After 10 years and 30 animated films, the brain trust behind the DC Universe Animated Original Movies is long overdue for replacement. The series has always dabbled in mature themes and language, generally for no discernible reason other than the dubious honor of a gritty PG-13 or even R rating, but here they’ve managed to sink to a new low. What should have been a lighthearted team-up of unlikely allies has instead turned into a sickening example of creators run amok, displaying no respect for their characters or audience.
The setup is straightforward: Poison Ivy and her leafy ally The Floronic Man hatch a plan to turn all humans into plants by releasing a toxin, thereby ending the destruction of the environment. I’d never heard of Floronic Man before, but he’s basically an evil Swamp Thing with similar powers. Batman and Nightwing get wind of the plot and think that their only hope to locate the baddies is to first find reformed villain and Ivy pal Harley Quinn, now attempting to live off the radar as a civilian. Once they track her down and convince her to join their cause, the film settles into a very basic "chase ‘em and beat ‘em up" scenario. If only the execution could have been that basic.
Bruce Timm co-created Harley Quinn during the 1990s Batman animated TV series. He also came up with this film’s story and co-wrote the teleplay. One would expect that he would oversee his creation with some level of respect here, especially considering how integral and popular she has grown to be in the overall DC Universe. One would be sorely mistaken. Although the film takes design cues from the ‘90s series, including Harley’s classic jester costume, she isn’t the original waif anymore, she’s a curvaceous, foul-mouthed, crude young woman seemingly placed here solely to appeal to creepy 12-year-old boys and DC Universe producers.
The film goes wildly astray as soon as Harley enters the picture. Nightwing tracks Harley down at her new waitressing job at Superbabes, a female superhero cosplay restaurant where she’s cosplaying as herself while being ogled and groped by the clientele. Right from her opening shot, she’s bent over to expose the goods under her short skirt. When Nightwing confronts her after work, she knocks him out and takes him home, where she ties him to her bed to keep him captive, somewhat empowering until she strips down to her underwear to change out of her work outfit and again bends over for the camera’s (and Nightwing’s) lingering gaze at her bottom. It’s so blatant it would even embarrass anime fans accustomed to seedy fan service. Unfortunately, it gets worse.
Upon making a remark about “little Boy Wonder, all grown up” while staring at Nightwing’s crotch, she proceeds to put his restraints to good use. Thankfully, the scene finally cuts at that point rather than devolving into a montage of their tryst, although even that wouldn’t have been surprising in this project. While she does eventually assist in tracking down Poison Ivy, she doesn’t really exhibit any further powers along the way aside from passing gas twice in the backseat of the Batmobile, gyrating provocatively on stage while belting out a Blondie song, and crying on cue to throw Ivy off her game. As a final indignity, Ivy punches her in the breast during their closing fight. Why? Why is that in the script? Why is any of this tripe there? It’s so discouraging to see the character reduced to Timm’s current depraved vision, especially in the same summer that has seen DC cohort Wonder Woman soar to cinematic heights.
While the film has very little to recommend, it is a treat to see Batman teaming up with Nightwing instead of Robin for a change, especially since both characters are voiced by their original ‘90s animated series actors, Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester.
Blu-ray bonus features are brief segments on Harley and Loren Lester, two bonus cartoon episodes from classic DC animated series, as well as a peak at the next DCU animated movie, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. Here’s hoping for the best, because it’s hard to imagine it getting worse. The Blu-ray is available as a standard combo pack, as well as a limited edition gift set featuring the pictured Harley figurine, thankfully with no points of articulation.