Warner Bros. Animation goes 90s retro with Batman and Harley Quinn. It is written by Bruce Timm and Jim Krieg, who created the classic Batman: The Animated Series. The characters and style are drawn from the 1992 television show, but it is much more lighthearted. The film is quite campy. It is tonally very different from the recent batch of thematically dark cartoons of the DC Universe. Some scenes are laugh out loud funny, while others are over the top silly. It is a muddled effort that doesn’t quite gel. The third act falls apart completely. I appreciate the humor, but there needed to be a more cohesive story.
Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester return as Batman and Nightwing. The dynamic duo investigates a break in at a top secret lab by Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) and Floronic Man, aka Jason Woodrue (Kevin Michael Richardson). The files stolen lead to another mystery concerning a missing virologist (Rob Paulsen). The Caped Crusader fears that a biological weapon is being made. They need to find Poison Ivy immediately.
Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch) disappeared after her stint in Arkham Asylum. As Poison Ivy’s best friend and former partner in crime, she’s the best person to track her down. But they have to find her first. Nightwing scours the city for the Joker’s ex-flame. He finds her in a very unusual place, and has an even harder time convincing her to help.
Batman and Harley Quinn puts the characters in sitcom situations. There’s a lot of levity and sexual innuendo. A bedroom scene between Harley and Nightwing is a humdinger. I laughed myself into the ground. Nothing in the DC animated portfolio comes close humor-wise. This is when you think, wow, they’re going for something different here. The greatness of that scene vanishes like dust in the wind. We then go back to the hodgepodge of hunting Poison Ivy, with a rascally Harley Quinn in tow. It’s a scattershot approach that detracts from the good. There’s too much of a swing between playful entertainment and goofy hijinks. That’s more reminiscent of the 60s Batman TV show.
Melissa Rauch is a bit screechy as Harley Quinn. At some points I felt I was hearing Bernadette yelling from The Big Bang Theory. This may honestly be because I’m so used to hearing Arleen Sorkin voice Harley. She’s done the character for years across multiple platforms. Rauch feels hardtack in her approach. At some points she hits the humorous notes, e.g. the bedroom scene. Director Sam Liu needed to make that vocal inflection standard for the character throughout the film.
The finale of Batman and Harley Quinn leaves a lot to be desired. I think the filmmakers thought the ending would be cute. It’s not. It comes of as stupid and nonsensical. That’s a bizarre turn with the experienced team behind the production. Sam Liu has made over ten DC films and numerous television episodes. His take on the DC Universe is violent and bleak. Bruce Tim and Jim Krieg’s screenplay is not. It doesn’t feel like the writers and directors were on the same page.
Batman and Harley Quinn has several faults, the lackluster ending being the primary culprit. That said, the success of the bedroom scene, and a few others, really prop up the entertainment value. The overall narrative of finding Poison Ivy fails. Harley Quinn and Nightwing as an item does not. That’s bold new territory. I would have preferred the entire film explore that storyline. From Warner Bros. Animation and DC, Batman and Harley Quinn eeks out a recommendation for the laughs. It was different and unexpected, so that alone warrants viewing by the fan base.