A week ago, I wrote up a review for Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders. It was an enjoyable romp of when the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder weren’t all grimdark and serious all the time; the total opposite of what many people consider to be how Batman should be portrayed nowadays. Even with that said, a lot of reviewers consider The Return of the Caped Crusaders the best Batman movie of the year. Yes, it even beat out The Killing Joke, one of the most anticipated comic book to movies of all time!
Batman definitely has an impressive catalog of films throughout the ages. And, unlike a lot of other comic book movies of the past, films based on the Caped Crusader has been mostly hits rather than misses. But what would be his best? Everyone has a favorite but there is one Batman film that a lot of people overlook, which is a shame because I actually think it’s the best movie featuring the Dark Knight. That film is Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
There may be a lot of people who may not be familiar with the entire Batman Beyond concept so let me give a quick summary of it. Batman Beyond takes place in the future (possibly an alternate timeline). Batman begrudgingly has retired because of his advanced age and has practically severed ties with his former allies. Bruce Wayne crosses paths with teenager Terry McGinnis, who discovers by accident that the aging billionaire is actually the legendary Batman. When the teen discovered that his father has been murdered, Terry goes to Bruce to get his help for vengeance. Bruce has Terry don a new Batman outfit and, seeing how Gotham has descended into disaster since the disappearance of the Dark Knight, Terry decides to become the new Batman and fight crime.
A lot of people, including myself, initially dismissed the entire Batman Beyond concept as, well, it wasn’t Batman! It was like a weird Elseworld story that somehow managed to get its own series. It was also odd to see some snot nosed new kid take on the Batman mantle. However, the show was objectively really good! Warner Bros. used the same “dark deco” art style from Batman: The Animated Series. The stories were pretty complex, especially for a cartoon. The biggest problem I had with Batman Beyond was actually the weak villains. Terry McGinnis’ rogues gallery couldn’t hold a candle to Bruce Wayne’s arch-foes.
That is, until the Clown Prince of Crime came back with a vengeance in Return of the Joker! And, unlike Bruce Wayne, it looked like the Harlequin of Hate didn’t age a day!
Like the series, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker takes full advantage of this alternate future. Some things that happened in the comic continuity didn’t happen or not exactly the way you remembered, making the story feel incredibly fresh and different because, well, it is! The overall tone of the film was also incredibly dark. Much darker than the actual show, in fact. There are a lot of dark topics Return of the Joker takes throughout its run time. But they are gloriously twisted with how some of the characters are handled and where they take them!
The Joker is still the maniacal killer clown we all know but is less like the one in The Animated Series and more like the one you would see much later in The Dark Knight. Why? Because he actually kills people! And on screen! It’s kind of shocking, especially if you’re used to The Joker from The Animated Series just incapacitating victims with laughing gas.. and not impaling them with fake gun signs!
I’ll also have to talk about the Uncut version for a moment as this was the one that I watched first and it is phenomenal! I did watch the original “cut” version a while ago and I have to say a lot of the good stuff were edited out. The fight scenes were trimmed and removed some of the more brutal fights, which is a shame because the fight scenes in Return of the Joker are some of the most spectacular animated beatdowns I’ve ever seen. A lot of the dialogue in the “cut version was altered in weird ways, such as substituting the word “kill” with “ice” and other metaphors. Finally, a lot of the more gruesome scenes were also edited out; without spoiling anything, the showdown between the Bruce Wayne/Batman vs the Joker was heavily altered. The “cut version is fine but the Uncut version is definitely more emotionally draining.
Finally, what makes Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker a phenomenal movie is they mystery behind the Joker himself. Obviously, there is some trick as to why the Joker remained his spry self and has not aged a day since that final encounter. The big reveal isn’t really a revelation nor was it a surprise, especially to comic book fans who knows how comics go. But, while it wasn’t a shock, the way the writer implemented the reveal is well done!
Sure, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a great film that just so happens to feature Batman. But why am I saying it’s the best Batman movie? Why would it beat the likes of The Dark Knight and even the 1989 film featuring the Caped Crusader? Well, I guess a lot of it has to deal with my expectations of the film. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was actually caught me off guard with how good it was!
Like I mentioned earlier, I pretty much dismissed the original run of Batman Beyond because it wasn’t a Batman series to me. But I just so happened to catch Return of the Joker, the Uncut version, mind you, on cable one day and it revealed to me how brilliant the show was and what I was missing. The movie took on a really dark and mature tone that I didn’t expect to see in an animated film. The story was engrossing, the action was enthralling, the mystery behind how the Joker revived himself kept me hooked and I loved the weird directions they took the characters. It was a revelation and actually made me a Batman Beyond fan!
I will maintain the Batman Beyond show overall isn’t as good as, say, The Animated Series. But it was still really good, especially for its time and underrated for the most part. And I have to thank Return of the Joker for turning me to the series. I think Batman fans who haven’t seen Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker actually owe it to themselves to go out and see it. It’s much better than you may think.
What’s your favorite Batman film? Let me know in the comments section below!