Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a great film. Unlike what Aaron said in his review, this movie is not a direct to video feature. The plan from the beginning was that ROTJ would be given a theatrical release like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm did so long ago. When Warner Bros. saw the initial screening of the movie, they were not very excited over the mature situations presented in this movie. They demanded the makers to create a toned down version of the movie and it never saw its full release in theaters. The decision was also made to bring the DVD out in its edited form after we were promised it would be the full version.
ROTJ is set in the future world of the Batman Beyond series. Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) is older and actually has a partner in Wayne Industries who wants to take over. Bruce can no longer be Batman and the reason is actually finally explained in this movie, but contrasts with the first episode of Batman Beyond with continuity. A boy, Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), falls upon the Batcave and ends up becoming the next Batman. This is much to the dismay of Bruce, even though he knows there needs to be a Batman. His suit is a little more versatile than Wayne's old suit. This one really does not rely on a utility belt and actually has the utilities already in the suit. McGinnis can go underwater, he can fly, he can be given super strength, etc. He basically is the Batman for a new generation and really parallels the changes made to Wayne's Batman in the Dark Knight Returns and Elseworlds series in DC comics. Batman Beyond as a series is more adult in its storytelling than the original Batman series is. This is not to say that the original series does not have any adult stories in it though. That gives you a basic background of the Batman Beyond world, now to the movie.
This movie is the perfect melding of the old and new series. The Jokerz, a gang in Batman Beyond, are after pieces of technology at the beginning of the film. Bruce and Terry know they are after these pieces of technology, they just do not know what all the pieces together would create. Terry stops them from acquiring a piece of technology that they need and they go running to their hideout. There we hear the famous voice of the Joker (Mark Hamill) and then we see his face. He does not seem to have aged a bit, unlike Bruce Wayne. How the heck is he around and how the heck is he still young? A scene here is one of the first edits that was made, it is now taken out and makes more sense than it did in the edited version.
The Joker hatches his plan and does it at a Wayne Industries gathering. It seems the Joker knows Bruce Wayne is Batman and Bruce is shocked that the Joker seems to be back. He and Terry go to the Batcave and Bruce talks about the last time he and the Joker ever met. We have a flashback to a time, post-Batman: The Animated Series run, when the Joker and Harley Quinn kidnap Robin, Tim Drake. They put him through torture, which I will touch on in a minute, and he eventually gives in and tells the Joker that Bruce Wayne is indeed Batman. Batman and Batgirl figure out that Joker is in Arkham Asylum and go to bring Tim back home. Problem is Tim has been brainwashed and has actually turned into Joker Jr. Joker even shows Batman the torture that Tim went through over the weeks since he was kidnapped. This is the biggest part of the movie that was cut. The torture is very serious both physically and mentally. It is one of the most gruesome sections I have ever seen in an American animated series. What was once confusing about this part in the edited version is now clear. In the end of the flashback the Joker is dead…in fact he dies differently in the unedited version than he did in the edited version. So, the question is how the heck can the Joker be back if he is already dead? Terry has his ideas, but Bruce blows them off and they argue. The rest of the movie is spent with Bruce and Terry trying to figure out how the Joker is here and how to stop him.
This movie is simply great. It ranks right up there with the best of the live-action Batman movies and the unedited version easily overpowers Batman: Mask of the Phantasm as the best movie version of Batman in animated form. With the edited version, Phantasm is easily the best. This movie is excellently written and has you thinking about how the heck the Joker can be back. It is also great to see Batman's greatest enemy against the new Batman. Joker originally blows him off, but later he realizes the new Batman may be a bit more violent than the old one and he loves that this Batman talks and cracks jokes, unlike Bruce. Mark Hamill is easily one of the best voices out there and he just brings so much to the Joker character. This is simply a great movie and should be added to your collection.
Video: Even though the box says differently, ROTJ is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. This is not an anamorphic transfer, but there is most likely a reason behind that. We should first feel grateful that this was actually presented in its original form. When I first heard this was going to be full-screen I said, "then this is not the fully uncut version". When I popped the disc in I was happy to see it was the correct aspect. I do not believe the movie was ever created anamorphically. It was created with a widescreen presentation in mind (Bruce Timm and Paul Dini has been doing this for years in the animated series). I believe when Warner Bros. saw the uncut print and made the decision to have it edited that this movie lost any chance to be anamorphically transferred. Warner Bros. probably did not feel they needed to put the extra dollars into making it anamorphic. It was a poor decision, but at least we have a widescreen presentation of this movie. I will not downgrade it because of not having an anamorphic transfer though. We get a great video presentation here, full of colors and full of darkness (this is Batman after all). The transfer seems clean and I saw no errors at all on it. It is also great to finally see the unedited scenes on DVD for the first time.
Sound: Presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1. Unlike what Aaron said, this is not a straight to video release and was actually created with Digital sound. This is the same soundtrack that was on the original DVD with the extra lines of dialogue that were eliminated by the edits. This is a great sounding disc, especially for an animated movie. The end song is especially great with Kenny Wayne Shepard doing the guitar.
Menus: Simple menus with music in the background.
Audio Commentary: Done by the creators/writers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Glen Murakami. This commentary is a brand new commentary and is not the same commentary that was on the edited DVD. They go into the making of this series and will catch up people on the Batman Beyond lore that I talked about earlier in the review. The commentary is a good starting point for anyone that wants to know more about Batman Beyond and everything around it. These people have worked on different series for Warner Bros. and love what they do very much. Paul Dini has since left the team (most likely over the edited version of this film, but it is debatable), but Bruce Timm continues with the current Cartoon Network series, Justice League.
Beyond Batman Beyond Documentary: This documentary is pretty short and is made up mostly of interviews from people that talk about the stories behind Batman Beyond. It is another good refresher course for people that are not into the Batman Beyond lore.
Animatics: Shows moving storyboards. It is nothing special, but good to have.
Character Bios: Goes more into the characters in the movie. This once again expands knowledge of Batman Beyond while also reaching out to the original Batman series.
Music Video: "Crash" by Mephisto Odyssey featuring Static X
Final Thoughts: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is finally out and in its correct unedited form. If you own the edited version, go out and get this one. The unedited version is far more cohesive and much better than the edited version. If you do not own the edited version, go out and get this. The extras might not be great outside of the commentary, but that is no reason not to own this release. The uncut version is geared more toward older children and adults given its adult situations, but it easily stands alongside other PG-13 live-action movies made today. If you have young children that do watch it you may have to explain some things. There are serious physical and mental abuse situations in this movie. This movie is a must own and even with it being non-anamorphic it belongs in the your collection. This is a movie not to be missed. It is both well written and acted and is easily better than a lot of the drivel out there. I believe this movie could have made some money in the theaters had it come out. It would have brought a shine back to the Batman franchise that has sorely been lacking with the last two duds. This movie, with all it has been through, deserves to take a place in the DVD Talk Collector Series even though the extras are not plentiful.