Length: 76 minutes
Release Date: December 12, 2000
Directed by: Curt Geda
Genre: Animation / Action / Crime
Although non-animated films featuring Batman tend to draw larger crowds, many audiences find that only animation does the character justice. “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” is a prime example of this, revealing interesting characters and a complex plot all drawn together with swift, flowing animation. Fifty years in the future, Bruce Wayne is now an elderly man who spends his time mentoring his protégé Terry McGinnis, the new Batman. When Bruce discovers that his old nemesis the Joker has returned, he and Terry must do whatever they can to stop the notorious criminal gang.
The film begins in the future Gotham as a gang known as the Jokerz infiltrates a warehouse in order to steal high-tech machinery. Their mission is cut short when the new Batman confronts them. A chase ensues, and the gang escapes without the equipment. Batman returns to the Batcave, where an elderly Bruce Wayne is honing his combat skills. Terry, the current Batman, tells Bruce that he was unable to stop the Jokerz gang, and the two question why the gang has been stealing so much high-tech equipment recently. Meanwhile, the Jokerz return to their hideout and let their shadowy leader know of their failure. After killing one of the men, the angered leader steps out from the shadows as the infamous Joker.
One night later, Bruce Wayne is attending an event celebrating his return to Wayne Enterprises after a long absence. Just as he approaches the microphone and prepares to give a speech, the entire room fills with the sound of familiar laughter. Everyone panics, and Bruce is knocked to the ground, looking up to see the Joker staring down at him. After changing into his suit, Terry arrives as Batman and confronts the Joker, but the menacing clown only makes jokes before fleeing. Bruce returns to the Batcave and compares clips of the original Joker’s voice to the one he heard the night before. He finds that they are a match. Batman is horrified by this impossible resemblance, knowing that the Joker was killed more than 40 years earlier.
Bruce lashes out at Terry in fear and rage, and the protégé storms out of the Batcave without his suit. However, when Bruce narrowly survives another attack by the Joker, Terry takes it upon himself to find out what really happened when the villain supposedly died. He hears the story from Commissioner Barbara Gordon before setting out to defeat the resurrected Joker and his evil gang.
“Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” is a continuation of the “Batman Beyond” animated series, and it features the same voice actors, animation style and time period. Fans of the series are sure to enjoy the direct-to-DVD release, which features all their favorite elements without feeling like several episodes strung together. The film also works well as a standalone story, so even Batman fans who have never seen the series will have no trouble following the plot.
Like other films that take place in the Batman universe, this movie is decidedly dark and violent. Its PG-13 rating is well-earned for the amount of violence it includes, and the uncut version is even more brutal. This is especially evident in the character of the Joker, who often straddles the line between funny and sadistic throughout the various animated series. During the flashback scene where Bruce Wayne as Batman fights a final battle against the Joker, fans may be surprised by how twisted the evil clown is portrayed in this film.
The animation quality is decent, and the characters appear exactly how fans expect them to look. The animated platform also allows Batman and other characters to move in ways that can never be captured in real-life films. A cast of talented voice actors brings the animation to life, many who are returning to their roles from “Batman Beyond.” Mark Hamill’s Joker is spot-on, perfectly capturing the villain’s evil intentions and insanity during every bit of dialog. Kevin Conroy is impeccable while giving life to the character of Bruce Wayne, never once sounding unnatural or forced. Will Friedle creates a likable character in Terry, lending just the right amount of emotion to every scene. Some of the other voice actors play their characters with little emotion, making their lines come off as cheesy, but the lead voice actors save the film with their vocal talents.
“Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” offers an interesting plot, and the story is brought to life with colorful animation and voices. Don’t let the straight-to-DVD release of this film fool you. It is easily just as good as many Batman films that have hit theaters.
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