Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (also known as Batman of the Future: Return of the Joker in Europe and Australia) is a direct-to-video animated film featuring the comic book superhero Batman and his archenemy, the Joker. It is set in the continuity of the animated series Batman Beyond, in which Bruce Wayne has retired from crimefighting and given the mantle of Batman to high school student Terry McGinnis. As in the TV series, Will Friedle and Kevin Conroy star as Terry McGinnis and Bruce Wayne, respectively. Mark Hamill, who voiced the Joker opposite Conroy in Batman: The Animated Series, returns in the title role.
Before its release, the movie was cut by almost four minutes to remove scenes of violence, and some dialogue was altered, thus creating the PG-Rated version of the movie. The original version was subsequently released on DVD following an online petition to have the original version released. It received a PG-13 rating from the MPAA for violence.
The next night, Bruce is about to announce his return to active leadership of Wayne Enterprises when the Joker and his cronies interrupt, and the Joker announces his return to Gotham.
Bruce is adamant that this is not the real Joker, who he claims died decades before. Terry asks Bruce if he killed the Joker to prevent him from committing a particularly heinous crime. Instead of responding, he asks Terry to give back the Batsuit. Terry refuses, saying that fighting crime as Batman is what makes him a worthwhile person. The two argue, and an angry Terry throws the Batsuit to the ground.
Later on, as Terry is dancing with his girlfriend Dana at a nightclub, he is approached by twin blondes (who are the Dee-Dee Twins without their disguises) and then attacked by the Jokerz. At the same time, the Joker attacks Bruce in the Batcave. Dana is injured, but Terry sends the Jokerz running. Terry rushes to Wayne Manor; when he arrives, he finds Bruce half-dead from Joker venom. Terry quickly administers an antidote, and as Bruce recovers, Commissioner Barbara Gordon (the former Batgirl) tells Terry the truth about the Joker's death.
The story switches to a flashback of The New Batman Adventures timeline. While on solo patrol one night, Tim Drake, the second Robin, is kidnapped by The Joker and his sidekick, Harley Quinn. Over the course of three weeks, the Joker subjects Tim to a series of brutal physical and psychological tortures, bleaching his skin white, dying his hair green, giving him a purple suit, and contorting his lips into a rictus reminiscent of the Joker's. Eventually, Tim is driven insane, and the Joker "adopts" him as his son, "J.J."
During the torture, Tim reveals to the Joker all of Batman's secrets, including his secret identity. When Batman and Batgirl locate Joker and Quinn at Arkham Asylum, they discover what the Joker has done to Tim. Batman flies into a rage and chases Joker around the abandoned asylum. Meanwhile, Harley forces Batgirl on the defensive with her rocket launcher, knocking her off a cliff outside the ruins. Harley loses control of the rocket launcher, and both she and Batgirl are knocked off the cliff. During the ensuing struggle, Harley falls off the cliff to her (apparent) death.
Batman chases after the Joker, but during the ensuing struggle, the Joker stabs Batman in the leg. With Batman incapacitated, the Joker gives "J.J." a speargun with a dart shaped like a BANG-flag and tells him to kill Batman; however, the boy, just barely aware of his actions but unwilling to kill Batman, kills the Joker instead. A severely traumatized Tim breaks down in tears (but still laughing insanely). Batman and Batgirl later bury the Joker's body in an abandoned mine shaft deep beneath the asylum, but are unable to find Harley's body. The only people who are aware of what happened at Arkham that night are Commissioner James Gordon (who helps cover the incident up), Bruce's butler Alfred Pennyworth, and Dick Grayson. To protect Tim, they decide to keep the events of his kidnapping and torture a secret. After Tim recovers, Batman forbids him from ever being Robin again. Tim leaves Wayne Manor, and eventually marries, fathers two children, and starts working as a communications engineer.
The story returns to the "present", where Terry (as Batman) questions the now adult Tim Drake, who denies any involvement and expresses resentment about his past life as Robin. Terry then suspects Jordan Price, Wayne's rival executive at Wayne Enterprises. However, Terry finds the Jokerz on Price's yacht, trying to kill him. He rescues Price before a giant laser beam from a satellite destroys the boat. He then plays a recording of the conversation between Price and the Jokerz, finding that Price has been helping the gang steal the technology, in exchange for them trying to kill Wayne. Price is arrested.
Looking around the Batcave, Terry notices that only the Robin costume was deliberately damaged in the Joker's attack on the Batcave. Remembering Tim's resentment, Terry deduces that Tim is behind the Joker. The stolen technology, when utilized by a communications expert, could form a transmitter allowing him to hijack a defense satellite.
Terry confronts Tim at his job site, but is lured into a trap. Escaping in the Batmobile, he is then chased through Gotham by another giant laser beam. He tracks the Joker to an abandoned candy factory. After fighting off the Jokerz, he discovers the truth behind the new Joker: using stolen genetics technology, the Joker copied his consciousness and DNA onto a microchip and implanted it in Tim Drake's brain while Tim was his prisoner. Whenever the chip takes control of Tim, he transforms into the Joker. Soon, the Joker will take complete control of Tim's body.
The Joker prepares a satellite strike on Gotham, beginning with Wayne Manor and including Dana's hospital and Terry's mother's house, ultimately burning a path of destruction into Gotham City in the shape of a smiley face. Before he can fire, Terry sets Bruce's guard dog Ace on the Joker and uses the distraction to destroy the beam's guidance system. The beam then heads toward the factory.
The Joker attempts to escape, but Terry seals the factory, and The Joker and the young Dark Knight face off in a final confrontation. At the fight's climax, Terry hides in the rafters, mocking the Joker's obsession with Batman and his inability to make the original Batman laugh, sending him to a crazed fury. An enraged Joker throws a handful of grenades at his opponent, sending Terry crashing to the floor. The Joker pins him to the ground, pulls off his mask, and begins to strangle him. Terry capitalizes on the Joker's distraction and destroys the microchip with Joker's own electrical joy buzzer. The Joker is destroyed once and for all, and Tim Drake reverts to his old self. Donning back his mask, Terry escapes with Tim and Ace before the satellite destroys the factory, taking the satellite jammer with it and stopping the beam.
In the city jail, two of the Jokerz, the Dee-Dee twins (Delia & Deirdra Dennis), are revealed to be the twin granddaughters of the elderly Harley Quinn ("Nana Harley"), who is ironically seen bailing them out while lamenting what disappointments they are (they leave with her saying "I hope they throw the book at you!"). Meanwhile, Terry meets Tim properly in the hospital while Tim is talking with Barbara. The movie ends with Bruce, Barbara, and Tim reuniting in a hospital room and mending fences. Bruce and Tim tell Terry that he is truly worthy of the Mantle of The Bat.
Terry dons the Batsuit once again and flies off into the heart of Gotham City.
|Will Friedle||Terry McGinnis / Batman|
|Kevin Conroy||Bruce Wayne / Batman|
|Mark Hamill|| The Joker|
|Angie Harmon||Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon|
|Dean Stockwell||Tim Drake|
|Teri Garr||Mary McGinnis|
|Arleen Sorkin||Harley Quinn|
|Tara Strong||Barbara Gordon / Batgirl (young)|
|Mathew Valencia||Tim Drake / Robin (young)|
|Melissa Joan Hart||Delia & Deidre Dennis / Dee-Dee|
|Don Harvey||Charles Buntz / Chucko|
|Michael Rosenbaum||Stewart Carter Winthrop III / Ghoul|
|Henry Rollins||Benjamin Knox / Bonk|
|Rachael Leigh Cook||Chelsea Cunningham|
|Frank Welker|| Woof the Hyena-Man|
Ace the Bat-Hound
|Lauren Tom||Dana Tan|
|Mary Scheer||Mrs. Drake|
|Vernee Watson-Johnson||Ms. Joyce Carr|
Bonk: A large, arrogant member of the gang who is constantly criticized by the others for his lack of consideration. His arrogance proves to be his undoing when he confronts Tim Drake / The Joker, saying he believes that the Joker is a fake and that he wants to quit. The Joker responds by pulling out a gun on him. Bonk, in a panic, tries to deny that he was serious. The Joker pulls the trigger and a BANG! flag comes out. Bonk and the other Jokerz sigh with relief, until the Joker pulls the trigger again, and the flag comes out and impales Bonk in the heart, sending his dead body flying across the room, putting a frozen smile on his face. In the edited version, this is redone to make the scene less violent. The events are similar, except for the fact that the Joker gives Bonk a lethal dose of laughing gas. A new scene is added when the Joker tosses the used gun over his shoulder, and it lands on Bonk's laughing body.
Chucko: An obese member of the gang, dressed in pink and always wearing a clown mask, covering his face. His face is always masked and never seen. He is tough but not as violent as Bonk or Woof and tends to work with Ghoul the most, usually with more thought and consideration than Bonk. His weapons are usually laser guns, or hand-to-hand combat. He stated that he enjoys killing and causing harm when he says to Terry McGinnis 'I don't know why the boss wants a dreg like you out of the way, but hey, as long as it's fun'. However, this line was cut in the edited version, most likely because it suggested that killing was enjoyable. In the final battle between Batman and the Jokerz (minus Bonk, who was killed earlier by the Joker), Chucko attempts to shoot down the Batwing on a large pillar with a bazooka. However, Batman makes short work of him when he cuts the pillar down, sending Chucko plummeting downwards.
