“Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” (2001) Film Review
May 14, 2017
Written by Jambareeqi
“Batman Beyond” (also known as Batman of the future) was an animated TV series, which followed the adventures of next generation Batman Terry McGinnis in the age of the future, under the supervision of Bruce Wayne himself. This spin off movie has McGinnis donning the suit as he tries to uncover the mystery behind the return of Bruce’s biggest foe… The Joker!
Now, I did grow up watching “Batman Beyond” but I don’t remember much of it besides this movie and I’ve not watched any episodes since my childhood. I’ll admit that this unfamiliarity with the show did alienate me at times, because I got the impression that knowledge of the Batman Beyond universe is required to connect with the overall premise. I did have trouble resonating with the character of Terry McGinnis and settling into this futuristic Gotham, so I’m guessing that a heavy experience associated with “Batman Beyond” helps to add meat to what’s going on.
Despite this mild disconnect I felt, I did follow the story fine and was highly engaged in the mystery of Joker’s return. Little things are thrown into the mix to make us keep guessing, namely a character who seems almost identical to the Joker and has a plausible reason for baring a grudge towards Bruce Wayne . I did enjoy trying to work out how the Joker was so alive and energetic, despite knowing that he should be in a retirement home by now. I won’t spoil anything, but the final reveal of why the Joker was able to return is a pretty clever twist, one that slides suitably into the realms of futuristic sci-fi and fits the madness of the Joker.
Although, I’ll admit that the overall investigation performed by our heroes isn’t too strong, our characters only actively try to find out the truth towards the end of the film, while most of the movie’s focus is on the physical conflict between Terry and Joker’s minions. I just feel as if that some of these action scenes could have been broken up with more investigative scenes and our heroes did more to work things out.
Sure, I understand that the old generation of super heroes are emotionally struggling to remember the dark past, but I do wish that Terry didn’t have to wait until the third act to start thoroughly investigating. On the plus side though, Bruce Wayne and former Batgirl’s Barbara Goodson’s hesitance to discuss the Joker does hype up how scary he really is.
Don’t get me wrong though, the action that dominates the film is pretty awesome, these fight sequences are effectively fast paced but also surprisingly violent for the young audience in mind (Apparently there’s an edited version of the film that tones down the darker elements). You really do feel the visceral impact of every punch and kick, plus some characters are even killed on screen by spear guns. Characters also cleverly take advantage of their environments during battles, like one scene has Terry kicking over a giant lava lamp in a nightclub to flood his opponents.
Even though this movie is a straight to video production, it doesn’t let it’s television quality animation hinder it or stop it from feeling like a genuine movie because it’s packed with very cinematic sequences. The film plays around with imaginative lighting to keep with the mystery tone, the fights are animated with a high pulsing intensity and characters are given very mature realistic performances. I think the stand out scene, animation wise, has to be when the Joker tries to chase down Terry using a laser beam from the sky! The beam itself and the explosions it causes are graphically detailed plus amazing to witness (You can tell it’s where most of the budget went).
The music score is freaking badass too, combining a cool blend of techno, orchestral and metal! The combination makes sense because the techno fits the futuristic setting, the orchestral is a nod to the old generation and the metal amps things up to show that the movie isn’t going to hold back in terms of dark content. Every track has a part in supporting the film, from making the fights feel exciting to showing the seriousness of Joker’s new return and the composer’s work really pays off.
One of the bonuses of this film is that it brings back original Batman TAS cast members Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, both do stellar performances and prove that they’ve not lost their magic since the 90’s. I also have to respect the film for featuring professional voice actors names in the opening credits, which not only adds to the cinematic value of the film but also pays respect to performers that are usually out of limelight.
To conclude, “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” is a cinematically grandiose movie with a chilling mystery tone, but I’ll admit that the story could have been a little stronger regarding the actual investigating and my lack of experience with the original TV show did make me feel a little alienated at times. All in all, I would recommend it if you would love to see the Joker doing his shtick in a more sci-fi based setting, because that’s what makes the movie the most fun.