Retrospective: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

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In many ways, animated films suffer from the same problem that games do. Too many ignorant old people believe that just because something’s animated, it’s for kids. This is certainly not the case as the dark content of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is only too quick to prove. After the jump you’ll find my retrospective review for one of the greatest Batman films ever made.

Futuristic bracelets attract electricity... and dogs

As far as I’m concerned, in the pre-Nolan Batman world, there were two Caped Crusader films that stood cowl and shoulders above the rest. No, it wasn’t Burton’s two Batman films (even though they were certainly of merit); instead, it was two animated films. The first and my honest-to-God top pick as best Batman film of all time prior to Batman Begins/The Dark Knight was Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Seven years later, along swung Batman: Return of the Joker and absolutely blew my mind. Well, kinda.

You see the problem, as with far too many things in the world, was that some wanker dictated that our viewing eyes weren’t capable of viewing the full awesomeness of the original cut of Return of the Joker. Instead, we were forced to watch a version a shorter and altered cut of the film, apparently due to the then recent Columbine shootings. I bought the cut version–the only available copy in Australia at the time–on glorious old-school VHS and was torn with the results. The clearly dark plotline, that I don’t want to ruin for anyone who hasn’t seen it, was intercut with bits that felt out of place.

Mere moments before I binned these ancient entertainment relics

It wasn’t until years later when I imported an uncut DVD copy of the film–that still holds a place of pride in my DVD collection–that I realised exactly why the film felt off. It was never meant to be censored. It was always meant to be dark and, surprisingly, confronting.

It’s difficult to break down the plot of the film without giving away reveals. For those unaware, this animated film is set in the Batman Beyond universe; a sequel of sorts to the incredibly awesome Batman: The Animated Series. Bruce Wayne is brought to life by Kevin Conroy, the man who is the true voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne. If you never saw The Animated Series, he’s the guy who brings Batman to life in the Arkham games. The same is true of Mark Hamill in his ever-haunting portrayal of the Joker. He nailed the voice of the Joker in The Animated Series, he did the same thing in the Arkham games and he’s at the top of his game in Return of the Joker. Forget Luke Skywalker, what Hamill can do with his voice alone–swinging from childish goofball one moment to homicidal maniac the next–is nothing short of astounding. Whenever I watch The Dark Knight and hear Heath Ledger’s Joker laugh, I hear more of Hamill in it than any other actor that’s portrayed the greatest villain ever created.

This DVD still sits in my collection

But, back to the plot. Bruce Wayne is an old man now, reliant on a cane for mobility but still in possession of all of his faculties. Terry McGinnis is the new Bat on the block and, under the expert tutelage of Bruce Wayne, is a worthy new Caped Crusader. One of Gotham’s new gangs who call themselves the ‘Jokerz’ have started jacking serious hardware which extends beyond their usual petty thieving selves. It doesn’t take long for a man who looks and sounds like the original Joker to appear. But is he an impostor or has the Clown Prince of Crime somehow managed to cheat the ageing process and make a triumphant return?

That’s about as much as I’m willing to give away. Beyond this, you can expect some kick-ass fight scenes, clever twists and a killer soundtrack that merges techno, soaring rock ballads and orchestral music. The only real letdowns are some out-of-place childish jokes along with some (thankfully fleeting) lazily animated moments and backdrops. I went back and watched it before writing up this retrospective review and it was just as awesome as I recalled. Just remember that you need to find the uncut version if you want to watch this film, otherwise your experience with this film will be forever tainted by the awesomeness that could have been.

9/10

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  • The Chad

    Oh man, how I loved the hell out of this. After spending a few months (several months ago) watching through The Animated Series, Mask of the Phantasm (and other assorted TAS movies) and The Beyond Series, Watching Return of the Joker felt like all of the prior viewing was just a lead up to this event. It really was something I had to rant and rave about the next day at work :P

    Hot damn! I am so watching this again tomorrow!

  • The Chad

    Was awesome :P

  • Anonymous

    Yeah you are. It’s so incredible. I watched it again the other night and it still held up. Still! Even after Nolan has respected the shit out of Batman.