Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) / Animation-Action
aka Batman of the Future: Return of the Joker

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence (director's cut)
Running Time: 74 min. (77 min. director's cut)

Cast: Will Friedle, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Angie Harmon, Dean Stockwell, Teri Garr, Arleen Sorkin, Tara Strong, Mathew Valencia, Melissa Joan Hart, Henry Rollins, Rachel Leigh Cook
Director: Curt Geda
Screenplay: Paul Dini
Review published July 20, 2006

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a direct-to-video full-length feature based primarily on the animated television program, "Batman Beyond" (aka "Batman of the Future"), which ran from 1999-2001.  It also ties in to the popular "Batman: The Animated Series", which ran from 1992-1995, through a flashback sequence.  The world of "Batman Beyond" takes place several decades in the future of the "Batman" series as we know it, and, unlike most future visions generally are, is still considered (as of the writing of this review) canon, with strong tie-ins with the previous and future series and its characters.

Due to the connection of the two popular series among Batman fans, as well as the scale of the events as they play out in the film, Return of the Joker has achieved a cult status for Bat-fans, some of whom maintain that it may be the finest animated Batman cartoon ever, and the best "episode", if one can call it that.  It certainly is the most ambitious and well-written of the "Batman Beyond" universe, with longtime animated series wrier Paul Dini (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, The Batman/Superman Movie) crafting an exemplary screenplay, while series director Curt Geda (Batman Beyond: The Movie, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman) keeps the action brisk and developments unraveling in exciting fashion.

In the "Batman Beyond" series, the Joker is not a main player, although there is a street gang that has adopted his moniker and penchant for mayhem, the Jokerz.  Many of the original Batman villains were retired, incarcerated, or deceased, with the Joker falling under the latter condition.  However, in this film, the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill, Return of the Jedi) makes a triumphant return, despite the fact that Batman was present at the time of his death, and may have even had a hand in it.  The Joker immediately takes over the Jokerz and proceeds to make life miserable for Bruce Wayne, as well as for the new Batman, Terry McGinnis.  Joker plans on using an elaborate satellite system to cause more mayhem to Gotham City, and its up to the new dynamic duo of Batman and Wayne to uncover the secret as to the identity of this "new" Joker, and save the day.

Return of the Joker is not only the best that the "Batman Beyond" universe has to offer, but it is also well-regarded by fans of the original Batman animated series, as it features the same characters of that show, as well as all of the voice actors.  In the middle of the movie, there is an extended flashback sequence that shows what happened to some of the major players of the original "Batman" series, depicting Joker's death, Robin's demise, and the disappearance (and possible death) of Joker's main squeeze, Harley Quinn.  For fans, it is a stunning series of revelations, and done with intelligence and even some emotion, making this must-see for all that love the animated DC Universe.

As with the television show, the film features excellent production values, with a strong visual and aural dynamic.  Where Return of the Joker sets itself apart is in the writing department, with a sense of scope and importance that lends weight to the story overall for fans of the series.  The makers of this movie do assume you are familiar with the origins of Bruce Wayne, Batman (old and new), and the Joker, so I would say that it is only meant for those with at least a passing familiarity of both the "Batman" and "Batman Beyond" animated series.  If that means you, you owe it to yourself to check it out, as it is arguably the best that both series have to offer.  Look for the uncut, director's version (the original was altered significantly due to the anti-violence environment of the post-Columbine days).  It's one of the best Batman movies, animated or live-action, period.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo