CULT CORNER: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

Dylan tells us why Batfans should checkout Batman Beyond with this feature-length spin-off.

Who made it?: Curt Geda (Director), Paul Dini (Writer/Co-Producer), Alan Burnett, Bruce W. Timm, Glen Murakami (Producers), Warner Bros. Animation.

Who’s in it?: Will Friedle, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Angie Harmon, Dean Stockwell, Teri Garr, Arleen Sorkin, Tara Strong.

Tagline: “It’s No Laughing Matter.”

IMDb rating: 7.7/10.

I’ve always been a huge fan of finding out what happened to characters from fiction when they get old. From Billy Bunter in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, it’s an easy and fun way to wring one last twist from a beloved creation. Even Max Headroom was given a layer of pathos in Channel 4’s digital switchover adverts. If done correctly, it can provide a fresh insight into a well-loved character, and add a sense of closure that is lacking in a lot of franchised media. Batman Beyond (aka Batman of the Future) explored just this. An offshoot of the very well-received Batman: The Animated Series, it followed an older Bruce Wayne, still fighting crime in the last years of his life. After almost using a gun to defeat his enemies, he realises that it’s time to hang up the cowl for good. At first he is thrown into isolation and depression, but after finding a young man named Terry McGinnis, he re-focuses his life into training his new apprentice, who is very much not Robin.

It’s a brave concept for what is essentially a kid’s television show, and one with a lot of room for controversy. In this canon, a lot of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery is dead, as are well-loved characters such as Commissioner Gordon. Those who remain have changed irrevocably, from a cynical, retired Tim Drake to a Wayne on his last legs. The movie follows on from the series, with The Joker seemingly returning from the dead, and at the very least, reverting to a much younger age. To find out what is going on, Bruce and Terry must explore the past, dig up some old acquaintances, and rediscover one of Batman’s darkest moments…

A lot of the movie is just conversations between the characters, many of whom have ended up in a very bad way. It doesn’t try and weasel out of the passing of time – this is Batman: TAS forty years down the line, plain and simple. It’s a shock to see some regulars like Barbara Gordon cynical and decrepit. Whilst the scientific reason behind Joker’s resurrection is very hokey, the circumstances leading up to his demise are extremely creepy. Whilst there are some excellent action scenes, it’s a bleak and very dialogue-heavy drama. Young children may well be scared or bored; fans of Batman may well be very depressed. This isn’t just my opinion, as it was heavily edited on first release, taking out some of the more graphic violence and obvious deaths.

And yet there is hope, mainly through the new Caped Crusader, Terry McGinnis. Terry is a huge part of why the programme works, and is such a treat for fans of the Dark Knight. He has his own personality, style and agenda. He is genuinely different from Wayne, with a steady girlfriend and a much more cheerful attitude to life, whilst still being both noble and dynamic. Indeed, a key feature of how he and The Joker engage in combat is via his different personality. In a fantastic scene, Terry admits to talking far too much, finally getting The Joker to snap at his constant rebuttals, and genuinely beating the iconic troublemaker at his own game. He easily carries the film, allowing Bruce to act as a counterpoint with dignity, and in turn improving his character.

It also brings across many of the positive features of the original series. The animation is in the same style and is beautiful throughout. The relationship between Batman and The Joker still works, with one scene in the Batcave being especially electric. Forget Star Wars - this is Mark Hamil’s best performance as a famous pop-culture figure. The only real shame is that the plot doesn’t become more epic. At only 74 minutes, Return of the Joker is essentially a longer episode of the television show than an actual movie itself, and it wouldn’t have taken much to add another thirty minutes to give it more punch. We never see how the characters slot into this new Gotham, nor does The Joker raise the stakes by wreaking havoc on the city. Although the clown’s foot soldiers have become more futuristic, we don’t see how the normal citizens live their lives, or how the world has changed. It’s the one point of Bruce’s legacy that seems forgotten, and one that could’ve provided another facet to the story.

The Batman Beyond concept gives old characters dignity, successfully introduces new ones, and provides a gripping mystery. It contains a lot of great ideas, and there are easily enough legs in the concept for a new series, be it television or movies. And if ever you wanted to see how the Caped Crusader spent his retirement, here’s your chance.

Best Scene

Be warned – although the clip below contains major plot spoilers, it perfectly demonstrates Hamill’s acting ability, McGinnis as a character, and the general tone and style of the action.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • When Bruce is checking the future Joker’s voice against that of the past-Joker, the clip is a newly animated (but previously scripted) segment from “Holiday Knights,” which was the first episode of the redesigned Batman cartoon that appeared on the WB network.
  • The second time Terry confronts Tim Drake, he is a hologram. Dean Stockwell, the voice of Drake, played a character who was usually a hologram on Quantum Leap.
  • When Terry lists possible explanations for The Joker’s return, he mentions being “placed in suspended animation due to floating around in a block of ice.” This is a reference to the Marvel Comics character Captain America, who was found floating in ice by the Avengers in the 60s.
  • The voice of Ghoul was provided by Michael Rosenbaum, who did several voices for Batman Beyond. While in the recording studio, he would often do a Christopher Walken impression that the producers found hilarious. When they were commissioned to create this film, they wrote the part of Ghoul for Rosenbaum’s Walken impression. He would later reprise the role in an episode of Justice League, a series on which he also voiced series regular The Flash. Most people will know him, however, as Lex Luthor in Smallville.

Dylan Spicer

Dylan graduated from Brighton Film School and and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He has worked on award-winning short and feature films. He is currently experimenting with Narradu Memories, and his online audio drama

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