Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Directed by Curt Geda.
Starring the voices of Will Friedel, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Angie Harmon, Dean Stockwell, Melissa Joan Hart, Arleen Sorkin and Frank Welker.
This was, without a doubt, the most anticipated straight-to-video movie of all time. All of us fans of Batman waited in breathless anticipation for the October 24 release date. Then, we all gasped in horror. With violent kids programming having become a U.S. election issue, it was pushed back to Dec. 12 to be re-edited and made more “kid-friendly.” Many were quick to decry this “butchery,” and our breathless anticipation turned to nervousness. How would the Batman stand up to his most ruthless enemy: censorship? Luckily for me, it came out in Canada on November 28, two weeks ahead of the yankees, so I was among the first to find out.
I was quite successful in keeping myself spoiler-free, so I’ll do the same to you. Our film opens with Batman (Friedel) breaking up the Jokerz gang (among which are the voices of Joan Hart and Welker) as they swipe some high-tech equipment. When Batman returns to the Batcave to become Terry McGuiness and confer with Bruce Wayne (Conroy), he expresses his puzzlement. Jokerz usually don’t swipe this kind of stuff. But, they have other concerns. Bruce Wayne is about to once again become the active CEO of Wayne Enterprises, a decision that doesn’t sit too well with Wayne Enterprises exec Jordan Price (Hamill). But, all this has to wait for the gala to celebrate Wayne’s return. At the party that night, the Jokerz soon turn up to crash the party, and much to Bruce Wayne’s shock and horror, they are lead by the one, original Joker (also Hamill), and hardly aged a day. With the return of Batman’s mightiest foe, Wayne urges McGuiness to hang up the cape, but McGuiness refuses, determined to bring in the Joker. Both Wayne and Comissioner Barbara Gordon (Harmon) want McGuiness out of this affair and won’t say why. Why does Wayne want McGuiness to hang up the Batsuit? Why does the Joker want all this high-tech equipment? How did the Joker survive for 50 years and not age? What really happened when the first Batman and the Joker had their final battle 50 years ago? To get his answers, Batman will have to delve into the past of the original Batman and seek out a long-forgotten ally: a 60-year old communications engineer by the name of Tim Drake (Stockwell).
When I first watched this, I was amazed. This was, without a doubt, the best interpretation of Batman Beyond to date. While not quite the “darker and more anime-like” interpretation we were originally promised, it was still better than the average Beyond episode. I have to point this out, but I’ll try and keep it spoiler free. The flashback, in which we see Batman’s final battle with the Joker and Harely Quinn is very, very creepy, and the ultimate fate of Robin is rather disturbing. And then, the final battle between the Joker and Batman (McGuiness Batman, that’s the only problem with a movie like this) is beautifuly done. And how they bring the Joker into the future is ingenious. Then, after this, I went online, and read the list of cuts that were made. I saw screenshots of the scenes that were dropped and/or re-animated. Then I saw the film again. And you know what? This is still one damn fine movie. Even though they toned down how twisted the Joker is, the strength of the story remains. Seek it out. I was not disappointed. And after you see it, I’ll tell you what was cut, and then you can decide.