Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) - DVD Review
By Doc - posted 12.07.03 @ 7:14 am
Written by Paul Dini, Glen Murakami, and Bruce Timm
Released by: Warner Brothers.
My Advice: Own it.
Furor and indignation about this original, uncut version's absence from the US market has at last produced the real McCoy. And I've got to say, it was well worth the wait. Clever, original, and dark, Return of the Joker distills the best of what makes Batman one of the greatest characters in comics history, and flings it fifty years into the future, to a world in which Bruce Wayne (Conroy) is too old to take up the mantle any more. His young protegé, Terry McGinnis (Friedle), matches the profile of many of the Dark Knight's "boy wonders" of yesteryear: family tragedy, thirst for vengeance, troubled past...all the Greatest Hits of Gotham City.
But now the Joker's (Hamill) back, and nobody can figure out how he managed to stay vital while his contemporaries withered into senior citizens. And worse yet, he seems to have found the most dangerous weapon of all: the secret identity of Batman, both old and new. So despite Wayne's reservations (and incredulity), McGinnis is forced to continue the battle started five decades earlier, in order to stop Joker's murderous rampage before everyone he cares about becomes a victim.
The story is classic Batman fare, facing the new Dark Knight off against his predecessor's most troublesome nemesis. Timm's crew has always handled the Joker very well--bringing out the dark, deranged psychopath instead of painting him as a ridiculous buffoon with a violent streak--and this incarnation is no exception. It's fairly easy to tell which scenes and sequences led to the controversial cuts in the original release, but the movie would lose a tremendous amount of its impact without the scenes intact as intended.
This is not to say that the plot is derivative--far from it. Despite decades of exploring the Batman mythos in comics, books, TV, and movies, Return of the Joker manages a few surprises, some of them fairly major, and manages them quite well. People with a deep knowledge of the Batman Universe will find the various plot complications clever and original, but newbies get enough backstory in flashbacks to put together the basics of what's going on. The capability to appeal to die-hard Bat-fans and newcomers alike is a sure sign of the filmmakers' success in my book.
Return of the Joker gets a solid DVD treatment. The film looks and sounds great, with no noticeable artifacting or soundtrack pops and buzzes. The commentary track with Bruce Timm and others sheds a lot of light into exactly what a monumental effort goes into creating feature-length animation, but I found there was less discussion than I would have liked into what particular facets of the original led to squeamishness on the part of the film's studio backing.
Another small quibble (though perhaps more significant to some, depending on your DVD-viewing habits) is that there is information in a few of the extras that will spoil several of the film's more dramatic plot surprises and revelations. Kind of ruins the impact of the scenes involved, and could have been easily avoided by more careful wording of things like character bios and production notes. So let that serve as fair warning: watch the film first, and explore the extras later, or you'll accidentally be robbed of the greatest possible enjoyment of the story.
These minor issues aside, Return of the Joker belongs on the rack of any fan of American animation in general, and the Timm/Dini DC comic adaptations in particular. And if you're a fan of the Caped Crusader, it's a better investment than a large percentage of the live-action Batman fare. If you've liked some of the other feature-length Batman productions by this animation team, then this should be no exception. Those completely unfamiliar with the world of Batman Beyond might be a bit confused at first, but the film stands remarkably well on its own, relying very little on knowledge of the characters drawn from the TV series.