Batman and Harley Quinn

  • Title: Batman and Harley Quinn
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2017
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Comedy, Fantasy
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Loren Lester, Melissa Rauch, Paget Brewster, Kevin Michael Richardson, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Rob Paulsen
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“Nuh-uh, I’m done with capes and tights and masks.” – Harley Quinn

“I’m not saying I don’t want to, ’cause that could be nice. All sorts of wrong, but nice.” – Nightwing

“Like you’ve never made out with a super-villain.” – Nightwing, under his breath to Batman

I really enjoyed this animated movie, in part because it is very humorous. It’s funny and makes for a nice break from the more serious animated and live action Batman films. This also seems to be set in the Batman: The Animated Series universe bringing back Kevin Conroy as Batman, Loren Lester as Nightwing, and with Melissa Rauch doing a good version of Arleen Sorkin’s Harley (additionally she’s in her B: TAS costume).

The story opens with a break-in at Star Labs, Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man are attempting to steal some information. Ivy downloads a file about Dr. Alec Holland. Batman investigates later and discovers the theft of information. He sends Nightwing to find Harley Quinn, hoping she will lead them to Poison Ivy. Batman notes that Harley went off the grid after being released on parole and that it’s rumored she “went straight”. Meanwhile, Batman heads to ARGUS where he finds out that a scientist who’s an expert in bio-weapons has disappeared.

Nightwing finds Harley at “Super Babes” a Hooters-style restaurant with the waitresses in skimpy superheroine and female supervillain inspired uniforms. They serve superhero or villain inspired food as well. When a customer grabs Harley’s butt, she smacks him down, hard. When he complains that “the broad broke my frickin’ arm”, the manager points to a sign that says: “Look all you want but don’t touch”. Nightwing then follows Harley home. He tries to convince her to help, but Harley fights him and fights well. She finally knocks him out with “low-grade Joker venom”.

Nightwing wakes tied to Harley’s bed. When Nightwing wonders why she’s working at Superbabes, Harley points out she can’t get a job as a therapist or anything else because of her nefarious history. Harley puts the moves on Nightwing. Later the two are caught by Batman.

Batman explains in the Batmobile to Harley and Nightwing that Ivy and the Floronic Man are working together to turn all people to hybrid plant/animal people. He tells them about the kidnapped scientist. After a chase scene where Harley goes after Bobby Liebowitz who made her mother cry, where Batman stops Harley from beating him too badly, Harley returns to the Batmobile to help out. She has them take the expressway towards Blüdhaven. They arrive at the henchmen’s club. Harley talks to Shruby then tells Batman she has to do something. She then goes to the stage and belts out Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone” to thunderous applause. During her number a Cat Man does the Batusi behind Batman’s back, Batman knocks him out with one distracted punch. Nightwing dances with one of the many women in the club. Harley drops the mic after her number. The room erupts in applause. Harley gets the information from Shruby and tells Batman and Nightwing. It looks like the henchmen won’t let them leave but in a shot from outside we see words briefly describing the fight, then Batman, Nightwing, and Harley in the Batmobile again.

The Batphone rings in the car, it’s Booster Gold who explains the heavy hitters are busy and most of the rest of the heroes are “at that Christening at Aquaman’s place” but Booster could send some truly C-list heroes. Batman and Nightwing tell him they’ll handle it and then fake the call dropping, which Booster notices.

Batman, Nightwing, and Harley make it to the place where Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man are holding the scientist hostage. Ivy is using her pheromones to control the scientist. There’s a fight, and then a fire breaks out. Nightwing and Batman barely survive the fire and find Harley with the scientist. He’s dying, and Harley is comforting him. He tells them that Ivy and the Floronic Man were heading to Louisiana because they need the exact water that created Swamp Thing for their plans.

The Floronic Man has Ivy eat a tuber that came from Swamp Thing – this connects them to The Green and they are able to travel to Louisiana via the Green. Meanwhile, Batman wants to leave Harley and only take Nightwing with him to Louisiana. Harley flips out but convinces them they need her. The three take the Batwing to Louisiana. There, they are joined by troops of some kind.

Harley does “betray” Batman, knocking him off a short tree bridge into the water. But she goes to Poison Ivy and tries to talk her out of her plan. Harley then releases Nightwing and Batman who have been tied up. Batman and Nightwing fight the Floronic Man while Harley fights Poison Ivy. This doesn’t go well. Finally, Harley goes to Ivy and tells her she’s going to use the “nuclear option”, she takes off her mask and makeup – and cries. Ivy is convinced. But the Floronic Man grabs the formula that Ivy has perfected. The Floronic Man and Poison Ivy fight each other. Floronic Man knocks out Ivy, but just as he’s about to release the formula – Swamp Thing arrives with quite a flourish. He simply threatens the Floronic Man telling him he’s endangering the balance of The Green, then he disappears. As Harley says, “That was a whole lot of nothing”.

