"Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" Blu-ray Review
April 04, 2011 by James Harvey
When people think of Batman, thoughts of the Joker are close behind. This evil clown has been tormenting the Dark Knight since the beginning, and remains the most fascinating member of Batman's rogues gallery. However, his presence has been completely absent from the tales of the future Batman. News of the Joker's animated return has intrigued and concerned fans of the mythos for months. Would the confrontation between the Future Knight and the Harlequin of Hate live up to the past struggles with Batman's greatest nemesis? The answer is a resounding yes.
The greatest villain of all comes out of the past to threaten Batman, Bruce Wayne and all of Gotham City in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, the first feature-length Batman Beyond movie. The sleeker, deadlier and seemingly immortal Clown Prince of Crime is back with his own unique brand of havoc and mayhem. While trying to uncover the Joker's secrets, the new Batman, Terry McGinnis, discovers the greatest mystery in the life of the original Caped Crusader: What happened the night he fought the Joker for the last time. When Bruce Wayne is almost killed in one of the Joker's latest attacks, Batman vows to avenge his mentor and put the Joker to rest forever. Get ready for heart-stomping action, awesome adventure and amazing revelations in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker begins when one of the many street gangs who pattern themselves after the legendary madman switch from petty theft to grand larceny of scientific equipment. Terry McGinnis, the Batman of future Gotham City, is able to fight them off, which does not please the new boss of these Jokerz. After all, his minions are using his name! The Joker, apparently as spry as ever, decides to make his grand comeback during the ceremonies that hand control of Wayne Enterprises back to its founder, former Batman Bruce Wayne.
Though the Joker disappears without harming his old enemy, Bruce is so shaken by the Joker's re-emergence that he forbids Terry to take on the madman. But the Joker is far from finished. Terry's girlfriend Dana becomes injured when the Jokerz attack Terry in his civilian identity, while Joker himself gives Bruce a near-lethal dose of his trademark laughing gas.
Terry must now learn the secret behind the Joker's return before the clown can leave his deadly mark upon Gotham with his purloined technology. Along the way, he'll learn what happened during the final battle between the Joker and the original Batman, Robin and Batgirl--a dark confrontation that forever tainted its participants.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker never fails to please, partially because the Joker truly shines. Mark Hamill turns in the performance of his animated career. The Joker shows his wacky side a time or two, but for the most part, the character has never been as disturbing on film. He's a sick, demented monster, and it shows in spades. The question behind the Joker's return drives most of the movie, and the revelation is disturbing, logical and satisfying.
Despite Joker's larger-than-life presence, the rest of the cast shines as well. Kevin Conroy's Bruce Wayne is bitter but not broken, and he puts forth just the right amount of dark emotion to convey exactly how dark his encounters with the Joker were. Will Friedle makes a fine future Batman, especially with his voice work during the final battle. His character also gets a chance to really prove himself, both in battle and in spirit. Make no mistake, in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker he shows that he's not just some punk in a costume--he's Batman.
It should also be noted that Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker contains a ten-minute flashback sequence detailing the original Batman's final encounter with the laughing one. While it's great to see Bruce, Robin and Batgirl in action again one last time, this sequence contains some of the film's most disturbing elements. Writer and Batman Beyond co-creator Paul Dini mentioned in an interview one time that what happens to Robin "wasn't good." Certainly, that's an understatement.
The animation looks good, not Disney quality by any means but much better than the TV series, especially during Batman's aerial battle with the Jokerz (and on the Joker's facial expressions, as well). The music is a mix of orchestration and the techno-metal that's become the signature of the Batman Beyond series, and it works amazingly well.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is the best depiction of the future Batman, equals the shamelessly underrated animated Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and even trumps all the live-action Batman movies. Anyone with even an iota of interest in the Dark Knight will not be disappointed. Must Own.
Warner Home Video has finally brought the original uncut Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker into the high-definiton fold and, thankfully, it does not dissapoint. While the package may not be overflowing with goodies, those who have picked up the previous releases of this excellent movie will have plenty of reasons to upgrade. Infact, the extras are the last reason for most, I would assume. Let's dive in, shall we?
