“Batman the Animated Series” was a huge hit, and is sometimes called the greatest TV show ever. It was known for its atmospheric stories and literally dark art. They only used black paper to draw it. The executives told the creators, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett to make a futuristic child Batman with a younger brother and a team pet. This was supposed to make it more kid friendly, and instead it became more adult than The Animated Series. The child Batman, Terry McGinnis was a high school teenager who used to be in JV who is a brooder most of the time with a murdered father. The younger brother was a very minor character more in common with Flash Thompson than anything Warner Bros had in mind, and the pet was a rottweiler/German shepherd hybrid who hated Terry. Old Bruce Wayne was increasingly alone and miserable compared to his younger self, and the new high school always was dealing with some sort of realistic danger like drugs, murderous personal feuds, and gangs. This resulted in a mix of Spider-Man and Batman, and the creators masterfully combined them. This resulted in a big hit and a film was ordered during the second season. The creators realized they needed a big gimmick for the movie to stick out and not sound like it was just a long episode.
They did this by breaking one of their rules for the show, villains. Their rule was they would not rely on the old Batman villains and instead make new ones like “Shriek,” their best one. They occasionally brought old ones back like Mr. Freeze and Talia Al Ghul but only when they had an amazing story for them. By using them rarely (once a season) they stuck out as special. To help the movie seem special they brought back the biggest Batman villain…
… The Joker.
The opening is an action scene with the jokerz. for those unfamiliar with the show they are a group of high schoolers who worship the joker as a symbol of rebelling against authority and are petty thieves. Their line up changes each time, and this is the first time these clowns show up. I saw the movie before the show and could figure out the basics about them. What I could not figure out was why one, Woof, was a hyena/man hybrid. In the future “splicing” was made to give people animal parts (officially as a fashion statement). It also made them go insane and most were criminals or spliced supremacists. The Jokerz are stealing technology and Batman shows up to stop them. This fight is artistically good, but I do not think it works as an opening. The tone is too light, instead of setting up what the movie will be about thematically, adaptability
Bruce and Terry realize the Jokerz were stealing some powerful technology that street gangs never rob, and they assume they are doing some corporate espionage for an employer. This red herring is reinforced when the news reveals Bruce is trying to regain control of Wayne Tech and Jordan Price (voiced by Mark Hamill) is in his way. One major difference from the early episodes is you really see how much Bruce cares for Terry. Early on it was subtle, but now he makes no secret to Terry.
Then comes one of the scariest parts of the movie. the Jokerz send the motherboard they stole to The Joker who squashes it as worthless. Hamill is now voicing him with a much more restrained and menacing voice (the commentary said he hated that), and it is really chilling to go with his more muscled look and red eyes. One of the henchmen, Bonk, accuses him of being a fraud and wants out.
“If you insist,” says Joker while pointing a gun at him. the others look terrified like they have seen this before.
“Take it easy I was just kidding.” A flag saying “bang” comes out of gun harmlessly. The others look relieved until the flag then fires and impales Bonk in the heart killing him.
“So was I,” calmly says The Joker. He then sends the terrified Ghoul, Woof, Chucko, Dee, and Dee to attack Bruce Wayne. This is a great villain scene. No sense of care for his underlings, yet incredibly resourceful and sick sense of humor. It also shows that Joker is now a bigger physcial threat than he used to be.
They attack Bruce’s speech after a Joker laugh plays on the speakers. The Dee Dee twins attack Bruce, and the way they describe him makes it seem like they know who he is. (most Gothamites think the new Batman is really the old who found something to keep himself young). Then a figure comes up from a trapdoor and smiles at Bruce. “…joker’s back in town.”
I know the audience does not know at the time that Joker knows Bruce Wayne is Batman, but these scenes are much better knowing it. Terry shows up and Joker acts like he is at a high school reunion. They proceed to escape after Woof beats up Terry.
Then we get to the movie’s worst scene. To protect Terry Bruce aggravates him until he quits being Batman. How is getting the entire city destroyed due to their no longer being an active Batman going to keep him alive? We then get an introductory scene to Terry’s family for the new audience members and Terry goes to party with his dull and universally hated girlfriend. Terry is happy for the freetime, as his busy life sucks. Some fans think Terry is a wish fulfillment, but he is not. His father was murdered by a billionaire, his Batman duties make him fail school, make his seem very irresponsible due to him constantly running of to put on the suit, and nobody but Bruce trusts him. He hurt many people in the past making him have atonement issues. He is happy to find time to repair relationships, but the film abandons this idea quickly.
The Jokerz attack Terry at a party, which is an intense fight, but previously done better. In the meantime while Bruce is making a joker anti-toxin he is attacked in the bat cave by Joker and physically completely outmatched.
