Thursday, July 17, 2008

Honorary FFF: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

‘Tis the season, the one where Robin laid an egg and the Batmobile lost its wheels. With The Dark Knight preparing to make gangbuster boffo box office (industry insiders are predicting anywhere from 100-150+ million dollar debuts for the film) the blogosphere is buzzing with anticipation. And not just if Heath Ledger deserves an Oscar nod (it’s hard for me to say from what I’ve seen, but I’m preemptively agreeing since he’s electrifying on screen.) Before I do my “Top 5 Jokers“ (to decide where Mr. Ledger places,) I want to talk about one of my favorite Batman movies of all time.




Nice, but no.


Sheesh, no way.


Not to be confused with the NES game of the similar name:


I expressed my adoration of the Dini-Timm Batman Animated Series before, but it bears repeating: in my opinion, it’s one of the best cartoons pretty much ever. Batman Beyond, also called “Batman of the Future,” like the unfortunate “The Batman” which followed, was designed primarily to sell toys. It chronicles Bruce Wayne’s replacement, Terry McGinnis, who’s groomed in the place of the new Dark Knight in a futuristic Gotham.

The show was kind of blah, most of the villains were too, but this is movie almost redeemed the show (as did a subsequent episode of the much better Justice League Unlimited around this timeline, called “Epilogue,” which tied it in to the rest of what fans have dubbed the DCAU.)

Mark Hamill is one of my favorite actors to portray the Joker because, like I get the sense Ledger does, he really understands the character. Jack Nicholson made the Joker a little too friendly, with his grin and just a hint of psychopathy, more charm and less terror, than is really necessary to capture the evil of the character. He is still governed by some semblance of sanity, and doesn’t seem to be in it just for the fun.

Return of the Joker was eventually cut into a PG version, but it was originally made and later released in an “unrated” (but more PG-13 version, which is where the clips I’m going to show are from,) and, for his return to the role here, we get a Joker who delves into darker territory than Broadcast Standards and Practices would rarely permit.

But I’ll avoid going too far into “The Joker’s a stone cold badass,” although it is my primary praise for the film. So, to get it all out of my system:

The Joker doesn’t get to kill anyone on TV, whereas in the comics he’s the villain other villains tell horror stories about, infamous for killing a Robin, crippling a Batgirl, and gassing a class full of kindergartners. Although other actors have captured the humor of the character, or the laugh, few but Hamill (and I’m reserving judgment for Ledger until I see the film in full) really capture the menace throbbing underneath the surface.

The film starts with Batman foiling a robbery of Jokerz (a gang of criminals modeled after the Clown Prince of Crime, who he routinely struggles with on the show,) until we learn just who they’re working for.

As the Joker menaces Bruce Wayne and Terry, we learn why Bruce refuses to believe the Joker has returned.

I don’t want to spoil the twist, although it’s fairly obvious who the Joker is (even with the red herrings thrown about.) But, a large part of the plot features Terry figuring this out for himself.

Other than this primary feature (Mark Hamill,) there are some other things I can say in praise of the film: the production design is pretty cool, creating a bleak neon-colored Gotham that feels like it could be in the future, and all the other voice actors hold their weight (some other recognizable talent would be Melissa John Hart and Henry “The Man” Rollins.) The script isn’t the best, but it’s good, and the pacing is great. It’s a fun movie and the crew clearly holds the source material in proper regard (which is important in my opinion with doing any adaptation.) All in all pretty solid in terms of technical craftsmanship, nothing.

The final set piece of the film worth mentioning is the fight between Terry and the Joker, who holds his new opponent in disdain to the “genuine article.” Which is a great fight scene (barring the second, the second best in the movie.)

”Don’t play psychoanalyst with me, boy!”

I like this movie, and if you’re looking for a fun Batman romp on video and all are Burtoned and Shumachered out, since The Dark Knight might be packed, give this a rent. B+.

Oh, by the way, if you aren’t planning on seeing The Dark Knight, I thoroughly recommend it.

Part of the Batman Blogothon at:

Big Mike’s Movie Blog


elgringo said...

Awesome post. I have heard so much about this Batman but have yet to check it out. I'll have to get my hands on it.

Love the clips, by the way.

Michael J. Mendez said...

I liked the movie too for the the fact that it brought back all the old canon Batman stuff and tied it in with the new show. The show itself was ok, but this movie was great.

Thanks for getting in on the fun!

Keith said...

I'm gonna watch this today I think. It's on Netflix "watch now" so I really don't have an excuse NOT to.

Have you seen Gotham Knight yet? I've heard mixed--but mostly good--things.