Dee Dee: Twin granddaughters of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, also known as Harley Quinn. They fight with the same style as their grandmother and are arguably the best fighters in the gang. They are Olympic-level athletes, experts at tumbling and hand to hand combat. Many opponents, including Batman, underestimated their playful, Raggedy Ann-like smiles only to wind up in traction later. Without their Jokerz uniforms and makeups, they are two attractive sixteen year old girls that can bring any boy to their knees. Their motto is "Trouble on the double!" and they do their best to live up to it. In the final scene, they are defeated by Batman, and are seen later in their cell, being bought out by their grandmother. It has been confirmed by the creators that they are also of the Joker's heritage. In the Justice League Unlimited episode, "The Once and Future Thing", they are able to murder their timeline's Batman by electrocution before the events are erased from history at the end of the episode.
Ghoul: A Gothic looking member of the gang who resembles Batman's old enemy the Scarecrow. It is possible that his look was influenced by the villain. Ghoul is not much in a fight, but has high intelligence and does the Joker's research and infiltrates different places, usually alongside Chucko. He speaks in the style of Christopher Walken. He is last seen in the battle against Batman, when he tries to creep up on him, but is easily beaten with a single punch.
Woof: A spliced member of the group, his DNA is mixed with that of a hyena in homage to the old hyena pets of the Joker and Harley. Woof cannot speak, only laughs and snarls, and fights rather than thinks. He is beaten by Ace the Bat-Hound in the fight against Batman.
It should be noted that this particular Jokerz gang returns after this movie in the Justice League Unlimited episode 'The Once and Future Thing' in which they are working for Chronos who has created a Time Machine. Bonk is also present, however the events in 'The Once and Future Thing' were happening outside the normal flow of time as stated by the older Bruce Wayne to Static. Therefore, the events of 'The Once and Future Thing' and Return of the Joker can both exist. Bonk could have been killed in Return of the Joker yet live in The Once and Future Thing due to the timeline being damaged as can be seen from such events as John Stewart changing into Hal Jordan or Wonder Woman simply vanishing. In The Once and Future Thing, the Jokerz work for Chronos in exchange for new, advanced superpowers that he gives them. Bonk can change his arm into a powerful hammer, Dee Dee can duplicate themselves repeatedly after withstanding kinetic impacts (similar to the Marvel Comics character Jamie Madrox), Woof has powerful mechanical arms, Ghoul can transform his limbs into deadly chainsaws, and Chucko now moves with his legs replaced with a ball and uses a double laser-sword; the unknown technologies in the laser sword proved capable of harming Wonder Woman even when they struck her normally invulnerable bracelets. With these powers, the Jokerz killed most of the Justice League. During the episode, Chucko sells Chronos out to Batman, but is caught. As punishment, Chronos sends Chucko back in time to the dinosaur age, just before the dinosaurs were wiped out. Chucko is wiped out with them. At the end, time is altered so none of this ever happened, so it is likely that Chucko returned to life and Bonk died again.
The movie was initially released amid the backlash against violence in movies and video games aimed at children that followed the Columbine High School massacre; as a result, the movie was substantially re-edited shortly before release to tone down the violence. Many of the changes were controversial, particularly those made to a key scene in which the Joker is killed. The original unedited version has been released as "The Original Uncut Version." This story was broken by Jim Harvey from The World's Finest.
The following are scenes that were changed in the edited-for-content version:
Nisha Gopalan of Entertainment Weekly praised the uncut version of the film, in particular how it "sheds light on the dark, obsessive relationship between the villain and his vigilante counterpart. Gerry Shamray of Sun Newspapers said that Return of the Joker "would have made a great live-action Batman movie. Ryan Cracknell of Apollo Guide called the film "an animated masterpiece.
Peter Canavese of Groucho Reviews called it an "energetic and unsettling Batman adventure," adding that it "provides a memorable showcase for Hamill's celebrated take on the Joker, and allows both McGinnis and Wayne to see action and face emotional challenges. Michael Stailey of DVD Verdict gave the uncut version a score of 92 out of 100, calling it "a taut, high-impact film" and "a must-buy to Bat-fans and animation lovers alike.
Garth Franklin of Dark Horizons had a mixed response when reviewing the uncut version, saying that "the script is pretty solid, the animation superb, and the voice performances all work well," but added that "the Terry character's personal scenes aren't anywhere near as engaging [as the scenes featuring the Joker or Bruce Wayne], and the investigative subplot doesn't work as well as it should.
The comic includes several scenes that didn't make it to either versions of the film, such as: