Director: Curt Geda
Writers: Paul Dini, Glen Murakami, Bruce Timm
Release Date: October 31st, 2000
Since its inception in 1999, Batman Beyond (or Batman of the Future to people in the UK) has been one of the most recognisable and loved interpretations of the World's Greatest Detective to have been produced by Warner Bros animation. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm were able to recreate the immense success of the greatly revered 'Batman: The Animated Series', and channel the same atmosphere of the show into this new iteration of The Dark Knight. This new Batman had his own villains, his own problems, and was far less like the Batman of old. Now sporting a high-tech Bat-Suit for a high-tech age, Terry McGinnis and his mentor Bruce, sought to strike fear into the criminals of Gotham the same way Wayne had done years beforehand. The show had a winning formula, with fantastic writing, a brilliant cast, and a colourful new set of rogues, and it wasn't long until veteran Batman scribe Paul Dini was commissioned to write a film, a film that posed the question: What happened the last time Batman fought The Joker?
The plot itself revolves around The Joker returning to Gotham to wreak havoc the old fashioned way. As the film progresses, we learn just how and why The Joker has managed to return, and uncovering this plot aspect is both engaging and enthralling. The Joker has always been a character who has been shrouded in mystery, from his origin, to his psychological mindset, but now we see a mystery in just what happened to him. Why did he disappear for so long? Why does Bruce not wish to talk to Terry about him? Why has he only just returned? All these questions are answered over the course of the film, and trust me, you're going to love the answers. He is a truly malicious and evil character, and not even a few funny moments can change this. Some of the things that this man carries out in this film will send shivers down your spine, and Hamill's masterful performance as the clown prince does much to contribute to that. Slowly, the viewer manages to piece together along with Terry more and more about his history and personality, leading to a fantastic final confrontation at the end of the film, that not only demonstrates Dini's fantastic understanding of the Clown Prince of Crime, but also shows us just how unique Terry's Batman is.
Despite its 77 minute length (the uncut version, with no censorship present), every character gets ample screen time and a fantastic amount of exploration. The most interesting aspect of this exploration and development is Bruce's. We learn about one of the most tragic events of his career as Batman through a simply amazing flashback sequence narrated by Barbara Gordon (now police commissioner), which manages to convey an intense amount of emotion from all members of the Bat-family, in how they react to the Joker's most harrowing act yet seen on animation (a lot had to be censored in order to be broadcast on TV). The flashback itself is a crowning achievement on Paul Dini's behalf, managing to show emotion at an unparalleled scale, that will almost certainly leave you on the edge of your seat with your mouth wide open. It really is just that good.
As always with the DCAU, the voice-acting is superb, Conroy fantastic as ever with the now old Bruce Wayne, Mark Hamill delivering one of his best performances as The Joker yet, and Will Friedle playing Terry McGinnis at his usual fantastic level. Terry really is a character you grow to love over the course of the series and film. He's humorous, smart, and extremely likeable, and the story really shows the defining moment in his career as Gotham's Protector. It's simply a joy to see it play out, and of course his relationship with Bruce develops even further, with both managing to learn from the other in various different ways. It's a brilliant dynamic to see, and the emotional pay-off at the end is definitely worth it.
I think it's safe to say that this film is flawless, with everything from the writing, to the voice acting being absolutely perfect. Return of The Joker is most certainly my favourite Bat-film ever, and I'm yet to see anything come close to topping it. The story provides fantastic closure on one of the most interesting relationships in the comic book medium, and it does it all inside the space of just over an hour's time. Honestly, if you're a fan of The Caped Crusader in any way shape or form, Return of the Joker really is something you have to watch.
Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker - 10/10