Have you ever rewatched a movie that’s one of your favorites – yet you haven’t seen it in many years? And when you do, you can remember the scenes as they happen (but you couldn’t predict them) and when you’re finished, you’re like: “Damn. I still love that movie?”
That’s the way I am with Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. I finally got around to buying a Blu-ray copy when I also purchased the two-CD, one-DVD of the David Bowie concert, Glastonbury 2000. (I’ll be reviewing that once I finish giving it a thorough listen and viewing)
When I popped Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker into my Blu-ray player, I realized it had been years upon years since I’d seen the 2000 Timmverse animated movie. That’s what happens when the last copy I had was on VHS tape and I no longer have a VHS player.
I was home late after work followed by back-to-back music rehearsals this week when I decided to watch Return of the Joker; I just couldn’t wait. It didn’t let me down. This is still one of the best straight-to-video Batman movies to be released, even including those featuring the Dark Knight in the unrelated DC Universe Animated Original Movies.
One of the things I did forget about this movie was the whopper of a voice cast. And I’m not even talking about Kevin “The Batman Voice” Conroy as the elderly Bruce Wayne or Mark Hamill as the Joker or even Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn!
Check it out: There’s Angie Harmon as Commissioner Barbara Gordon, Dean Maxwell as the adult Tim Drake and Melissa Joan Hart as the DeeDee twins. Oh – and don’t forget about Teri Garr, Henry Rollins and Rachael Leigh Cook in even smaller parts. See what I mean?!
The voice cast truly is superb. Will Friedle (Terry McGinnis/Batman Beyond) keeps up the tension we’ve come to expect with the retired Bruce Wayne. That gets cranked up when Wayne goes silent after the Joker appears at a Wayne Technology event. Angie Harmon’s naturally raspy voice (a turn-on I gotta say!) is perfect for Barbara Gordon, a middle-aged woman who has seen too much and probably been around Gotham City too long.
Mark Hamill – somehow, some way – takes the Joker to a whole other level. This incarnation is every bit as mad and as much of an anarchist as the late Heath Ledger’s is in The Dark Knight. Hamill owns every line, which in turn makes us want to see the Joker defeated once and for all. Is it any wonder Mark Hamill consistently has delivered one of the greatest Joker performances year after year?
Now keep in mind I’m not a big fan of the Batman Beyond animated series; it’s probably the one Batman property – besides the cringe-worthy, dumbed-down-for-kids The Batman – which leaves me lukewarm at best.
When Batman Beyond first came out, I watched it regularly, but I didn’t make it much into Season Two, much less Three as I realized it was missing That Certain Something Special. And in the years since it aired on TV, I’ve never understood fans’ affinity for it.
On the surface I thought my lack of interest was the lack of compelling villains. Then the light bulb went off: As much as I enjoyed hearing Kevin “The Batman Voice” Conroy being as grumpy as ever as the elderly Bruce Wayne, what left me cold was having anyone besides him as Batman – or even Dick Grayson – wasn’t going to do it for me.
So it’s kinda surprising I think so highly of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” But then again maybe not.
Think about it: This movie has all the elements I love – and it ties into events told after the final season of Batman: The Animated Series, when it was being aired as The New Batman Adventures (known for its character redesigns). Return of the Joker doesn’t just reunite Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, there’s Tara Strong as Batgirl (her fight scene with Harley Quinn is short, but oh-so sweet!) and Matthew Valencia briefly as Tim Drake’s Robin.
The early sequence and Batman Beyond’s fight with the Jokerz gang members feels like the beginning of every other Batman Beyond episode – including the inevitable failure of Terry McGinnis in his first outing with the villains. Once you get past that and you’re introduced to the Joker, the true thrust of the story, the movie starts rolling.
The Batman: The Animated Series flashback is the heart of this entire story. And it’s not just nostalgia, although it is pretty sweet seeing Batman, Batgirl and Tim Drake’s Robin onscreen again. (Did anyone else notice that the Joker’s character design, specifically his eyes returns to the early seasons and avoids the white pupils in the middle of a black abyss?) Not surprisingly, the flashback sequence is one of my favorites in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and certainly one that has stuck with me.
The scenes at the destroyed Arkham Asylum are the most heartbreaking element. Pardon the 19-year-old spoiler, but knowing that Batman and Batgirl were looking for the missing Robin for three weeks, only to find that the Joker had turned him into J.J., a spaced-out, zombie version of himself is disturbing, to say the least. It’s also the ultimate insult to the Dark Knight.
Fast-forward to the current Batman Beyond time frame of forty-plus years later and the writers deliver another shocker with how the Joker is still around. What the Clown Prince of Crime does to the adult Tim Drake stretches the limits of even fanboy/fangirl plausibility, but it’s no less devastating. (You see, I really enjoyed the early years of Drake/Robin III in the comic books – up until he became the irrelevant Red Robin.) So, in the end if you’re a Drake fan like me, this entire movie feels like one literal mind-fuck for the character.
The subtitle is Return of the Joker, but this is Tim Drake’s story as much as it is Mister J’s.
Another element I enjoy about “Return of the Joker” is the way Terry McGinnis’ Batman handles the Joker in the finale.
In the animated series, the story arcs of Batman Beyond (as I call him) habitually were written as McGinnis failing early in the episodes vs. the featured villain – only to get it all figured out to conveniently triumph in the end. Often that included technology in the new Batsuit or Batmobile. It’s a “Batman Beyond” cliché, one that bothered me even when it aired on the now-defunct WB channel.
The writers don’t go that route in the movie. For the final showdown with the Joker, Terry McGinnis turns the table on him. He gives the Clown Prince of Crime (as evil and unpredictable as he’s ever been) exactly what he never got from the original Batman – fighting dirty. Then McGinnis goes one better; he talks the Joker’s ear off, all while doing a spot-on, armchair-quarterback psycho-analysis. That’s a feisty side of Terry McGinnis I hadn’t seen before and it really works here.
The final part of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker that thrills me is the most unlikely: Ace the Bathound. I’ve always loved Ace – so there! And guess what: Terry McGinnis’ Batman finds the Great Dane useful too.
Grades – Movie: A-; Blu-ray extras: C
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