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  • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Unedited) (2000): ****

    Directed by Curt Geda

    I've watched the various warner brother superhero shows ever since the genre was re-invented by Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. I've even seen all the episodes of Superman, even though they're generally not all that good. And the Batman Beyond series has the most inconsistent track record of them all. While all the episodes are of good production quality (ulike Batman: TAS), fully half of them are pretty much crap.

    That fact, and coming off the heels of the disasterous Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero (1998), I was very worried that this movie was going to be terrible.

    There was no reason for me to worry. This movie made me gasp, mutter Oh My God, say "Nice," and shout "Holy shit!" in amazement more than any movie I've seen recently. It is EXCELLENT, quite possibly the best Batman movie EVER (see my article).

    You've probably noticed that this movie has "Unedited" after the title. That's because I saw the pre-release, pre-censored version of this movie. I've heard that much of the more graphic violence was toned down in the version now avaliable in a video store near you. Which is too bad, because the censoring includes altering one very important emotional and plot point. So I urge all you to somehow get your hands on this unedited version.

    It's difficult to review this movie without giving away some of the plot points, and believe me: you don't want me to do that. I'll give you some quick history: It's 40 years after the original Batman series ended. Bruce Wayne is an old man, and there is a new Batman: Terry McGinnis, a high-school senior. They work as a team; Terry does the field work, Bruce monitors him from the Batcave. Barbera Gordon (Batgirl) is now the Police Commissioner like her father before her. That's basically all you need to know. Now I'll just go down and tell you some of the things I thought were excellent about this fine flick.

    First of all, its production values are some of the highest in the history of the WB superhero shows, rivaling even that of the excellent World's Fines Batman/Superman movie. The fight and action scenes are excellently choreographed and everything moves smoothly without the jarring quality shifts that marred Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (an otherwise excellent movie). There is one notable but forgivable exception: There are two scenes in nightclubs, and boy, them kids can't dance. The animation is nonsensical. But I just figured, "Hey! That's how kids dance in the future. Future Dancing!"

    This film has some of the darkest moments ever animated by the WB, especially the Arkham sequence, which is absolutely uncompromising and gut-wrenching and yet somehow completely satisfying. Also there are some very graphic deaths (and much implied), with two people dying as you, the viewer, and the characters watch.

    This movie is highly satisfying to anyone who has watched Batman Beyond and wondered what ever happened to good ol' Joker. This movie answers that question with resounding and extraordinarily satisfying finality.

    The central mystery around this movie (is it the real Joker? Is that possible?) is legitimately mystifying, and the conclusion is both shocking and understandable. The final explanation is a little too short, though. There needed to be just one more sentance to more fully explain how it works, but that fact does absolutely nothing to detract from the rest of the movie.

    Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker) reprises his role as the Maybe-Joker, and after eight years of voicing that character is at his absolute best. His timing and delivery are some of the best voice work done in years, and it seems almost sad that this might be the last time we'll hear his Joker laugh. (note: I've learned recently that the Joker will appear in the WB's new "Justice League of America" cartoon! Hooray!)

    The fascinating interplay between the Old School characters (Bruce, Barbera, Joker) and the new, young Batman is very well written. Some great dialogue. Man, I just can't say enough good things about this movie, so I'll just stop there.

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