Fans of Batman: The Animated Series might want to check out this latest animated movie… but we would urge them to stay far, far away…
If you are a fan of Batman or classic animation, you don’t need me to tell you that Batman: The Animated Series, the exemplary show which began the long-running DC Animated Universe, is an incredible piece of art. Thanks to its maturity and class, it has gone down as one of the finest superhero adaptations of all time. It sounded like a fantastic idea, then, to revisit the world of the show – and put its most famous creation centre stage – for the latest DC animated movie Batman and Harley Quinn. Unfortunately, it looks like it should have let sleeping bats lie.
First of all, let’s mention the positives. For one, it’s great to revisit the animation style of the DCAU – that orange skyline over Gotham, immortalised in BTAS’s opening sequence, is still as awe-inspiring as ever. Likewise, getting Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester back as Batman and Nightwing is always a plus. The Big Bang Theory‘s Melissa Raunch is no Arlene Sorkin or Tara Strong but she gives a totally solid portrayal of Harley.
The thing I most enjoyed was how many DC universe connections and references were weaved into the film. The main plot, slight as it is, sees Poison Ivy team up with fellow plant villain the Floronic Man and attempt to turn all humanity into vegetable matter, based on formulae derived from Swamp Thing’s DNA. A henchmen bar featured in one scene is filled with familiar faces from BTAS and a phone call with Booster Gold is one of the few laugh-out-loud moments in the film.
Unfortunately, these pluses are drowned out by the sea of criticisms. Despite having BTAS co-creators Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett on board, Batman and Harley Quinn totally fails to live up to the tone and style of the seminal show. With a PG-13 rating to hit, the movie is packed full of crass humour and sexual innuendo that would be much more at home in Deadpool than The Dark Knight. When there is an extended sequence about farting in the Batmobile, you know something isn’t right. Plus, DC have unfortunately not learned their lesson from last year’s The Killing Joke and have decided to add in another emotionally-scarring sex scene…
What offended me the most was that it felt like the film betrayed its characters. I am all for comedy Batman in the right context – I love Batman ’66 and The LEGO Batman Movie. However, Batman and Harley Quinn’s level of humour is both not all that funny and comes at the expense of its characters. Conroy’s Batman is portrayed as rather dumb and goofy and Harley Quinn is depressingly sexualized and leered at throughout. Towards the film’s end, there is some exploration of Harley and Ivy’s brilliant relationship but it is too little too late to give the film any real depth.
If you think I’m being unfair by comparing this film to the franchise’s past successes, I would agree with you – if the movie didn’t so clearly encourage us to make those comparisons by paying lip service to BTAS. Batman and Harley Quinn is uneven, overlong yet undercooked – there’s not just one but two needless musical numbers (placed back to back!) – and, overall, a sad waste of the tantalising potential to return to the heights of DC animation from yesteryear.