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Ever since the former Harleen Quinzel made her grand debut on Batman: The Animated Series back in the 1990s, The Joker's girlfriend has captured the darkly eccentric charm of Gotham and endeared audiences everywhere. With so much love for the psychotic psychologist, it only made sense to go all in and make her the focus of the next animated DC feature. However, Bruce Timm's Batman and Harley Quinn screened for audiences last night at San Diego Comic-Con, and while it's a fun journey back into the world of Batman: The Animated Series, Harley and Batman deserve far better than this poorly plotted, immature story.
The story of Batman and Harley Quinn is simple enough -- so simple, in fact, that it could've easily been a single 22-minute episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Boiled down to its most basic narrative, the film follows Batman (Kevin Conroy), and Nightwing (Loren Lester), as they enlist the help of Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch) on a manhunt to find Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster), who has devised a master plan to "save" the world by turning humanity into plants. You read that right; she wants to turn every human on Earth into a walking plant. Along the way, the film dives into the sociopathic mind of Harley and shows us a glimpse of Gotham through her cheerful eyes.
Batman and Harley Quinn is clearly a response to the divisive critical reaction that greeted The Killing Joke at last year's San Diego Comic-Con. The film wholeheartedly embraces itself as a lighthearted romp (if not a full blown comedy), and it is admittedly refreshing to see a version of Batman that goes all in on jokes. That said, Batman and Harley Quinn actually goes too far into the realm of camp and eventually finds itself knee-deep in an immature territory. All too often the film uses crass sexuality for easy laughs, or (literally) goes for potty humor. There's even a scene where Batman has to pull over the Batmobile because Harley farts; that's the movie we're dealing with here. Humor is one thing, but getting jokes at the expense of the established universe causes this film to suffer.
On that note, we should probably take this moment to let you know that Batman and Harley Quinn is definitely not suitable for children. DC has taken some risks in terms of content over the years, and this film is no different. It's chock full of double entendres, blood, swearing, and some fairly overt sexual content (by an animated DC movie's standards). It's aimed at people who grew up with the earliest incarnation of the character, and definitely not an entry level for young fans.
Then there's Melissa Rauch, who doesn't really wow as the titular villain-turned-anti-hero. She performs well enough -- though it's hard to compete with Loren Lester and Kevin Conroy, who are both at the top of their respective games. It's not that she's a bad Harley Quinn, but her take on the character feels more like a poor imitation of Arleen Sorkin than anything original. Rauch was saddled with a tough job, (especially when everything else feels so firmly rooted in Batman: TAS), and the final product very much seems like a mixed bag that never really balances her insanity with her sympathetic side.
However, that does lead nicely into the one thing that Batman and Harley Quinn does incredibly well: its ability to capture the spirit of Batman: The Animated Series. In terms of visuals, the film nails the animation style of that beloved show, and the "Dark Deco" aesthetic that became so popular in the 1990s makes a welcome return. It's somewhat sleeker than the show fans came to know and love (they even got rid of Nightwing's mullet), but Batman and Harley Quinn looks closer to the iconic series than any animated Batman movie since Mask of the Phantasm in 1993.
However, nostalgia can only carry a movie so far when it lacks an interesting plot and mishandles its characters. Batman and Harley Quinn did something different with a tried and true Batman formula, but it's still a far cry from the rich characterizations seen in the original animated series. If you're looking for a proper Harley, you may be better off getting your hands on Batman: The Animated Series or one of the Arkham games instead.
Batman and Harley Quinn will debut digitally later this summer on August 14, 2017, and the DVD/Blu-ray edition of the film will debut on August 29. Until then, make sure to stay tuned for more spectacularly nerdy updates as San Diego Comic-Con continues to unfold over the weekend!