Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Certificate: 12
Running time: 74 mins
Director: Curt Geda
Starring: Will Friedle, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill
Genre: Comic book, Action, Adventure, Animation
Country: USA

Batman on the big screen would cycle through several incarnations of pre-production hell in the late 90’s and early 00’s.  Batman Triumphant would be Schumacher’s pitch at apology, an effort that would restore order to the streets of Gotham City, killing Robin and Batgirl, returning Batman to a dark brooding self and (you’d expect) banning neon from all buildings and street gangs.  It would be shelved, similar efforts from Wolfgang Petersen and Darren Aronofsky, pitching a Batman/Superman crossover film and an adaptation of Batman: Year One and still Batman would be left out in the cold.  Meanwhile on the streets of Gotham the Warner Bros.' animated adventures would go from strength to strength.  Many fans would make fevered and passionate arguments as to why Kevin Conroy was/is the best Batman, which is a fair enough opinion as the man has been voicing the Caped Crusader for twenty years this year or put another way since Batman Returns was in the cinemas.

Batman Beyond, much in the same way The Dark Knight Returns does, sees Bruce Wayne as an older gentleman.  Where Batman Beyond differs is the passing of the cowl to a younger model.  Now in his 80’s Wayne (Conroy) has passed the job of “Protector of Gotham” over to Terry McGinnis (Friedle) and a whole new look, or as the Joker would say “Ears are too long and I miss the cape” – a sentiment I whole heartedly agree with.  Batman Beyond isn’t designed for Bat Fans like myself, it’s for the new generation.  The kids that don’t see the wow factor in Adam West and it’s not supposed to be for me, I know how I like my Batman in the same way that I know how I like my coffee…once set there’s no changing it.  Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker operates as a film that bridges the gap between the generational expectations.

Batman is forced to confront his greatest enemy when the Joker returns to Gotham City, spritely for an OAP and prepared to wreak havoc on a futuristic land that’s ill prepared for a good old fashioned criminal.  As a lifelong Batman fan I’m reluctant to accept an great changes to the legend that doesn’t further the darkness of the character so a handover to the newbie isn’t something I’m going to come to lightly.  The animation of McGinnis’ Batman is almost Asian in origin, athletic, lean and exaggerated limbs, the suit – almost something from the League of Shadows as he appears ninja-like, springing from nowhere.  His demeanour and tone is jokey and playful, closer to Spiderman than the tortured vigilante of Gotham City but the change of tone is apt.  He’s of a different generation, a carefree generation and when Bruce Wayne is on screen it only highlights the darkness that Conroy skilfully plays with.  Friedle’s Batman plays out on screen against flashbacks of Conroy’s as he uses his detective skills (skills that were largely overlooked in Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin) to help stop the Joker and save Bruce.  Conroy is, of course, excellent.  I loved him in Batman: The Animated Series and every outing he’s involved in guarantees you a level of quality and darkness.  Mark Hamill is a phenomenal Joker, it’s slightly sad that his career didn’t pan out the way that he had expected and the way in which Harrison Ford’s did but Batman fans the world over adore him for a dark presentation that channels Cesar Romero’s excellent portrayal in Batman: The Movie and would pre-empt Heath Ledger’s complex portrayal of a mind gone wrong in The Dark Knight.

The animation of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker manages to blend the well tested style of Batman: The Animated Series with a new, almost Tron­-esque, look that’s incredibly stylish and appropriately modern and distinctive.  The story is also well constructed with sufficient depth and intelligence that it simply makes a mockery of some of the live action disasters that preceded it.  Some of the one liners drag themselves across a raw nerve of mine, it’s annoying how characters like Scarecrow are sidelined and the invisibility suit makes it too easy in the way that a batarang solved everything in Batman & Robin but apart from these problems it’s an enjoyable and accomplished new direction in the Batman mythology.

Movie Bar HEROES! featuring a foursome of fantastic yet forgotten Superheroes including The Champions of Justice and 3 Supermen Against Godfather can be booked by clicking [here].


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