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My Favorite Batman Movie

by on May 24, 2011

I just finished rewatching Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. I’ve seen it many times before, and yet each time, it’s always awesome. Between this and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the animated Batman movies are what the live-action ones aspire to be. In some ways, I think I enjoy the animated ones even better than the live action ones. That’s especially true of the horrific Batman and Robin, but even Batman Begins and The Dark Knight could take lessons from ROTJ. It’s that good.

Let’s talk casting, for example. You’ve got Kevin Conroy as Batman, the guy who does the perfect Batman voice, and who (if I recall correctly) was the one who really started the whole “Batman and Bruce Wayne using different voices” thing. You’ve got Will Friedle as Terry McGinnis, and for anyone who’s seen Kim Possible you might recognize Will as the voice of Ron Stoppable. Plus, you’ve got Mark Hamill as the Joker, the guy who played Luke Skywalker and voiced Fire Lord Ozai. So right off the bat you know the movie’s going to be good, with all the great voice talent it’s lined up.

Then of course there’s the plot. ROTJ has one of the best moments in superhero animation I’ve ever seen (best in terms of power and storytelling, not best in terms of warm and fuzzy. Trust me, it’s anything but warm and fuzzy. Also, SPOILER WARNING in case you haven’t seen it yet. Which you should.)

ROTJ takes place in Gotham City of the future, but a central part of the movie is an extended flashback to present-day Gotham, where Bruce Wayne is still Batman. The Joker and Harley Queen kidnap Robin (Tim Drake), and Batman tracks him to the ruins of Arkham Asylum. The Joker reveals that he has tortured Tim and transformed him into a miniature Joker, in a twisted attempt to create a Joker-family). The fight begins, Batgirl splits off to chase Harley Quinn, and Batman goes after the Joker. The Joker ducks out of sight, then starts narrating as a movie plays on a nearby screen. The movie displays graphic details of the Joker’s torture of Tim Drake. Then, as Batman’s watching in horror, the Joker says this. “But all too soon the serums and the shocks took their toll, and the dear lad began to share such secrets with me, secrets that are mine alone to know….Bruce.”

*BOOM*. It’s amazing how powerful one word can be. Right there you know Batman’s world just shifted. I was discussing this moment with a friend of mine recently, and he pointed out that, psychologically, this puts the Joker almost on a level above Batman. He knows Batman’s identity now, he knows the backstory, he knows why Batman does what he does, he knows everything. And yet, even now, what does Batman know about the Joker? He knows a few bits of the Joker’s history, like the fact that he worked for the mobster Sal Valestra (Phantasm) and that he got his skin bleached in a raid on Axis Chemicals, but does he really know who the Joker is, on the same level that the Joker knows who he is now? No, he doesn’t, which is why what the Joker says next is even more powerful and twisted. “It’s true, Batsy, I know everything! And kinda like the kid who peeks at his Christmas presents, it’s sadly anticlimactic. Behind all the sturm and Batarangs, you’re just a little boy in a playsuit crying for his mommy and daddy! It’d be funny if it weren’t so pathetic!….ah, what the heck, I’ll laugh anyway.” Whereupon he delivers his trademark Joker laugh, and Batman crashes in through a window, and the fight foes on. But, man, what a moment. The Joker hit Batman right where it hurts, challenged Bruce’s whole motivation for becoming Batman, and then laughs about it. I’m not even sure Heath Ledger’s Joker was quite that evil.

There’s a lot of other great moments in the movie too, so I encourage you all to go watch it if you haven’t yet. Incidentally, when you do, make sure to get the original uncut version. ROTJ has a bit of interesting history in that regard; apparently the movie was released right after the Columbine school shootings, and the producers were so worried about kids being influenced to violence that they made a bunch of edits to the film. Some are relatively inconsequential; for example, instead of the Joker saying “it’s a killer”, he says “it’s a doozy”. Others are more substantive. Personally I prefer the unedited version; it just makes more sense, story-wise. For example, at one point the Joker stabs Batman in the leg, which is why Bruce has a limp throughout the Batman Beyond series. The edited version takes that out; so the limp goes unexplained. There’s other moments, too, but I won’t spoil everything. Go watch it. Posthaste. πŸ™‚

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3 Comments
  1. I didn’t read the whole thing since I have not seen it and I do love the Batman universe – so I should see this! πŸ˜‰

    • Yes, the Batman universe is pretty awesome. Unless it’s the George Clooney Batman universe, which I think would rival Character Hell in horrific-ness.

  2. Yeah, that one rocked! It was definitely under-appreciated in its day.

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