Batman, Nightwing, Ivy, and several troops are still wondering what to do – when Harley asks for a match. The end credits include a scene of the Floronic Man with his bottom on fire.

I really enjoyed this movie. It’s lots of fun. There is a lot of visual humor – such as the scene at Super Babes and all the henchmen hanging out at the nightclub where Harley takes Batman and Nightwing. I also really liked how Harley is treated in this story. She is attempting to “go straight”. Because of her record, she can’t get a real job despite her psychiatrist training. Yet throughout the film, Harley is actually helping. We even see her treating the scientist with compassion when he’s dying. And when she does “betray” Batman it’s more because she wants to give her friend Ivy a chance to change her mind about her horrible plan, which could destroy all life on Earth if it went wrong. Harley’s performance at the club is also great. Yes, it’s “sexy” but she’s in complete control of her sexiness and clearly enjoying it. The movie also shows and has her talk about to Nightwing, how much she doesn’t enjoy being ogled, pinched, slapped, and goosed at Super Babes. Overall, it’s a fun film and I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Recommendation: See it, especially if you are a fan of lighter Batman.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

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Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (Spoilers)

  • Title: Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
  • Director: Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2013
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Animation, Action, Drama
  • Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, David Seltz, Mark Valley, Robin Atkin Downes, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Conan O’Brien, Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Tara Strong
  • Format: Windscreen, Color Animation
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Look, either shut it down or one of these days someone with authority is going to tell me to come to stop you. And when that happens…” — Clark
“When that happens may the best man win.” — Bruce

“Come on, finish me…. Doesn’t matter, I win, I made you lose control … and they’ll kill you for it.” — Joker

“Tonight, I am going to maintain order in Gotham City, you’re going to help me! But not with these [guns]! These are loud and clumsy! These are the weapons of cowards! Our weapons are precise and quiet! In time, I will teach them to you. But for tonight, you will rely on your brains and your fists. Tonight we are the law! Tonight I am the law!” — Batman

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a classic graphic novel that’s been in print since it’s original publication in 1986. It’s excellent, and truly raised the bar for graphic story-telling and changed comics forever. It’s the first graphic novel I ever read and one I occasionally re-read. I’m very glad Warner’s allowed two movies to be made from this big and complicated graphic novel. I was worried though that Warners would “wimp out” with the more controversial aspects of the story. I’m happy to report they did not. The political aspects of the storyline are here in full. Hooray!

Whereas the first part (film) focuses on Bruce putting the Batsuit on again and Two-Face and the Mutant gang Leader as villains, the second part focuses almost exclusively on The Joker as the primary villain, though there is still a lot going on. Even more than Part 1, television newscasts are used as a narrative device in Part 2.

In Part 2, the remainder of the Mutant Gang has split into various groups. The Sons of Batman, with their blue face paint, declare Batman as their leader and attempt to save Gotham City from other criminals – violently. The Nixons, with their tall blonde female leader, “Bruno”, rob and steal without remorse. Bruno has red swastikas painted on her breasts. Batman sets up a sting to catch her and succeeds. Superman arrives in Gotham and saves a blind man who’s fallen into a subway track in the path of an on-coming train. But the reason he’s there is to encourage Bruce to hang-up the cape again. However, the majority of the film concerns Joker.

Jim Gordon retires. The new police commissioner, Ellen Yindel, as her first act as Commissioner, issues a warrant for Batman’s arrest. When Clark and Bruce talk, Clark has a bald eagle on his arm, and Bruce pets Clark’s white dog — which is a great image!

Joker is in an asylum, being treated by Dr. Wolper. He manipulates Wolper to get him a pass and an interview on the Dave Endocrine Show. Wolper does this, and soon Joker is free. He kills Wolper with a coffee cup during the show’s taping, as well as Endocrine and his audience with his deadly Joker gas. Batman and Robin (Carrie) had gone to the show’s taping to try to stop Joker, but Yindel’s police attack Batman. The police spend so much time trying to catch Batman that they fail to stop Joker.

After escaping the chaos at the television studio, Joker finds Selina Kyle and uses hallucinogenic lipstick to control her mind, as well as one of her girls. The girl gets a Congressman to declare the country should declare open war on the Soviets before falling to his death (while wrapped in an American flag).

