The young protégé of one of the world’s greatest superheroes has his first encounter with an old nemesis in this direct-to-video feature adapted from the popular animated series Batman Beyond. Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle) has taken over the crime-fighting responsibilities of Batman from aging Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy), but while Terry has learned a great deal from Wayne, he’s never heard the startling truth about Batman’s final encounter with his arch-enemy, The Joker (Mark Hamill). However, when The Joker returns to Gotham City as vicious as ever, Wayne decides that it’s time that the new Batman learned all there is to know about the green-faced terror before he can bring the city to its knees — especially after Bruce is attacked by his one-time rival.
My all-time favorite Batman stories have always revolved around Bruce Wayne in the iconic cape and cowl taking on Gotham City’s most dangerous criminals, but Curt Geda’s Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker makes a fairly solid case that sometimes, a story focused on an old and retired Bruce Wayne can be the most interesting and unique.
One thing that struck me instantly from the film’s opening sequence was the futuristic atmosphere that is displayed expertly. Stories revolving around Terry McGinnis taking on the mantle of Batman have always been set in the future, with Bruce being a mentor figure to Terry as he tries his best to respect and honor the legacy of Batman. This movie does an absolutely magnificent job at showing this.
Terry is frequently shown to be doing a pretty great job at taking down bad guys every night in Gotham, but even still, Bruce isn’t comfortable with Terry doing this. He feels that if something bad were to ever happen to him one day, that he will be the one responsible. The main reason as to why is due to what happens with this film’s version of Tim Drake/Robin. When they show him and his story in this film, it was tragic and heartbreaking. We get to see repercussions and consequences to some character’s actions. Bruce feels guilty about a lot of things that happened to Tim and as a result, doesn’t want to put anybody else he knows in harm’s way.
The character development on display here is a work of art. I was waiting for there to be that one character that feels out of place and underdeveloped, but none of them were. Whether its Bruce, Terry, Tim, Joker, or even an older Barbara Gordon, they all feel well fleshed out and detailed. We get to learn a bunch of interesting tidbits about their lives after their golden days of crime-fighting which was incredibly fun to watch.
Speaking of all of the characters, the voice actors that match them are marvelous. My all-time favorite Batman actor is without a doubt Kevin Conroy. That includes live-action Batman portrayals as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love Michael Keaton and Christian Bale as the character as much as everybody else, but there is just something so fantastic about Conroy’s that I don’t think will ever be beaten. His voice simply sounds like it matches Batman. He gives one-hundred-percent every time he voices this iconic character and it shows.
Not only that, but Mark Hamill is one of the best Joker actors of all-time. His laugh is perhaps the most iconic of the bunch. It never fails to amaze me that the same actor that portrayed the light-hearted, wise Jedi knight Luke Skywalker is the same actor that portrays the evil, murderous psychopath that is the Joker.
Because this is an animated movie, to not mention the animation style here wouldn’t be right in my opinion. For the most part, it looks quite great. There are a couple of shots every once in a while that feel unfortunately lifeless and stale, but they usually look amazing. The majority of them are brimming with color and personality.
I find that a lot of the greatest Batman stories ever told are animated movies. That’s not a complaint, either. Animation is a genre that has been criminally underrated and overlooked for such a long time. A lot of people think animated movies can only be enjoyed by children, but every once in a while, movies such as Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker come along to challenge that belief.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a stunningly crafted animated film brimming with personality, a deeply interesting story, and amazing vocal performances.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence
Cast: Will Friedle, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dean Stockwell, Angie Harmon, Tara Strong, Mathew Valencia, Teri Garr, Lauren Tom, Melissa Joan Hart, Arleen Sorkin, Henry Rollins, Don Patrick Harvey, Frank Welker, Michael Rosenbaum
Directed by: Curt Geda
Distributed by: Warner Home Video
Release Date: October 31, 2000
Running Time: 73 minutes