I watched Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (wiki) in March and am just now getting around to finally reviewing it. I watched it at the insistence of a friend of mine who said that it was darker than most other Batman-related stuff. (Since it was produced in 2000 and the unedited version only came out in 2002, I’m excluding the obviously dark Dark Knight, since that came out much more recently.) I think I told my friend that I had always liked the Joker, the main villain in this film (in case you couldn’t figure that out from the title), which is why he recommended it, but I think now that the Joker (before The Dark Knight) was more of a, well, joker than a villain. That is, it felt like he was there more for comic relief than anything else. (Thinking about the villains I know Batman has, they’re all kind of ridiculous, actually.)
I really like Harley Quinn, especially in the comics (though I admit to never having read a comic in which Harley Quinn is featured), because psychotic women have always intrigued me. Sadly, she’s only in this movie during a ten-minute flashback. That flashback, actually, is the best part of the movie. Which is kind of sad because, although I liked Batman Beyond and even watched some of it, the flashback is set in The Animated Series time period.
Anyway, the Joker in Return of the Joker is possibly the darkest we’ve seen him on screen up to that point. He kills one of his own men for questioning him in the present and in the flashback, he literally tortures Robin to make him into “Junior” before he (the Joker) is killed. And when he’s killed, he’s actually killed. I mean, he’s not just thrown off a building and we assume he dies. He’s actually shot on screen and dies. We know it’s the end.
Except it isn’t, which is the problem. Joker’s reappeared in the new Batman’s time period, and looking no worse for the wear and not a day older than the day the original Batman saw him die. So what’s going on, right? Well, I let you watch it for yourself if you’re a Batman fan, but let me tell you: the twist ending isn’t that surprising. At least, it wasn’t to me.
I picked up Return of the Joker at the suggestion of a friend who really liked it. I finished it because it was decent and not that long. I even watched it again with the producers’ commentary track. I was interested most in the edits between the original version that came out in 2000 during a backlash of anti-“violence in media” and the uncut version, which I saw long after both versions had been on the market for years. Unfortunately for my interests, the commentary track didn’t talk much about the edits between versions. Instead, it was more about who had drawn what part of which scene and thanking various people who helped. That’s all fine and good… but not what I was looking for.
It was a decent movie, if you have a prior understanding of the Batman continuum, including at least some of Batman Beyond. It would probably be an okay watch without ever having heard of Batman, but it would be way more confusing. I think, in the end, the best part is that it foreshadows how truly psychotic the Joker becomes in later media (ahem, The Dark Knight), even though it has nothing to do with said later media. If you’re a Batman (or Joker) fan, you should at least give it a go and see what you think for yourself.