- Title: Batman Beyond Return of the Joker
- Director: Curt Geda
- Voice Director: Andrea Romano
- Date: 2000
- Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
- Genre: Action, Fantasy, Mystery
- Cast: Kevin Conroy, Will Friedle, Mark Hamill, Dean Stockwell, Teri Garr, Tara Strong, Frank Welker, Michael Rosenbum
- Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
- DVD Format: R1, NTSC
This film bridges the gap between Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, answering some of the unanswered questions. And it brings back the most famous Batman villian — the Joker. Briefly, Batman Beyond, part of the DC Animated Universe, was a television series set 50 years after Batman: The Animated Series. Bruce has gotten old and is now unable to fight crime. Terry McGinnis becomes the new Batman, having at first stolen Bruce’s latest Batsuit (used before his retirement) and then with Bruce’s blessing. Terry is a bit more light-hearted than Bruce but not as light-hearted as some of the Robins. He has a mother and a younger brother (tho’ his father was murdered) and even a girlfriend. The solid black suit with a red bat symbol is more technically advanced, with jet packs that allow real flight (so the cape is gone). It also has a video and audio link to the Cave where Bruce advises Terry. Throughout the series The Joker’s been missing but a gang of trouble-makers called Jokerz have caused Terry and the city of New Gotham trouble. It’s a cyber-punked/21st century Batman rather than the Art Deco/30s/Film Noir look of Batman: The Animated Series.
This film opens with Batman breaking up a theft of electronic equipment by the Jokerz. All goes well, but when he discusses it later with Bruce, Terry’s confused, because high-end electronics and computers aren’t normally the Jokerz’ style — they usually go for quick cash. Bruce dismissed the theft as “looking for stuff they could fence”. Bruce, perhaps, has too much on his mind — he’s returning to be the active head of Wayne Enterprises.
The Joker (again, voiced by Mark Hamill, as he was in B:TAS) breaks up the party welcoming back Bruce. Terry changes into the Batsuit and rescues Bruce and the party-goers but the Joker gets away. At the Cave, he insists Bruce fill him in on the background of the Joker. Bruce merely insists that Joker is dead, saying he was there when it happened. Terry jumps to the conclusion Bruce killed Joker, he had no choice, then stopped being Batman. Bruce refuses to comment. He also forbids Terry to go after Joker and even asks for the suit back.
Terry goes to see Barbara Gordon. Barbara refuses to talk, only mentioning Tim Drake (Robin # 3). Terry sees Tim, but gets no answers from him either.
Deciding he will quit, Terry is relieved to spend time with his family and Dana, his girlfriend. But the Jokerz show up at the club Terry and Dana frequent and try to kidnap the girl. They also try to kill Terry. After speaking with the police, and checking on Dana, Terry goes to see Bruce. But he’s too late — Ace, Bruce’s protective Great Dane is injured, and Bruce is unconscious with a hideous smile on his face. The Cave is a wreck, the costume displays destroyed, and “Ha Ha” written in red everywhere. Bruce, between laughs, manages to point Terry to the anti-toxin for the Joker’s laughing gas, and Terry gives him a shot, then calls Barbara.
Barbara Gordon, who was once Batgirl and is now Police Commissioner Gordon, decides to explain what happened in the past. In a well-executed flashback, we learn what happened: Harley Quinn had set-up young Robin, Tim Drake, and he is kidnapped by the Joker. Batman and Batgirl search for him for three weeks. Finally, Joker leaves them a blatant clue — Batman and Batgirl follow, and discover the horrifying truth: Tim/Robin was tortured, electrocuted, drugged, beaten, and finally programmed to be Joker Jr. They find him complete with the white face, green hair, and a miniature purple suit. But merely turning Robin into a copy of himself isn’t enough for Joker — he also orders the boy to shoot and kill Batman. (Batgirl is meanwhile somewhere else in the now abandoned Arkham Asylum fighting Harley Quinn). But Tim shoots, and kills, Joker instead. Barbara rushes to Tim, as does Batman.
In the present, Barbara explains they buried Joker then took Tim to Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who took a year to put him back together again. After that, Batman forbade him to ever put on the Robin suit. It was the disastrous final clash with Joker that caused Bruce to forbid Terry from going after the super villain.
Terry, meanwhile, is trying to find out what’s going on. Evidence leads to Tim, yet Tim claims to be innocent. However, in front of Terry (in the Batsuit) and Bruce’s (at home in the cave, barely recovered) eyes Tim turns into Joker — victim of a transmitter containing Joker DNA that takes over his subconscience and brain. It’s basically like a scientific explanation of the “split personality” villain. Tim isn’t even aware that the Joker is piggy-backing in his body, thinking any memories are only bad dreams. Joker plans to take over a government laser defense satellite, using telecom equipment stolen by the Jokerz and Tim’s know-how to put it together. He’s already blown-up a boat, and now plans to strike close to home for Terry: blowing up the hospital where Dana’s recovering, blowing up Terry’s home where his Mom and brother are, and blowing up Wayne Manor and Bruce — just to get started. However, Terry has discovered the secret to defeating the Joker, which is does, then he destroys the control chip in Tim’s head, bringing the man back to normal.
An excellent movie, yes, it is like a longer version of a Batman Beyond episode, but it was also quite dark — especially the torture of Tim Drake, and Bruce and Barbara covering up a murder. There’s also some extremely effective visuals. The film is enjoyable tho’, with the saucy dialog common to Batman Beyond, and it answered some questions — where was the Joker? What happened to Tim Drake? What caused Bruce to give up the Batsuit? (something touched on in the series premiere as well). But it also didn’t answer everything — Nightwing / Dick Grayson is mentioned, a couple of times, but it’s never explained what happened to him.
Recommendation: See it! Buy it!
Rating: 4 of 5 stars