man is none other than the guy who voiced the Joker in that one Batman cartoon on the WB in the mid-2000s.) Elsewhere, Batman walks in on Quinn tickling Nightwing and he convinces her to join them on a quest to find Ivy. Then Harley makes a wisecrack about calling Nightwing if she ever runs out of batteries ... yep, they just made a joke about a dildo in a Batman cartoon.

So here's Ivy's plan. She's going to synthesize Swamp Thing's DNA and turn it into an airborne virus that'll turn everybody in the world into plant people, which in turn will stop climate change or global warming or industrial pollution or some shit. Then Batman lets us know Floronic Man is actually an "exiled dryad from another dimension" and there's this very long, totally pointless sequence where Harley sees her lawyer walking down the street, chases him down, beats his ass and calls him a douche bag. Then when she gets back in the Batmobile, she keeps farting because Batman won't let her use the restroom. "It's not so bad," Bats quips, "it smells like discipline." Alas, Quinn keeps floating up some air biscuits and the rank stank gets too much for even Batman to bear, so they agree to let her drop a chud at the nearest gas station. 

Naturally, our trio winds up ambling into a bar where all the tertiary henchmen from the original B:TAS series are hanging out, complete with those redheaded twins who used to work for Two-Face doing a karoake version of "Don't Pull Your Love" by Hamilton, Joe Frank and goddamn Reynolds. Then Quinn gets up on stage and does a rendition of Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone" and of course, a big old donnybrook ensues with a whole bunch of Adam West-ish comic book text - including the phrase "OWW, MY BALLS" - cropping up on an exterior shot while Batman and Nightwing whup the tar outta' everybody offscreen.

Booster Gold calls Batman on his phone and asks if he can help, so he and Nightwing try to make it sound like they're losing reception. Then Floronic Man pours some goop on a rat and it turns into a plant monster for about five seconds, and then it explodes into a puddle of green slime. Batman, Nightwing and Harley finally break into Ivy's secret hideout and we have ourselves a thee-on-two karate fight. Floronic Man kills the professor during the tomfoolery and the building explodes. Ivy and Floronic Man (I'm just going to call him "Flo" from hereon out) decide they should go to Louisiana and use the same water that made Swamp Thing to create a more potent vegetable juice disease. Flo takes out a yam and makes Ivy eat it, and it infects both of them with "the green" - fuck, I'll just let D.C. themselves try to explain what the fuck it is - and they use it to teleport through a random oak tree. Harley Quinn remarks "goddamn" and demands Batman take her to Louisiana with him. It takes a while, but she convinces him, and then she talks about how badly she doesn't want to become a plant monster because she's afraid she'll forget to water herself. 

A giant vine attacks some gun-toting troops and then Harley pushes Batman and Nightwing into a pond so a tree monster can try to eat them. She justifies her sudden heel turn by simply remarking "it's Thursday." Quinn then tries to convince Ivy to change her plans, she refuses, so Harley frees Batman and Nightwing from the tree trap and it's time for a catfight. "Friends don't let friends kill 7 billion people," Harley remarks, adding "your plan is totally bat-shit crazy." Ivy says humans are destroying the planet so what choice does she have, to which Harley ripostes "vote democrat and donate to Greenpeace." 

After a slow-mo double punch puts both of 'em on their asses, Ivy reveals she hasn't actually tested the formula and Quinn starts to cry and that makes Ivy break down, too. Ivy tells Flo they can't carry out the mission, so he attacks her with a giant penis-like vine. And that's our cue for the deus ex machima denoument, as SWAMP THING shows up out of nowhere to prevent Flo from dropping the death juice in the lake. "Your cause is just but your actions have upset the balance in the green," he says before giving a brief lecture about "knowing the unknnowbale nature" and quickly disappering. "Well, that was a big ass bucket of nothing," Harley lampshades.

Quinn then says "well, he is nothing but leaves, anybody got a match?" The credits start to roll as Flo runs flaming through the swamp. The post-credits stinger shows a dude visiting Quinn at her psychiatric office, and then she gets her own TV show that's one part Dr. Phil and one part Family Double Dare and then it's fade to black, muchachos.

Please, somebody help turn "slowly submerging disappointed Swamp Thing face" into a meme sensation...

Well, there's no real genteel way to put it - that thing fucking sucked a huge dick, man. The stylings and homages to B:TAS were cool, but the story was totally lacking and the feeble attempts at humor just torpedoed the whole thing. It couldn't decide if it wanted to be a spoof of the Batman mythos or a full-fledged extension of the B:TAS brand, and those two approaches are completely incompatible. If you want to make a somber, straight-laced Batman cartoon, go for it, and if you want to do something campier and cheesier, nothing's stopping you. But you can't have it both ways, as this disappointing addendum to the DCAU demonstrates. Pickles are great and Kool-Aid are great, but pickles and Kool-Aid together most definitely aren't, and the same holds true for the two totally different tones the producers wanted to cram into the same movie. Instead of getting the best of both worlds, we got an uneasy mixture of styles and atmosphere that gel together about as well as peanut butter and toothpaste. 

I guess it has its merits. Some of the shoutouts to B:TAS are cool, but if nostalgic pandering is literally all you have to offer, what's the point? Furthermore, I wasn't a fan of the allegedly "adult" humor in the story - i.e., all the jokes about Quinn doing porn and using a vibrator and the subplot about her and Nightwing having tickle sex. I'm sure Bruce Timm and pals loved having free reign to do whatever they wanted her, but all of that edginess for the sake of being edgy was at the expense of a decent plot. Say what you will about all the diktats Fox put on B:TAS, but it forced the writers to focus on crafting as good a story as they could within the limitations of standards and practices. Here, however, it feels like they just wanted to get in as much risque shit as they could, and the plot itself was an afterthought.

At this point, the whole Harley Quinn thing is played out as fuck. I've never really thought she was that interesting of a character to begin with and the constant comedic pairing of her and Ivy (which is actually a blatant ripoff of two characters from the 1990s cult movie The Living End, itself inspired by any number of old Warhol arthouse-tranny movies) has long overstayed its welcome. There are so many solid, interesting Bat-villains with a ton of crossover media potential that haven't been shoved down our throats - like Mr. Freeze, The Ventriloquist and Clayface - that D.C. continues to place on the backburner so they can milk this whole Holly-Mania cow dry. Unfortunately, they are totally oblivious to the reality that there's only so much mileage you can get out of a wise-cracking sociopath-cum-perpetual-domestic-abuse-victim, especially one D.C. keeps trying (and failing) to turn face

Like everybody else, I'm not going to complain about getting more B:TAS styled content, but the inescapable fact of the matter is that Batman and Harley Quinn just doesn't hold up AT ALL to even the most mediocre episodes of the old cartoon. You're much better off getting your Bat-fix revisiting the old classics on the Daily Motions, or even better, checking out all of the Ty Templeton-helmed Batman Adventures comics that have come down the pipe over the last 25 years.

Because if you're expecting a happy return to form here, you're setting yourself up for nothing but a major disappointment.


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