The president announces on TV that American troops are battling Soviet troops in the South American Island country of “Corto Maltese”. As in the graphic novel, the president looks like Reagan, and he’s voiced in the animated film to sound like Ronald Reagan, including his “folksy wisdom”. He announces a war by saying, “Now those Soviets would like to see us turn tail and run, but we’ve got to protect our interests, I mean, stand up for freedom and the good people of Corto Maltese. So don’t fret… we’ve got God on our side.” This political conflict forms the backdrop of the entire film. News is blacked out “due to severe weather”.

Batman finds out about the connection to Kyle Escorts. He finds Selina, dressed like Wonder Woman, and tied-up. She tells him about Joker and the mind-control lipstick. Batman is too late to save the Congressman.

Batman also finds out Joker’s next target is the local amusement park, which is just opening. Batman and Joker fight in the house of mirrors, where Joker shoots Batman in the shoulder. Joker escapes into the tunnel of love, and he and Batman fight again. Joker knifes Batman across the stomach and stabs him several times. Batman beats Joker, who finally collapses against a wall. Joker taunts Batman, then breaks his own neck. Batman passes out. Later, Batman awakes. He places incendiaries on Joker’s body and disappears, as Yindel’s police troops close in. Joker’s body burns and the entire tunnel blows up.

Carrie rescues Batman and takes him to the Cave where Alfred does surgery.

Reagan announces from an “undisclosed location” via television special report, American troops won in Corto Maltese, but the Soviets are “poor sports” as a missile’s been sent towards the Island nation. Superman deflects the missile and it blows up over Gotham City. Superman is irradiated, crash lands, and kills everything he touches — flowers, trees, grass, etc.

Gotham is blacked out and everyone panics. Bruce realizes it was an EMP blast. Batman and Robin ride on horseback into Gotham. Batman rallies the Sons of Batman, and later citizens and even former members of the Mutant Gang into keeping order in the city. Meanwhile, Jim Gordon organizes people in his own neighborhood to put out fires.

The country is buried under a cloud of smoke and ash. In Gotham, there is no sun, but electricity is slowly coming back on. Gotham is the only city not torn apart by crime, rioting, and looting.

The president (still Reagan) enforces martial law and sends a recovering Superman after Batman. Batman works with Carrie, Oliver Queen (formerly the Green Arrow), and Alfred on a plan. He fights Superman in Crime Alley, distracting him until Queen can fire a Kryptonite arrow at Superman. The arrow doesn’t kill Superman outright but weakens him. Batman somewhat defeats Superman, but then he falls victim to a heart attack. Superman, Diana (once, but no longer, Wonder Woman), Selina, and Jim Gordon attend the funeral. In the end, Carrie, heavily veiled, is the last to stand by Bruce Wayne’s grave.

Wayne Manor has burned to the ground, after Alfred, following Bruce’s instructions, hit the self-destruct. Alfred escapes the house but dies of a massive stroke.

There’s a cut to the sound of a heart monitor. Then, Oliver Queen begins to instruct the Sons of Batman in cleaning up the Bat Cave. Bruce arrives and states he will instruct the Sons of Batman (as well as former Mutants and other citizens who joined him the first night after the missile fell). They are now Bruce’s army.

I liked Part 1 slightly better; Part 2 seems like more of a slug-fest. However, kudos to Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Warner Brothers Animation, and DC Premiere for not shying away from the darker and more political aspects of Frank Miller’s classic book. The second half of Part 2 works really well. In the first half,  Batman’s final confrontation with Joker seems almost anti-climatic. However, though the film is dark and violent, it is also really good — with an adult story and incredible animation that evokes the art of Miller’s classic. Recommended.

Recommendation: See it!  (Though not for young children)
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Third Man

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1

  • Title: Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1
  • Director: Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2012
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Animation
  • Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Rob Paulsen, Tara Strong, Frank Welker
  • Format: Widescreen Color Animation
  • DVD Format: R 1, NTSC

“We must believe we can all defeat our own private demons.” — Bruce Wayne, during press conference

“Two abducted children were found alive in a riverside warehouse along with six critically injured members of the mutant gang. The children describe the gang’s attacker as, ‘a man dressed as Dracula.’ ” — Female Newscaster

“If it’s suicide you’re after, I have an old family recipe. It’s slow and painful — you’d like it.” — Alfred, to Bruce

“I played along as long as I could, while you and the docs had your joke. You got everyone to smile and keep their lunches down when they looked at me, pretending I looked normal. … Just look at me and have your laugh. Get it over with. At least both sides match now, right? Look at me, and have your laugh.” — Harvey Dent

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is based on Frank Miller’s incomparable graphic novel of the same name. Miller’s work changed comics for a decade, and it’s effects are still being felt. The animated film starts quickly, with no credits (they will appear at the end). Commissioner Gordon is weeks from retirement, and the Batman hasn’t been seen in Gotham City for ten years. The city is in a grip of a crime wave, mostly caused by the Mutants, a gang dedicated to horrific violence even more than crime. Bruce Wayne and James Gordon are having dinner. Gordon lightly inquires about Batman and then brings up Dick and Jason. Bruce insists he’s given up his old life, fighting crime, but isn’t happy that Gordon’s brought up the Robins.

