Bruce Timm is one of the most important figures in DC Entertainment’s history. He is responsible for not only developing Batman: The Animated Series alongside Alan Burnett and Paul Dini, but also introducing the fan favorite character, Harley Quinn to the DC television universe and, subsequently, the DC universe as a whole. What started off as a one-shot character blossomed into one of the most popular DC characters of all time, becoming a mainstay in the DC Universe and resulting in her own comic book title (twice) and her big screen debut in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Her increasing popularity has resulted in a brand new animated movie, Batman & Harley Quinn, executive produced by Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett.
In this film, Batman and Nightwing are forced to team with the Joker’s sometimes-girlfriend Harley Quinn. The trio work to stop a global threat brought about by Poison Ivy and Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man. Sadly, this was a bit of a disappointment. It comes as an even more intense blow due to 2017 being a year where DC has been releasing some amazing content.
One thing that is always a positive in even the worst DC animated movies is the voice cast, especially when it comes to Kevin Conroy’s portrayal of Batman. When dealing with Harley Quinn, hilarity is bound to happen, and it is fun to hear Conroy’s impeccable comic timing. Same can be said for Loren Lester, whose returning to the role of Dick Grayson/Nightwing for the first time since the end of Batman: The Animated Series is long overdue. While he’s no Andrea Romano, Wes Gleason still does a fantastic job filling out the rest of the cast with some great voice talent, including John DiMaggio, Kevin Michael Richardson, Rob Paulsen, Eric Bauza, and Paget Brewster. This was one of Batman & Harley Quinn‘s only true positives. Everything else left me with very mixed feelings.
For example, the animation here is alright and much better executed than in last year’s The Killing Joke. That being said, it is still not exactly high quality. For a direct-to-video feature, it does the job well enough, but I honestly expected better. The backgrounds look really nice, almost like paintings. However, one problem I have with this movie is the same problem I had with the 2006 animated film Superman: Braniac Attacks. It shares a similar style to B:TAS, but it is not explicitly set within the same continuity. On that note, parents, do NOT buy this movie for your kids, because it is definitely more geared towards adults (even if it is not R-rated).
Speaking of which, let me just address this now: Bruce Timm’s credibility is slowly but surely going down the same tube as late-era Frank Miller, and that is a big problem. I don’t know exactly what has happened, but he has become increasingly more obsessed with playing out his weird comic book fantasies as opposed to telling compelling stories. I’m not necessarily saying that this one was total crap, but it is simply that his contributions seem to have gotten in the way of what co-writer James Krieg and director Sam Liu seemed to be trying to accomplish.
What were these two trying to accomplish? On paper, it is a pretty epic story that’s not quite big enough to involve the entire Justice League, but big enough for Batman to require some backup. Outside of our main protagonists, they picked out some deep cuts for supporting characters. I never would have imagined Poison Ivy teaming up with the Floronic Man, yet it totally makes sense. Meanwhile, while Nightwing is hunting down Harley Quinn, Batman pays Sarge Steel a visit at A.R.G.U.S. All around, it seems to be the recipe for success in the DC Animated Universe. Unfortunately, that is simply not the result we got as fans.
Fans of Harley Quinn will have the most to say about this movie, since she’s right at the center of the action. The idea of Harley as a protagonist is nothing new, as I mentioned before her two solo comic titles and a prominent role in the Suicide Squad, both on the page and the screen. Hell, Bruce Timm has played with this concept before in the Batman: The Animated Series episodes “Harlequinade” and “Harley’s Holiday.” As shallow as this is going to sound, the biggest problem I have with Harley’s portrayal in this movie is the vocal performance by Melissa Rauch. First off, where was Tara Strong that she wasn’t available to reprise the role? Was it a scheduling conflict, or did WB/DC want a celebrity to sell the movie? Second, taken on its own merits, I just didn’t find her performance all that great. I don’t care that she doesn’t sound exactly like Tara Strong, or even the original voice actress Arleen Sorkin. I just didn’t buy her as Harley Quinn, though, it doesn’t help that her dialogue gets incredibly wordy. That’s not easy for any voice actor, but it’s especially difficult for a relative newcomer behind the booth.
Ultimately, my problem with the movie comes down to tone. I don’t think this movie quite understands what it wants to be. There are great elements that carry it to the fresh threshold, but nothing really gels as well as previous DC films. I can still recommend Batman & Harley Quinn for those who might be curious, but otherwise, you’re better off revisiting Bruce Timm’s more memorable works.
Michael’s Score: 6/10