To get it out of the way, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is packaged in the standard eco-Blu-ray case, and contains both the Blu-ray and The Original, Uncut Version DVD. The DVD is the exact same disc as was released all those years ago. The Blu-ray is newly-pressed, not a simple port. The Blu-ray disc art even features Warner Home Video's current black-and-white Lightscribe-ish scheme. Still, no complaints.
Once the disc starts up, viewers will be treated to trailers for the recent All-Star Superman, the upcoming Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, and DC Comics Digital Comics. It's about time DC Comics has started plugging their comic titles on other media, and this is a solid start.
The main menu is standard for a Warner Home Video release. The extras brought over from the previous DVD release include the excellent audio commentary, deleted scenes, animatics, character bios, a music video, and a featurette on the film. The trailers from the previous DVD releases are, naturally, gone. New bonus content includes a trailer for the current (and very, very excellent) Young Justice animated series. Since the included content is exactly the same from the previous DVD releases, save for the snazzy Young Justice trailer, you can check out the other Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker DVD reviews at The World's Finest for more detailed thoughts.
Before I continue with the audio and video portion of this review, I just want to say that I'm really surprised and glad that Warner Home Video has obviously put effort into this new release. It's not a quickie port or upscale, but a well put-together Blu-ray for one of the most acclaimed animated Batman movies to date. It's not a rush job, but an excellent one, and I commend Warner Home Video on it.
Now, I say this also becuase the audio and video have definitely been upgraded from the previous DVD releases. The audio is an excellent DTS-HD Audio 5.1 mix that is good, not great. While I feel it doesn't deliver a home run experience, it does at least garner a three-base hit. Sound could be a bit more boisterous at times, but overall I'm very happy with the audio for the final product.
The video on the otherhand...beautiful. Save for some standard color banding, which seems to pop-up on all of Warner Home Video's animated home video releases, and some odd macroblocking, the video is stunning. The details on the backgrounds are just gorgeous and the animation is absolutely stunning. This film just hasn't looked better. Ever. I don't think I can go back to watching the DVD version after seeing this. I am pretty sure that majority of viewers will notice how clear the background looks here, how new details simply jump out. It's like Warner Home Video wiped off a layer of dust from the film and...here we are. The movie looks excellent, plain and simple.
As for the image itself, it is 4:3 widescreen, 1080p open matte, just like the 2008 Justice League: Season One Blu-ray release. It's full-screen, basically. There was some confusion when Warner Home Video originally announced this release, due to inconsistencies over the release's reported aspect ratio, with many worried it would be a windowboxed (i.e., black spaces on all four sides of the image). Thankfully, that is not so.
Now, since the film was animated in full screen, though intended as a widescreen release as stated by the creators of the film, viewers will notice a fair amount of dead space at the top and bottom of the screens. Admittedly, it did get a bit distracting at times since the widescreen transfer on the The Original, Uncut Version DVD is framed perfectly (sure, it was also non-anamorphic, but the frame composition was dead-on). You'll even notice the odd time when the animation doesn't even meet the top or bottom of the screen. Personally, I don't mind the open matte transfer here at all. It looks great. Yes, the image isn't as well framed as it would be in widescreen, and the dead space can get noticeable (there are times when there is a very noticeable amount of empty space between the tip of Batman's ears and the top of the screen, for example), but the video quality itself more than makes up for it. I would have personally preferred if we got the widescreen transfer as the creators intended, but this open matte transfer is the next best thing.
Overall, I sincerely believe that all Batman Beyond fans need to rush out and pick up this release. This is a definite Must Own! Even if you haven't upgraded to Blu-ray yet, don't worry - it comes with an additional DVD copy of The Original, Uncut Version for free. The main feature alone is worth the price of admission, to be honest, but having it in high definition gives the film a new, fresh look. It's never looked or sounded this good, and fans will definitely notice the difference. Don't hesitate with this release. Go out and pick up Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and I gaurantee you won't regret it.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker arrives on Blu-ray Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 from Warner Home Video.
Feature review originally published at The World's Finest "Batman Beyond" subsite. More coverage on this release can be found here.