When Bruce does not answer the phone Terry realizes something is wrong and rushes over in the film’s scariest scene. The music gets dark and slow, as it matches the slow and ominous new pacing. Terry finds Ace (Bruce’s dog) nearly unconscious and the entrance to the bat cave destroyed. He rushes down and finds Ha-Ha graffiti and Bruce Wayne finally laughing at the Joker from laughing gas. He is able to point to the anti-toxin, but Bruce is now reduced to bed resting.
One of the really notable parts is the graffiti. It is a callback to the first episode, as Terry came home to his father’s murder and found graffiti like this (but green and purple, not blood red) everywhere. This is bringing back memories of his father’s death as he sees the potential death of his second father. As Ace watches Looney Tunes Terry goes to Barbara to get answers leading to the film’s most iconic scene.
In the flashback Joker and Harley Quinn kidnap Jason Todd (I know it is not his real film name), as Barbara and Batman try to find him for weeks until they are sent an invitation to Arkham. They follow Quinn’s singing. They find some jokes and Joker and Quinn say they decided to start a family by adopting. To adopt they borrowed one of Batman’s “spare kids” to get Joker Jr. (JJ).
Holy Surgery! This soon results in a bloody and angry fight where Quinn falls to her death, while Batman chases Joker. Joker leads Batman to a video of him brainwashing Jason. He then reveals he knows everything, and Batman’s secret is disappointing. Batman is just a crying kid calling to mommy. “Would be funy if it weren’t so paphetic… I’ll laugh anyway.” Joker then decisively defeats Batman and decides the best way to finish him is to have his own sidekick shoot him. Jason has just enough in him to instead shoot Joker (same gun used to kill the henchman earlier). After this Batman never had a partner until Terry.
What makes this scene so good? Part of it is the villains’ demeanor. They are sitting in a place designed to look like a home, they are acting more lovey dovey with each other, and Joker’s kiss the cook apron during the surgery. They are such a perversion of the family making this really feel wrong like they think this is what parents do. The real beauty is this scene makes every part of the movie before it so much better with all the rewatch bonuses.
Terry thinks Jason might be involved and goes to his job (communications expert). He eventually moved on and is clearly relating to Terry for working for Bruce like this. Terry then goes to check on Jordan Price. The Jokerz are there to kill him for being a lose end, as he helped them attack Bruce’s speech. Terry saves him, and he sees that a satellite has fired a huge laser at the yacht.
Now I was really interested in how Joker pulled this off. Bruce shows back up to the bat cave, and they try to figure out what is going on. Terry notices only Jason’s Robin costume was destroyed and Jason hates the suit more than anyone. They check on what everything Joker stole can do with the technical knowledge of Jason, and it is a laser fired from space. After discovering Jason is working for Joker the huge laser chases down the Bat plane and wrecks most of the city’s streets. He is saved by Joker oddly becoming exhausted.
Terry then defeats the Jokerz and finds Jason who fakes weakness only to then immobilize Terry (“batfake” as he calls him) and then transforms into Joker. Previously Joker installed a chip of his consciousness (that should have been discovered) that allowed him to slowly take over Jason’s body briefly, and he stays in control longer each time. He is on the verge of doing it permanently and he got all of Jason’s techno skills and fighting skills. Joker debates about making ground zero something personal to Terry (make personal tragedy for the hero) or destroying Wayne manor.
Terry breaks free and hits the controls sending the laser straight to them. Then Joker and Terry battle with Joker having the upper hand due to knowing all of Batman’s moves in his prime. Bruce tells Terry to tone it out, but Terry realizes he needs to win his way, which is the Joker’s game. He switches to fighting dirty and then he mocks Joker by using his speech to Bruce in the flashback. Joker is just a guy who fell into chemicals and felt he then had to be a super villain instead of a rodeo clown. He spent years trying to get a guy with no sense of humor to laugh and failed every time. His only ability to get a laugh is in how pathetic he is. Joker completely collapses mentally until he finally catches Batman
Batman then pulls out Joker’s own joy buzzer and uses it to destroy the chip turning him back into Jason. This all makes me realize now Joker is the physical threat with Batman relying on misdirection and hiding to beat him, the opposite from The Animated Series.
The falling action is almost nothing as Terry just flies into the sunset. Thankfully it is also revealed that Quin survived and the Dee Dee twins are her granddaughters for some needed comic relief.
It took me some time, but I think I found the theme, success requires adaptability to changing forces. In the series, Bruce adapted by realizing he now needs to be the mentor instead of the hero. In the movie he instead refuses to accept this and is beaten in his own bat cave. Joker adapted by using Jason’s skills to beat up enemies and create weapons. Terry adapted by using his skills, not Bruce’s skills, to psychoanalyze Joker and beat him at his own game.
The weakness is Terry. In the show he has plenty of personality, but here is different. Besides the climax he is mostly a blank slate personality wise who just reacts to every disaster.
The strength is Joker. Every scene with him is great. The dark sense of humor always feels evil, yet it can bring in laughs too.
The movie has flaws for sure, but it is defiantly memorable and entertaining. I recommend it to all Batman fans, and I plan on re-watching it within a year.