Bruce leaves his meeting with Gordon and walks through Crime Alley, there he is reminded of his parents’ deaths and his one-time vow to stop crime. Some Mutants approach to attack Bruce, but he frightens them off. That night, he dreams about his experiences. He remembers falling down a well and being scared by bats. Unable to sleep, Bruce goes to the Batcave and stares at Robin’s shrine.  Alfred arrives, concerned. To Bruce’s own surprise, he has shaved off his mustache.

Meanwhile, at the Arkham Home, a Dr. Wolper (Michael McKean) works with Harvey Dent, to rehabilitate the criminal once known as Two-Face. Joker is also in Arkham, but completely comatose. Harvey, his face restored, and supposedly cured of his criminal bent, is released, but then disappears.

Meanwhile, back at his manor, Bruce Wayne is flipping TV channels in the middle of the night. He keeps finding news reports of Gotham’s escalating violence. But he also comes across a late night showing of The Mark of Zorro, the film he saw with his parents That Fateful Night. The film brings back bad memories of his trauma. But even as he tries to escape his memories by flipping channels, he only hears more bad news of crime and violence. Even the weather report of the on-coming storm seems dire. Bruce’s memories mix with the Voice of the Bat, calling him to return. A bat breaks through his window.

Meanwhile, Carrie and her friend Michelle have taken a short cut through The Arcade to escape the rain. Michelle is nervous because she has heard it’s a Mutant Gang hideout. Carrie pooh-poohs her fears. Then the lights go out and Mutants attack. Batman confronts the Mutants and rescues the girls. He also catches an armed robber the cops are chasing. TV news clips and reports are soon covering the story of the return of Batman from a number of perspectives. Even Carrie and Michelle are interviewed.

Alfred helps Bruce with his physical injuries and chides him that he really is getting too old for this kind of thing.

The next day, one of the thugs Batman had captured and beaten up is in Gordon’s office with his lawyer, claiming “police brutality”. Gordon simply releases the guy. This turns out to be Batman’s plan, who follows him and tortures him to get information on Two-Face.

Meanwhile, Carrie listens to her parents whining and gets sick of it, she sees the Batman symbol on a building and is heartened.

Gordon meanwhile has contacted Batman. He tells Batman two helicopters were stolen the previous night. Batman responses he didn’t get much out of Two-Face’s lackey,  just that the crime was going down the next day. Gordon responds that it makes sense since it’s Tuesday and the second of the month. Then Two-Face breaks into the television signal of a news report. He claims to have two bombs and he will destroy the Gotham Life Building (which has two towers) unless he’s paid off with Twenty-two million dollars, and he gives the citizens of Gotham twenty-two minutes to comply.

Batman defuses one bomb, but he’s attacked when he tries to cross on a line to the other tower. Harvey Dent (Two Face) and Batman crash through a window into the other building. There Batman pulls off Harvey’s bandages, but he looks normal. Harvey, however, is delusional and thinks that both sides of his face are horribly disfigured and scarred.

On TV, a point-to-point debate pits pro-Batman Daily Planet managing editor, Lana Lang, against anti-Batman author Dr. Wolper. More news clips follow the rising debate.

Carrie dresses as Robin.

A newscaster reports that James Gordon has been killed, then admits she “read it wrong”, James Gordon killed a Mutant gang member.

Carrie tries out being Robin and discovers her fear of heights, but slowly she starts to get it.

The Mutants kidnap a wealthy family’s two-year-old heir; Batman rescues the child and defeats the Mutants.

The screen goes completely dark as Batman questions a suspect, eventually, he takes his hand away from the man’s eyes, and reveals he’s holding him over the Gotham city streets far below.

Carrie stops a purse snatching.

Batman confronts the general who sold military-grade arms to the Mutants.

