That was surprisingly impressive. Until this I'd never taken any interest in Batman Beyond, but now I suspect it might have been a better show than its more traditional parent.
Firstly, some background. Batman Beyond was a 52-episode cartoon series (1999-2001), set in the DC animated universe. The pilot episode began with an ageing Batman (in 2019) having a heart attack while confronting a criminal and as a result giving up crime-fighting. We then move on yet another twenty years, to 2039. Bruce Wayne is a bitter old man living alone in his mansion in Neo-Gotham when a teenager called Terry McGinnis stumbles into the Batcave. Abracadabra, it's Batman Junior!
I'd never liked the sound of this. A teenaged Batman who's not even Bruce Wayne? Get outta here! However I was wrong and in fact the show is far more satisfying in its Batman-ness than the genuine article's appearances in some Justice League episodes I was watching recently. The villains are still freaks. (That's the important one.) Batman himself looks cool and the lack of a cape doesn't matter. The futuristic setting is fun, giving Neo-Gotham as much character as you'd get from a 1930s gangster flick, while at the same time getting to play with SF trappings and gadgets. It's managing to tick all the fanboy checkboxes, plus a few you won't have thought of... but when it comes to its cast, it's actually superior to the original. Batman doesn't normally offer much in that department. The Bat broods, Robin is annoying and Alfred says "yes sir". That's it, normally. Here though we've got two Batmen, neither naturally a friend of the other. They're both cool in their own ways, but they're also both emotionally damaged and have limitations on what they could achieve on their own. It's a more dynamic line-up than the original, in which Wayne simply called the shots.
Anyway, I really liked what we have here. It's dark enough that this film had to be heavily edited for its original video release, although this was admittedly in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre. Obviously I watched the uncut version. There are some things you just don't do.
The story, as you might have guessed, involves the return of... go on, guess. Theoretically this shouldn't be scary since the guy would be in his mid-eighties, but it's not that simple. The Joker's dead. Wayne saw him die. That's another option available to this show... they can make big changes to you'd imagine to be the status quo, since that's all in the past and it's now the year 2039. They could kill anyone in the cast, including Wayne. At the heart of this story is an incident that I thought would simply be A Death in the Family, but in fact turns out to be impressively sicker and more twisted. Apparently it had been suggested in the TV series that there had been a tragedy in Batman's past which made him cut all ties with the Justice League and tell his associates that they could never again be Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl. This is that tragedy. It's seriously messed up and it makes the story much more personal than you'd expect.
Batman and the Joker. They're practically family. Incidentally there's a mention of Jason Todd and yet this film's Robin is Tim Drake, so maybe A Death in the Family happened too?
I really liked Wayne, who looks like Boris Karloff and who at first I assumed was a villain. He also has Ace the Bat-Hound! I couldn't believe it. Admittedly no one ever says the words "Bat-Hound", but they do say "Ace". Terry McGinnis is a convincing Batman, surprisingly. Mark Hamill's Joker was a slight disappointment, but I think I'd been expecting too much. He's fine. It's just that there's nothing particularly in the voice work to stamp Hamill's Joker on your memory. However he's undeniably a psycho, he made me laugh with "oh right, dead" and I particularly appreciated McGinnis's taunting of him at the end. The film could have just finished with a mindless fistfight, but it doesn't.
I like the relationships. McGinnis has a mother, a brother and a girlfriend. The Joker has Harley Quinn (yay!). However Bruce Wayne mostly has bad memories and embittered ex-associates, which the film exploits to criticise Wayne's brutal disinterest in people skills. I wouldn't have expected that in something like this. They're dissecting their hero's character flaws, even to the point of making him look bad. I was impressed. There's emotional integrity here, as in the scene where Wayne tells McGinnis to give up being Batman, which is one of the most tedious cliches imaginable... and yet it works. The only problem is that the animated characters' acting has a few soft spots, in which the lack of any attempt to give depth of performance means that a line of dialogue ends up looking stupid. It's the animation as much as the voice actors. Yes, I realise this is basically a children's cartoon. That's still no excuse. Justice League Unlimited did it better than this.
The action's great. I'm not normally a big action buff, but this was seriously good. You can have a lot of fun with superheroics in an SF environment, especially if you're willing to get imaginative with anti-gravity lifters and orbital weapons ripped off from Akira
. You can't say they're not aiming high. (In fact the animator who'd done the original scene in Akira
back in 1988 was now one of the directors of the Japanese animation company that did this movie, so he also did the storyboarding duties for the new version, to try to top himself.)
Those nightclub girls are absurdly curvy, mind you. Before you start thinking bad thoughts, I mean waist and hips.
This is a far better film than I'd expected. It's not merely "okay", but strong enough to recommend even to normal people. Anyone who likes Batman should definitely watch this. However even if you're normally luke-warm on superheroes, you might yet find yourself impressed anyway, if you can see past the fact that it's a cartoon. It's a more personal Batman story than usual, with the Joker striking close to home. It has laughs, but it's shocking. Arkham is creepy. The animation and simple character designs obviously make it less terrifying than it would have been in live-action, but it's also clever and dynamic in how it uses its medium. I'm not sure about the technological plausibility of a certain story element, but what the hell.
"Don't you dare laugh at me!"