“Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” still holds up. It isn’t as good as I remembered it being, but it is still easily a favorite and does some really creative stuff with the Bat Family, seriously…this blows the modern day DC Animated Films out of the water. There simply isn’t a comparison in quality and storytelling and I think most of that credit goes to Bruce Timm who managed to make Superman interesting enough to receive an entire Animated Series and to have created two successful renditions of the Justice League…outside of creating the best Batman on screen.
The film was directed by Curt Geda and written by Paul Dini (though Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami wrote the story too) and produced by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami.
The story takes place in the universe of “Batman Beyond” which takes place years into the future where Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) has become an adviser and mentor to the new Batman Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle) in Future Gotham. When the Joker (Mark Hamill) resurfaces after being dead for 35 years it is up to Terry to solve the mystery and discover the dark secret of why Batman was working alone when he found him.
The Pros: The World – The world of Future Gotham is fantastic! A new Batman, Barbara as the new police commissioner and the use of future tech in gang warfare are fascinating. As much as Gotham has changed, it has also stayed the same…which is fitting.
The Animation – This is WB animation with Bruce Timm at the helm and it rocks! The animation is unique and has a simple yet beautiful style to it. Each character looks distinct and Gotham looks like a true future city.
The Characters – The characters are why we’re here. They drive the story and it is that core drama between Bruce Wayne and the Joker and his drama with the Bat Family old and new. These core relationships drive the story.
The Jokerz – The Jokers are awesome and Dee-Dee are twins that are grandaughters of Harley Quinn, carrying on her legacy in their own way. They have cool look with a ghoul looking guy, a fat clown in a mask, a Scarecrow type and a man with Hyena blood spliced into him.
Harley Quinn – Harley is a messed up character who seems to have grown up by the end. She is one of the tormentors of Robin and takes part in the abuse and torture Joker puts on the populace, but when we see her as an old woman she regrets it all. She’s done and just wants to take care of her family. She healed from the trauma the Joker did to her, which is powerful.
Tim Drake / Robin – Tim Drake is the last Robin in the Batman Universe and we learn why in this as he is tortured and turned into Little J by the Joker and Harley. After he is rescued and kills the Joker he is left with the trauma and scars that Barbara helps him through. Joker still won to some degree though as the micro-chip the Joker installed on him leads to the Joker taking control of him until Terry McGinnis can rescue him. In the end Bruce reaches out and expresses how lucky he is know Tim.
Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – Barbara is the one taking care of everyone as she is mature enough to deal with her trauma and others’ trauma (unlike Bruce Wayne). It is thanks to her that Terry finds out that Tim is the Joker and from there how to stop him. She really is an awesome character!
The Joker – Hamill is back as the Joker in the past (when he dies) and the future with his technology rebirth! He is such a great villain. He not only broke Harley making her a villain but broke Tim almost making him another villain and breaking him enough that Tim killed him the first time. This isn’t the end though, he destroys the Batcave, Wayne Manor, Laugh Gasses Bruce and a good portion of Gotham with a lazer. Seriously, not a single Joker compares to this besides Ledger’s in “The Dark Knight.”
Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce deals with his trauma finally and we see him begin to heal as he faces the fact that he cut himself off from everyone, but thanks to Terry he begins to heal things with Tim and Barbara bringing the Bat Family back together again.
Terry McGinnis / Batman – Terry is the glue and the main driving force as we see him dealing with being both Terry and Batman and in the end finds he is Terry as Batman, not the other way around as he defeats the Joker not by being Bruce but by mocking him and being himself and forcing the Joker to be stupid and tricking him. Terry is an amazing Batman and I’m glad he’s official canon now. He’s a Batman I’d like to see in live action films. This film shows why. He’s a punk who grew up and now does everything he can to help others.
Tim Drake’s Story and the Death of the Joker – This incident is why Bruce went loner. Tim kills the Joker breaking the rule and lives with the guilt from that only for Joker to win anyway…Not only did Joker destroy the Bat Family, he lived on from the trauma caused by that day. There is reason he is one of the greatest villains of all time.
Timeless Batman – Batman can work in any environment or world and it doesn’t have to be Bruce. This film showed as much, Terry has his own darkness as Bruce does but unlike the Joker it doesn’t define them and it is their classic rivalry against what the Joker represents in chaos that really makes Batman timeless. All of Bruce Timm’s Batman work shows as much as he explores the Batman of the future in Terry McGinnis and in the past in Bruce Wayne. Batman is about overcoming your demons and using that to help others and that is what they do.
Okay: Side Characters – Dana and Bruce Wayne’s rival and Terry’s family are just kind of there. They exist in relationship to Terry and Bruce and don’t feel like full characters. They are good for their function in the script but could have been more…this movie should have been longer.
The Soundtrack – It is quite at times and besides the Beyond opening theme isn’t all that great. It works but it isn’t a pro.
This is a film well worth your time if you are a fan of Batman. Bruce Timm and this world were a world I grew up watching and it holds up stronger to this day. Seriously, this film blows all of the “New 52” films out of the water. You get to know the characters, no characters are unstoppable and the flaws of characters are on display always. The world of Gotham feels lived and there is so much history which you’d come to know from this film even if you’d never watched “Batman: The Animated Series” or “Batman Beyond.” This film stands on its own and is one of the darker films in the Universe that still manages to hold a place for healing and hope for the characters. If you get the chance, check it out!
Final Score: 9.5 / 10