Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker 2000
I’m continuing my month of animated movies switching back and forth between animation for adults, and those for younger audiences. While this isn’t exactly a kid’s film, it did spawn off of the great era of DC Animation on television starting off with Batman: The Animated Series. It was a show that while I don’t have clear memories of when I watched it, whether it was right after coming home from school or during those Saturday mornings while I was an early teen even on through my later teens, though I didn’t quite follow the show into the Batman Beyond era. I know I’ve seen a few episodes and watching this film again it reeked with familiarity, but there was never anything specific that I could put my finger on. The flashback scene also brought back more memories of the series I did watch, and overall it went quite a bit darker than I would have expected and like the series before it, Return of the Joker was a solid Batman story on par with some of the best animated movies they’ve released in recent years. And while I don’t usually mention this for older movies, since there is a large mystery aspect to this film’s story I will be discussing the reveal so don’t read if you’d rather watch the mystery unfold for yourself.
If you’re not quite familiar with Batman Beyond as a concept, it’s basically Batman in the future. It has villains with similarities to the classic rogue’s gallery only updated with a future spin, and it has plenty of cameos from the traditional Batman era, including old man Bruce Wayne as the mentor to the current, high-tech Batman Terry McGillis. This story revolves around the return of the Joker, as the title implies, only instead of being a much older version of the Joker, he’s still in his physical prime and there are some questions as to who he is or at least how he has returned. He has a gang full of a mix of Batman villain analogues, and possibly new characters, or just lesser known ones. There’s the twin future Harleys collectively named Dee Dee and voiced by Melissa Joan Hart, a future Scarecrow named Ghoul voiced by Michael Rosenbaum doing a very unsubtle Christopher Walken impression, a Hyena-man, and two clown-themed muscleheads.
The voice work is quite good, bringing back most of the voices from the Animated Series and Batman Beyond. Will Friedel is great as Terry slash the new Batman and he will eventually upgrade (downgrade) to regularly voicing Nightwing in most of the more recent animated movies. And of course, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are both back as Bruce Wayne and the Joker. What’s interesting though is that Mark Hamill also voices one of the side characters and possible suspects as a random scuzzy board member of Wayne Enterprises who wants to get the company out from under Bruce. It’s a very subtle voice and you might not catch it at first, but he ends up just being this random scuzzy board member who complies with the Joker, but isn’t him.
The entire movie is based around this mystery, several mysteries actually, all revolving around the fate of the Joker and who might be involved in bringing him back, either as a clone, android, or some other possibility. The actual truth is something that could never really be guessed, and was honestly one of the downsides in an otherwise stellar film. Eventually, Terry finds out the back story of the Joker’s death in a flashback where we get to see Batman, Batgirl, and the young Tim Drake’s Robin done in the original Animated Series style fighting the classic look of the Joker and Harley. It’s actually quite a dark and disturbing story as we find out that the Joker and Harley captured Robin, tortured him, and psychologically twisted him into being like the Joker so he can act as their son, only he manages to fight it at the last moment and kill the Joker with his bang-flag gun while Batgirl loses her grip on Harley as she falls presumably to her death. When the identity of the Joker is revealed, it turns out that during the psychological torture, he also implanted a microchip that contained the Joker’s DNA and mind and is able to physically transform the now middle aged Drake into the Joker for short periods of time that have been getting longer and longer. It’s a little too convenient and technologically unfeasible even being set in the future.
Aside from the unsatisfying reveal, the rest of the mystery was told well with a good build up and plenty of red herrings. It almost would have made more sense if Tim Drake had developed a split personality in a similar way, but instead of turning it into a technological mumbo jumbo solution, it was just done through make-up and other tech that Drake himself created, rather than something the Joker was able to pull off twenty to thirty years earlier. It also had a great climactic fight between the Joker and Terry which really helped sell the differences between Terry’s Batman and Bruce’s Batman where he comes off a little bit more like Spider-Man as Batman. But overall, it was great to revisit this which I had very little memory of besides a strong feeling that I had seen it all before. I’m still looking forward to watching the earlier home video movies based on the other Animated series, but I doubt that they’ll reach the same level that this one did. I’m also a little disappointed that I didn’t save this one until later in the month because I get the feeling it would have been a great double feature with the upcoming Killing Joke. Oh well. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.