Gotham is not and never will be Mayberry. If it was, it wouldn’t need a Dark Knight. But after years of making dark animated films, Batman’s creative team lightened up and had fun with the newest DC Universe Original Movie, “Batman and Harley Quinn,” which premiered at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday night.
For the past few years, we’ve gotten used to Ballroom 20 being a pretty grim place for these screenings; last year’s Comic-Con premiere was “The Killing Joke,” which as dark as you can get. But this year, as soon as we saw what the producers describe as the “psychedelic Bullwinkle style” of the opening titles, we knew we were in for a great ride.
The basic plot, set in the world of “Batman: The Animated Series,” has Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) and Nightwing (Loren Lester) recruiting a recently paroled Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch of “The Big Bang Theory”) to talk her BFF Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) out of a plot to turn everyone in the world into animal/plant hybrids. Harley’s not really interested in mixing it up with masks and capes again, until Batman points out everyone in the world could die.
A pretty standard superhero plot line. But then they throw in all kinds of fun bits and moments:
- Harley is waiting tables at a restaurant called “Superbabes,” where the hash is slung by girls in skimpy superheroine or supervillain suits.
- She overpowers Nightwing with a diluted form of Joker’s venom, saying it’s the only good thing she ever got “from that asshat.”
- Offscreen “naughty fun times” between Nightwing and Harley… including bondage… Robin really did grow up!
- Farting. In the Batmobile. Really.
- A sequence at a roadside henchmen’s hangout, with a lot of sexual innuendo and a barroom brawl that is heard rather than seen; the audience is instead shown graphics saying “POW!” à la the 1966 Batman series.
There are also plenty of other little Easter eggs for DC fans, and there’s a first-time appearance in the animated movie series of Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man (Kevin Michael Richardson). Other DC characters and locales also make their appearance, including a deus ex machina that I won’t spoil here.
Writer/executive producer Bruce Timm described “Batman and Harley Quinn” as “our ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’” and it’s an apt description. The humor is mixed with just the right amount of pathos, from Harley’s difficulty in finding anything better than a waitressing job to her reaction to an innocent man’s fate.
The producers were up front in admitting that Rauch as Harley was stunt casting, but she nailed the part, whether she was flirting with Nightwing or angrily explaining to Batman that there’s a difference between being a psychopath and a sociopath, or making a long, rapid-fire plea to Ivy to give up her plot.
Oh, and Rauch sings, too!
Conroy told the preview audience that the challenge of playing Batman this time was not to overplay it. He deadpans his way through the insanity, with most of Batman’s reactions being shown, generally as a smirk, rather than heard. Batman’s reaction to finding Robin and Harley in a compromising position is priceless.
Conroy said after last year’s grim, R-rated “The Killing Joke,” it was “wonderful to get a script that was the other side of the spectrum.”
And for those of us who grew up with Adam West’s Bright Knight, it’s wonderful to see that other side of the spectrum.
“Batman and Harley Quinn” will be released in theaters for one night only on August 14. Digital release August 16, DVD & BluRay August 29. Rated PG-13.