Aint She a Stinker?
Batman and Harley Quinn
There's a fine line between parody and stupidity. When it was released, there were many in the audience that felt that Batman and Harley Quinn, a comedic take on the BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. DC Animated UniverseStarted as with Batman: The Animated Series, and overseen by Bruce Timm, this universe of shows and films went onto be oneof the most influential crossover franchises in DC Comics history., missed the mark on its intended target. It was trying to be a silly, comedic romp that played within the rules of the DCAU while having fun with it as well. Instead, it really failed to understand how to comedically play within its own playground.
Don't get me wrong, there are ways to make comedy within the bounds of the DCAU. There are characters perfectly designed to be comedic, like Booster Gold or Mr. Mxtzptlk, and there were plenty of funny stories across the whole of that franchise in various episodes here or there. And, certainly, it can be fun to deflate the dark seriousness of Batman: The Animated Series from time to time. Harley QuinnCreated to serve as "Joker's Girlfriend" as well as his primary minion for Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn quickly grew to be one of the most popular characters of that show, eventually finding a solid life beyond the cartoon in comics, movies, and media., a character who started as the Girl Friday for JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled., is a person who could let the universe in for some comedic chaos. But the way the film goes about it shows the writers didn't really know what they were doing with this particular concept.
By getting all the Batman: The Animated Series voice actors back, and using the same animation style which, de facto, sets it in the same universe, the writers needed to find a way to play humorously within the bounds of the characters and their world without violating the conceit. But, instead, the creators on Batman and Harley Quinn go for cheap fart jokes, uncomfortable sexual humor, and vaudevillian gags. It's Batman filtered through Mel BrooksConsidered one of the true legends of comedy, Brooks is a writer and director who created many of the most famous, and most hilarious, parody comedies everyone constantly quotes. but without any style or grace (so, the Mel Brooks of History of the World, Part I). It's more often obnoxious than actually funny, totally ruining what could have been a good thing.
In the film, Batman (Kevin Conroy) catches wind of a plan from Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) and Floronic Man (Kevin Michael Richardson) to turn all the people of Earth into plant-human hybrids. This is because people are killing the world with their pollution, but if they change everyone into plants then they'll treat the Earth better. That plan doesn't necessarily track, though, especially once it's revealed that the formula they're devising -- a liquid contagion that will aerosolize and infect everyone without hours -- might just also kill people if they don't have the formula just right.
To try and stop the plant-based duo, Batman sends Nightwing (Loren Lester) to track down Poison Ivy's best friend, Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch). If anyone would know where Poison Ivy is, it'd be Quinn. After a bit of fighting (and then a bit of off-screen fucking), Harley convinces Nightwing, and then Batman, that she has to come along because only she can talk Ivy off the metaphorical ledge. The dynamic duo has to team up with the clown princess for the fate of the world, and chaos is sure to ensue.
In some ways this film understands its characters very well. Harley has been out of Arkham after a three year stint (which, honestly, seems low considering how much crime and murder she committed) and all she wants to do is move on. She's trying to go legit, to get out of the capes and cowls community, and to stay far away from her old life. But getting sucked back in means she needs an angle, a way to stay above it all even as she mixed with the bad crowd again. That all seems perfectly in character for her, and I like how the film spends time on her to show she can change and evolve.
Using Harley to get to Ivy is also a smart move. These two have been written as friends (and, eventually, lovers) many times before and after this film, so it's well established continuity to use Harley as a way to find Ivy. The film follows that track, and it works both in the bounds of the DCAU continuity as well as for these characters. They even get a good heart-to-heart late in the film that feels earned despite the two having very little screen time together in the film up until that point.
Where the film falls down, though, is in its humor. There is a time and a place for juvenile, sophomoric humor. I actually enjoy those kinds of stories with that kind of humor (see Harold and Kumar, Role Models, etc.). In the right context, and in the right hands, these kinds of stories can be hilarious. In a Batman-related, DCAU-adjacent story, we don't have the right context. Worse, the writers, Bruce Timm and Jim Krieg, don't really have a handle on the humor.
Bruce Timm is the mastermind of the DCAU, and I absolutely will give him all the credit he deserves. He redefined DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. media for an entire generation. He is so closely tied to DC that his entirely filmography is their works. But it's clear he hasn't really written a stoner comedy before and that what he thinks is funny in this content doesn't work when adapted to the DCAU. And as for writing partner Jim Krieg on this work, he doesn't eve have enough information out there to rate a Wikipedia page. While there are a couple of amusing small moments in this film that elicited a chuckle, the humor over all falls flat. These guys were not the ones to write this story.
What's so weird is that, despite it having Timm involved on a work that looks and sounds like a DCAU production, it doesn't feel like a proper work of the franchise. It feels, to be blunt, like fan-fiction. Official fan-fiction, yes, but all the same it's just not right. Now, Timm justifies this by saying, "well, it's not really related..." But you have to assume that if the film had been better received and had gone on to be a smash hit on home video and streaming, they'd be saying, "oh yeah, it's part of the DCAU. For sure." What he says goes when it comes to this franchise. This film tanked, people didn't like what it tried to do, and now everyone is saying, "no no, don't take it as a connected work..."
I just feel bad for everyone involved with this production. It's obvious a lot of time and care went into it, but it comes from a premise that just doesn't work. "What if we put Batman and Co. into a stoner comedy? You know, with sex jokes, and farting comedy, and all the dumb crap you expect?" Maybe with the right hero that could have worked (again, say Booster Gold). But for Batman? Not even close. The cast is game, the art is there, and the end of the world story seems okay in context. But with a weak script and bad humor, the film just doesn't come together. This is a missed opportunity and that's a real shame.