Dir. Jay Oliva & Ethan Spaulding (2014)
(Some minor spoilers ahead regarding Harley Quinn… And a somewhat big, non-Harley spoiler near the end because I needed to compare stuff.)
Overall, I quite enjoyed this film. There’s a lot of action, quality voice acting, great animation and sound, and an interesting enough story to back it all. I wish they’d called it something other than Batman because it’s really a Suicide Squad movie that Batman features in. Guess marketing didn’t feel safe without a famous name tacked onto a DC animated film. If I’d known that, I might’ve watched it sooner. Don’t get me wrong, I love Batman, but there are a ton of movies where he’s the title character. Suicide Squad would have been refreshing. Despite liking the movie as a whole, there are some big issues I have with it.
But first, back to the things I like.
The voice cast includes Jennifer Hale (Killer Frost), Troy Baker (The Joker), Nolan North (The Penguin and others), so you already know they’ll do a good job. Neil McDonough does a strong Deadshot, and likewise, Hynden Walch plays a believable Harley Quinn. While Kevin Conroy isn’t my favourite Batman voice, he doesn’t irk me the way some others do. John DiMaggio brings an unexpected humanity to King Shark.
Acting aside, I also really like King Shark’s dynamic with Killer Frost. It doesn’t develop to the point of romance, and I prefer it that way. They recognize a commonality in each other and form a friendship that’s both interesting and surprising.
On the other hand, we have Harley Quinn’s interactions with Deadshot and The Joker. Let’s get Joker out of the way first. Thank goodness Harley isn’t with Joker anymore. I think it’s common knowledge by now how abusive and unhealthy their relationship was, and how desperately Harley needed to get out of it and stay out. That message is strong enough at the start of the film. Although Harley doesn’t get back together with him (unless I missed that part), it’s unclear whether she’s willing to again by the end. That I’m not happy about. She even makes a comment that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mr. J may have slapped me around a few times, but [Batman’s] always hurting [her]” right before she tries to kill Batman. Look, Harley’s already come a long way; can DC not let her slide back down, please?
So we know Joker’s a psycho who doesn’t truly care for Harley, but Deadshot in this movie is portrayed as being more reasonable, and is in fact the leader of the Suicide Squad. Positioned as an alpha male and protagonist, you’d think DC/Warner Bros would make his treatment of Harley contrast The Joker’s treatment, right? Unfortunately, that “contrast” is sparse. Deadshot knows enough about Harley’s history to know she isn’t emotionally stable and her obvious desperation means she’ll likely seek attachment if he sleeps with her, but he does anyway. Then, for the rest of the film, he treats her like shit – yelling at her, grabbing her, shoving her away… I know Deadshot isn’t a “good guy” but what the hell? They try to make him more human with him looking at a picture of his daughter, but then treats another female character with less respect than he would a poorly trained dog. Heck, even Batman treats Harley like she’s just an annoyance. And he’s supposed to be the real “good guy”!
Now you have a bunch of kids watching this film, seeing how a model alpha male treats a female he’s already slept with, and seeing the model omega female accept it and continue to pursue his affections regardless… What message does that send about how we should treat our partners? Even casual sexual partners? That it’s okay not to give a shit about them or give them the respect due another human being with emotions. What message does it send about how to treat someone who’s been abused in the past? That it’s okay to continue abusing them if they annoy you. And what message does it send about people who have been abused? That they deserve their treatment because something must be wrong with them to be treated that way.
You know what I just realized that’s so disappointing? The only memorable male who treats a female well in this movie is King Shark (a “monster”). He has Killer Frost’s back after they share a moment of amusement. It’s actually a functional and healthy relationship. Guess what happens to them.
King Shark gets his head blown off and Killer Frost presumably dies when her car explodes. Meanwhile, Batman’s the hero, Joker gets away, and Deadshot is about to get sweet revenge on Amanda Waller with his daughter. But what about Harley? It’s presumed she ends up back in Arkham as an inmate. In other words, the people who mistreated Harley got away and Harley and the people who were good to each other were “justly punished”. Huh.