In the wake of a controversial adaptation of ‘The Killing Joke’, the 29th film from DC’s Animated Originals series – Batman and Harley Quinn – returns to arguably safer territory, reuniting the team behind the much-loved Batman: The Animated Series for what is essentially a new, feature-length episode picking up where the cartoon left off.
Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester return to voice Batman and Nightwing respectively, while Jim Krieg joins the much-lauded Bruce Timm as co-writer. This means Timm – the mastermind behind Batman: The Animated Series (and co-creator of Harley Quinn) – is making his first return to the DC Animated Universe since 2006, so it’s a big deal, and expectations for Batman and Harley Quinn are high as a result. Conroy and Lester reprising their roles also gives this legitimacy as an official continuation of the original show, though in that respect it’d be good to see the entire voice cast return
Clearly, this film comes with a lot of baggage that has potential to influence your enjoyment of it. Fans of the TV show are sure to be delighted, as it feels in almost every respect like a new episode.
The plot sees Batman and Nightwing attempting to stop Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man from turning the world’s population into plants. Aiding them in their quest – perhaps less reluctantly than Batman would like – is a newly-reformed Harley Quinn, voiced by the Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch. Harley has special insight into Ivy’s behaviour due to their long association, but she’s also out to prove that she’s a useful ally to the heroes.
The film’s biggest strength is the interplay between its main characters, and Timm understandably gives Harley Quinn the majority of the focus and development, with her attempts to go straight providing moments of both comedy and pathos. The tone of the movie in general is upbeat, befitting the saturday morning origins – though it’s unquestionably at the far comedic end of what the cartoon aimed for. A few DC Universe cameos provide thrills for the longtime fans, while the story itself is well-written enough to engage for its running time.
It’s a shame, then, that it’s rendered unsuitable for kids by some incredibly out-of-place sexual content that, let’s face it, exists solely because Harley is a female character. A barely-consensual sex scene registers as particularly gratuitous. The abruptly truncated plot also speaks to the film’s interest in replicating the cartoon experience ahead of a cinematic one. You can skip the denoument when the story’s 25 minutes long, but after an hour and change it’s the wrong choice to leave the conclusion implied.
Despite this, it’s a fun and watchable return that avoids wallowing in nostalgia, and there’s an undeniable joy in seeing these characters back on screen toether. While a more complete plot would’ve been appreciated, it makes a convincing argument that the Batman Animated Series could hold up were it to return – though the excessively titillating quality to Harley’s sexuality suggests that it’s creators are perhaps more in the past than we’d like to admit.
‘Batman and Harley Quinn’ is in cinemas for one night only 14 August 2017, on Digital Download from 15 August 2017 and on Blu-ray and DVD from 28 August 2017.