The sleeker, more dangerous and seemingly immortal Clown Prince of Crime is back to terrorize Futuristic Gotham City, the new generation’s Batman and the aging Bruce Wayne.
With the creation of “Batman Beyond” came several questions the fans needed to know.
And two of the biggest were answered with gusto with 2000’s “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.”
It’s approximately 50 years into the future…Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) has retired from active crime-fighting, preferring instead to monitor his protégé in the field: Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle). McGinnis lost his own father under tragic circumstances and now has taken up the mantle in a thirst for revenge. McGinnis patrols the streets of Gotham in a souped-up Batsuit.
As the film opens, Terry comes across a new group of Jokerz (a notorious Gotham street gang) who are involved in a high tech robbery from WayneCorp, which puzzles him, as it doesn’t fit the typical M.O. of the gang. His investigation leads to cover ups and secrets and things only becoming more confusing with the reappearance in Gotham of Batman’s greatest arch nemesis — The Joker (Mark Hamill), thought to be long dead.
But is he who he really claims to be?
Bruce relieves Terry of his vigilante duties without any explanation.
Hurt and confused, McGinnis turns to Barbara Gordon, the once Batgirl, who is now the commissioner of police, to learn about what happened the tragic night that Batman had his final confrontation with the Joker so many years ago.
Now when Warner Brothers first announced the “Batman Beyond” television series and its parameters, I (like so many Batman fans) met it with hesitation and skepticism. For all of us, Bruce Wayne will solely be the man beneath the cowl.
But by going in with an open mind, I was pleasantly surprised and ended up loving the show. It doesn’t alter the mythos established in “Batman: The Animated Series.”
The conscientious choice in “Beyond” to sacrifice character development (at least the level found in “Batman: The Animated Series”) for action when introducing a new (and if I may add, interesting) rogues gallery ensured that “Beyond” would never reach the classic status of its predecessor. Even though I loved how well future Gotham was portrayed and was pleasantly surprised how well Japanimation complemented the look and feel of the series, the best Batman stories have always been the ones which probed the psychological conflict between Batman and his adversaries. This is where the adventures of Terry McGinnis might fall short.
But “Return of the Joker” more than makes up for it.
Unlike “Mystery of the Batwoman” and “Sub Zero,” which act more like minor side adventures, there’s a deep connection to the mythology in “Return of the Joker” right down to that title itself. It’s a compelling drama with some incredible action pieces (the Batmobile vs. Satellite Laser sequence leading up to the finale instantly comes to mind).
But obviously the tragic heart of the film is in Barbara Gordon’s retelling flashback of the final fight between Batman and the Joker.
The flashback is unnerving partly because the events unfold in a cartoon and because of what the film doesn’t show us. Just as with “Jaws,” screenwriter Paul Dini holds his cards very close to his chest making the revelation all the more disturbing. Also, for those who thought the animated Joker straddled the line between funny and cruel, prepared to be blown away by how sadistic he really is.
On a side note, while I totally 100 percent appreciate getting the chance to see what happened to Tim Drake during the transition from “Batman” to “Batman Beyond” … I’m still waiting on the DTV that explains what happened to Dick Grayson (the original Robin who grew up to become Nightwing). Because watching “Return of the Joker,” you’ll realize that Grayson as a character is worth more than a simple “Look him up, has HE got stories” line.
All of this leads up to a satisfying conclusion in a film that tries not to use tired clichés to reveal the mystery of the Joker. No, it’s not a Joker-clone or a long lost son or a synthetic android. The stakes are high in the final confrontation between the Joker and the new Batman, when Bruce is almost killed and Gotham faces devastation at the whim of a madman.
Dini is a master storyteller and he knows these characters inside out. He weaves a brilliant final act that not only convincingly ties all the loose ends, but ends up giving you (or at least me) new respect for McGinnis’ Batman. His takedown of the Joker is memorable not for its action, but because of the psychological leverage Terry tries to use. The last two-thirds of the movie alone make it a must watch for Batfans and thriller fans alike.
Finally, the voice acting is sheer bliss…incredible. Kevin Conroy is Batman. He’s been doing it since 1992 and his timbre is the perfect pitch for the Dark Knight. Mark Hamill reprises Joker from the animated series, and puts up a valid case for dubbing all past and future Joker portrayals. Hamill has bounds of energy and fun with this character and you can hear it on screen. Will Friedle is convincing as McGinnis — he doesn’t play Terry as a moper or a whiner. My only gripe is that they didn’t use Stockard Channing for Barbara Gordon. I love her rendition of the character on the actual show but due to scheduling conflicts, Angie Harmon stepped in. She was fine, though. And Dean Stockwell’s involvement in a “Batman” project is just icing on the cake.
Overall, I have to say that I was blown away by “Return of the Joker” and I believe it to be a staple in the collection of any Batman fan.
Don’t miss this one.
“Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” (Curt Geda, 2000)
Directed by … Curt Geda
Story by … Paul Dini, Bruce W. Timm and Glen Murakami
Screenplay by … Paul Dini
Based on the DC Comics Characters Created by … Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Bruce W. Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett
Executive Produced by … Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan and Jean MacCurdy
Produced by … Bruce W. Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami, Shaun McLaughlin and Teruhisa Yahaji
Art Direction by … Makoto Shiraishi
Character Design by … Glen Murakami and Bruce W. Timm
Editing by … Joe Gall
Original Motion Picture Score Composed by … Kristopher Carter
Will Friedle … Terence ‘Terry’ McGinnis/Batman (voice)
Kevin Conroy … Bruce Wayne/Batman (voice)
Mark Hamill … Jack Napier/The Joker/Jordan Price (voice)
Angie Harmon … Commissioner Barbara Gordon (voice)
Dean Stockwell … Mr. Timothy ‘Tim’ Drake (voice)
Teri Garr … Mrs. Mary McGinnis (voice)
Arleen Sorkin … Dr. Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn/’Nana’ Harley (voice)
Tara Strong … Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (voice)
Mathew Valencia … Timothy ‘Tim’ Drake/Robin (voice)
Melissa Joan Hart … Delia & Deidre Dennis/Dee Dee (voice)
Don Harvey … Charles Buntz / Chucko (voice)
Michael Rosenbaum … Stewart Carter Winthrop III/Ghoul (voice)
Frank Welker … Woof the Hyena-Man/Ace the Bathound (voice)
Henry Rollins … Benjamin ‘Ben’ Knox/Bonk (voice)
Rachael Leigh Cook … Chelsea (voice)
Ryan O’Donohue … Matthew ‘Matt’ McGinnis (voice)
Lauren Tom … Dana Tan (voice)
Vernee Watson-Johnson … Ms. Joyce Carr (voice)
Andrea Romano … Joker Jr. Vocal FX (voice)
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