Batman and separately, Carrie, go to the Gotham dump to confront the Mutants. Bruce is badly beaten by the Mutant Leader. Carrie manages to get him inside the Batmobile, which looks like a tank. Bruce orders the car back to the cave, despite Alfred’s pleas to go to the hospital. He takes Carrie with him and tells Alfred she will be trained as a Robin. Alfred isn’t hot on the idea. Bruce also goes deep into the cave, alone, to confront his demons. He decides to continue as Batman. He flashes back to the loss of his parents.

On TV, again Lana Lang and Dr. Wolper debate about Batman. Carrie stares at the Robin memorial in the cave.  The mayor appoints a female, anti-Batman police commissioner, Ellen Yindel. The mayor also offers to meet with the Mutant leader to arrange appeasement.

Alfred tries to talk to Bruce about his plans. When he doesn’t appear to be getting through, he brings up Jason. Bruce refers to Jason as a “good soldier” but that the war must go on. He has Carrie undercover as a Mutant pass along a message for all the Mutant gang members to meet at “the Pipe”.

Gordon talks to Yindel, trying to explain to her why he approves of the Batman. When the mayor is killed by the Mutant leader during their “peace treaty”, Gordon agrees with Batman’s plan and sees to it the Leader is able to escape.

Batman again confronts the Mutant leader. They fight in the mud by the Pipe, in front of all the Mutant gang members. Batman uses his smarts as well as his fighting abilities to defeat the Leader. As a result, the Mutant gang is broken up. Gordon’s officers arrest several, others break off into other splinter gangs. One gang, the Sons of Batman, insist on “actions not words” and attack other criminals.

Gordon turns in his badge and gun, retiring. Ordinary citizens start to stand up to violence, a man stops a mugging in front of his store. The TV news clips airs other clips, both pro and con Batman and the new reality.

The Joker awakes as he hears the news.

The story will be continued in part 2.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is awesome! The story is straight from Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, and the animated film does not hold back. This is a dark, and violent story with lots of blood. But the animation is also awesome. Many of the images are truly memorable, and often it is the images that tell the story, especially Bruce Wayne’s flashbacks to his parents’ murder and becoming Batman.

Meanwhile, Gotham City is a mess — without Batman, violence, especially gang violence, has taken over the streets and ordinary people have no hope. The constant TV news cashes in on the violence and “bad news”, offering no reprieve from the sense of gloom and hopelessness.

The film realistically portrays an older Bruce Wayne, with a lined face, who groans and creaks when he returns to the life of  Batman. Commissioner James Gordon is also considerably older, and ready to retire.

Television news dominates the lives of everyone in Gotham, and even Carrie gets on TV to tell the story of how she was rescued in the Arcade (by a man — seven feet tall!). Like the graphic novel, much of the structure of the actual story is told in the comments of the newscasters, and people they interview. Much of this is also full of irony and dark humor, such as the man who advises that criminals need to be rehabilitated back into society — then acknowledges that he “doesn’t live in the city”.

The animation in the film is incredible! Not only is it very real-looking, but it’s dark and has the slightly “washed” look of the original graphic novel. Great images abound, as well as novel things such as a scene that’s completely black, with only audio to tell you what Batman’s doing. Uses of flashes of lightning or gunshots or other bright, sudden sources of light are also used in other scenes. The overall effect is of watching a moving graphic novel.

The plot of the film is an excellent adaptation of the graphic novel. Not only is Batman brought back after a gap of ten years, but he confronts two main villains beyond his own age: The Mutant gang, notably their leader, and Two-Face (Harvey Dent). Both these villains are psychologically interesting and complex. The Mutants look like punks, and act like them too — committing horrible acts of violence not for money or to survive, but because they can. In other words, they are bullies – pure and simple. And like any bully, when Batman defeats their leader in front of the entire gang, the gang itself falls apart.  Some members of the gang decide to follow Batman instead. The other villain is Harvey Dent. This film doesn’t go into too much detail about Harvey’s backstory, however, Bruce Wayne has personally paid for Harvey’s rehabilitation. Harvey’s face is rebuilt, and a “psychologist” is employed to help re-build Harvey’s broken psyche. Yet when he’s released from Arkham, Harvey goes straight back to his life of crime. When Batman catches up to him, Harvey is completely delusional – convinced his face is now horribly scarred on both sides, and that’s how it was made to “match”. Bruce is crushed – in a way he’s sympathetic because he also can only see himself as Batman.

The film is very violent, and there’s just a lot of blood. If you’ve read the graphic novel, this isn’t surprising, but if you’re only familiar with the DC animated universe and original films — this one is considerably more adult in tone and imagery. The rating is PG-13, and it should be at least that, if not limited to 15-year-olds and up. But overall I highly, highly recommend it. If you loved the graphic novel, you will really love this film.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2