Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Distributed By: Warner Bros.

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            When my brother-in-law suggested that we watch this straight to DVD animated feature film, I was skeptical.  I loved Batman and the animosity that existed between him and Joker.  I was also very interested in the Batman Beyond animated series Ė set 40 years into the future, this series featured a retired Bruce Wayne as a behind-the-scenes handler ala Oracle of new Batman, high school student Terry McGinnis.  I had watched a few episodes and found the series intriguing.  My brother-in-law raved about Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, but I wondered how they could pull this off.  Joker was supposed to be dead several years by the time this series began.  Besides, could an animated film really show how psychotically evil Joker really was.  We rented the film, but my brother-in-law cried foul, insisting that the film had been edited to remove the more evil scenes.  Years later, I found the original uncut version of the film and decided to check it out for myself.

            Terry McGinnis is doing rather well in his new role as Gothamís Dark Knight.  However, his busy night schedule is cramping his lifestyle.  Sleep has become a thing of the past and his girlfriend is getting tired of being brushed off.  Just when Terry vows to start paying more attention to her, a new villain hits the scene Ė one with a very familiar modus operandi.  It would seem that a faction of the Jokerz, a street gang devoted to the Clown Prince of Crimeís image has been stealing high tech equipment and Terry is busting his back trying to stop them, while at the same time attempting to discover what they want with the equipment.  It is then that a man appears claiming to be The Joker, a man who supposedly died decades ago. 

            Terry begins to become suspicious of this new Joker, especially when his mentor vehemently protests that he canít be the real Joker.  However, any and all questions Terry attempts to ask Bruce about the death of the Joker are deflected.  Believing that Bruce knows more about the Jokerís death than he cares to share, Terry presses his mentor for details, prompting Bruce to ďfireĒ Terry as Batman.  Fortunately for Bruce, Terry is just as stubborn as he ever was when it comes to investigating a crime.  Terry saves his mentorís life and eventually discovers that someone very close to Bruce may actually be impersonating his arch enemy.

            My brother-in-lawís rented version of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker had fallen prey to the backlash of violence editing that took place after the Columbine shooting.  Thus, this rented version of the animated film was a much tamer version.  Combination punches by Batman and his enemies were limited to a punch apiece.  The decapitation of a Two-Face dummy in a practice session was removed from the film.  Laughing gas replaces a spear gun in one murderous Joker scene.  Lines were changed, animations were changed.  In other words, the movie was butchered to make it seem less violent.  My brother-in-law was furious and now that I have seen the full unedited version, I understand why.

            Joker is not a nice guy.  In fact, he is THE most demented, psychotic killers in the history of Batman.  In order to fight his arch enemy, Batman becomes as dark as his nemesis, drawing the line at murder.  To diminish Jokerís capacity for violence and downplay Batmanís reaction to that violence is to suck the life right out of the storyline.  When I watched the edited version of Return of Joker, I thought Ė Whatís so special about this?  After watching the original uncut version, I finally understood.  This film gets as close as it can to showing its viewers the darker side of Joker without becoming a rated R film.  Batman Beyond was never meant to be a little kidsí cartoon.  This animated series contains a storyline aimed at a more mature audience.  Editing every stitch of violence in the film destroyed its content.  The uncut version was a much more enjoyable film.

            For an animated film, this movie contains one heck of a cast.  Will Friedle supplies the voice of Terry McGinnis.  Kevin Conroy reprises his long-standing role as the voice of Batman.  Mark Harmon is an excellent Joker.  Angie Harmon provides the voice of Police Comissioner Barbara Gordon while Dean Stockwell gives us the voice of Tim Drake.  Other stars featured in this film include Melissa Joan Hart, Michael Rosenbaum, Henry Rollins, Rachel Leigh Cook, Teri Garr and more.

            The Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker DVD contains some extra features, including animated character biographies, commentaries from the filmmakers, deleted scenes, animation tests, trailers, and a music video featuring the song Crash by Mephisto Odyssey (featuring Static X).  If you ask me, they neednít have bothered with the extras.  The deleted scenes were basically storyboards and none to exciting.  The animation tests were just as boring.  I didnít even bother watching the music video.

            Well, Ismael, you were right!  Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was a great Batman adventure that brought us about as close to the dark side of Joker as a PG-13 animated film can get.  Iím glad I took your advice and purchased the uncut version of the film.  It was well-worth the money!


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