I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time convincing people how worthwhile Batman Beyond is. Mostly because it’s not as iconic as B:TAS, and most of my friends remember it vaguely because it was on after Pokemon on Saturday mornings. Even I dismissed it, until I watched it again.
I love Beyond, I love Terry McGinnis, I love Old Bruce and Old Barbara. I love that “the future” of the DCAU looks so much like a techno video from 1999. In many ways it’s a cleaner and more sophisticated show than B:TAS, and certainly has a clearer narrative and a more streamlined style. All of that comes through in Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker.
The film has some of the coolest DCAU action in it’s opener, where Terry fights off a gang of Jokerz (the “z” is very important) who it turns out are working for the big guy. This contains two of my favorite characters (one character?) Dee Dee, twin teenage girls who (Spoiler) it turns out might be Harley Quinn’s granddaughters? This gives me so many questions. Who is their Mother/Father? Harley’s kid with Joker? Or did Harley get her act together and marry some normal guy and settle in the suburbs like Poison Ivy pretended to that one time? Did she ever get over Mr. J? I WANT TO KNOW! (Got so many answers I didn’t care about in “Epilogue” why not any of these?)
I’m noticing that what I’m really enjoying about the Batman movies is the lived in feel of them. Because the characters and their dynamics are so firmly established, we get to see them interact in very natural and interesting ways. This serves Terry and Bruce and Terry and Barbara better than anyone in Return. But it’s also nice to see Terry and his girlfriend Dana. Dana’s not a character I’ve ever particularly cared for. I get why she’s there. She’d one of the marked differences between Terry and Bruce. (Terry’s from a working class family, at 16 he’s in a committed relationship, not as smart.) But she always seemed more like a plot device than a character. In Return, however, it might be the only time she doesn’t break up with him. Instead she gets annoyed, but is supportive and appreciates the effort he’s putting in.
But Return of The Joker is a show piece. Oh, Kevin Conroy, Will Friedle and Angie Harmon are fantastic. Conroy in particular does great work, there’s a scene where Bruce gets gassed by The Joker and so he’s both hysterical and managing to direct Terry. It’s good writing and he does it very well. But this isn’t Phantasm. This one doesn’t belong to him. This is Mark Hamill’s flick. I find the Return Joker completely unsettling, because until the very end, he’s almost completely contained and in control.
One of the craziest details about The AU is that The Joker actually beat Bruce. There’s nothing but defeat in the way the two of them leaves things. Terry then beats The Joker back, but still, it’s exceptionally bleak when you think about it. The flashback sequence in the middle of Return (Also, does anyone else think that it’s funny that a movie that features Mark Hamill so heavily is called Return of The Joker, the pattern there seems AWFULLY similar to another movie he made once upon a time…but I digress.) chronicles the last days of Tim Drake’s career as Robin, which ended in kidnapping, torture and murder. Tim gets the excellent distinction of being whacked on the head with a mallet by Harley Quinn (not bad really, it’s almost an honor!), and is then tortured for three weeks by Joker to the point of insanity, while Bruce and Barbara search frantically for him. Then after cracking and spilling The Secret, Tim is transformed into a mini Joker rather than the hero he actually is. After a spectacular fight between Harley and Babs (really it’s an incredible moment for both of them) that ends with Harley falling to her death (or not? So many Harley questions guys!), and a chase between Batman and Joker. In the end, Joker tosses Tim a gun and tells him to shoot Batman. Instead Tim turns the gun on Joker.
That’s defeat right there. Tim kills an enemy, with a gun. I mean, AU Tim has always been a kind of Tim/Jason mash up and wasn’t in his right mind at the time, so it’s not totally out of the blue, but it’s no wonder Bruce just began to grow more and more bitter and isolated as time went on. (Also, we’ll get to Jason later.)
The more bonkers Nano tech Tim/Joker hybrid thing is one of my least favorite plot devices. I get why they did it. But it’s just kind of blah to me. I love the Bat Family make up scene at the very end, and the climax fight between Terry and Joker is another one of my favorites. (I love the action sequences in this movie.) That Terry figures out the only way to beat Joker is by being himself and not Bruce is fantastic and somehow handled in the least corny manner possible. And the line, “You never got a laugh out of the old man, did you?” Is my third favorite thing Friedle has ever uttered. (“FEEEEH-NAY!” and “Menke is but a few vowels from monkey” will win out.) It’s a spectacular ending and one that my cousin Tommy and I argue over constantly.
But that’s a story for another day.