Title: Batman: The Killing Joke Production company: Warner Bros. Animation & DC Comics Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures Directed by: Sam Liu Produced by: Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett & Sam Register Starring: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise, Robin Atkin Downes, Brian George, Nolan North, John DiMaggio & Bruce Timm. Based on: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland Release dates: July 26, 2016 (Digital) / August 2, 2016 (DVD/Bluray) Running time: 76 minutes Rating: R (US) / MA15+ (Australia)
The Killing Joke is one of the best Graphic Novels ever written when it comes to telling a story of the battles between Batman & The Joker, alongside one of the best-received origins for the Clown Price of Crime ever devised. However the forced addition of a Batgirl prologue which doesn’t make much sense and also an overwhelming feeling that the Director and Producers were playing things safe to avoid pissing off the Politically Correct groups that were watching this film like Hawks just leaves me underwhelmed with it’s technically perfect creation and style. A waste of money when it comes to seeing it as a special event at the cinemas, but a must own digitally or on physical media, The Killing Joke is one of those films which has me torn as a Bat-Fan.
The first third of this movie is a brand new production written by Brian Azzarello which shows Batgirl (Tara Strong) chasing down the nephew of mob boss Francesco (John DiMaggio), Paris (Maury Sterling). After their first encounter, Paris baits Batgirl in a personal game of cat and mouse, something that Batman (Kevin Conroy) does not like. The story here is about personal connection and how it can drive people to be blind. In this case, it’s Batgirl being driven to the abyss by Paris, which Batgirl’s infatuation with Batman in a romantic sense blinds her to what Paris is doing. A lot of bickering between Batman and Batgirl about how Batman can’t suddenly be protective about someone without it meaning something deeper. (Yes, this argument between the two leads to the implication, then confirmation in the next scene of Batgirl having sex with Batman.) Paris kills his Uncle and goes on the run, with Batman eventually catching up with him and Batgirl coming to save Batman and almost beating Paris to death with her own hands. Having stood on the edge of “The Abyss”, a mental place that leads to no good end, Batgirl gives up her costume to Batman and retires from being a hero.
Opening “one week later”, we begin The Killing Joke as seen in the Graphic Novel. We get two tales in one here. The first and foremost is The Joker (Mark Hamill) has escaped jail once again and captures Jim Gordon (Ray Wise) in order to prove that all it takes to make someone exactly like himself is “one bad day”. In order to do so, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon in the gut, leading to shattering her spine so she’ll never walk again; then undressing and taking photos of the left for dead Barbara to torture Jim with later. Batman arrives at a Carnival that The Joker stole and not only finds Jim Gordon, naked but sane but is able to get his hands on The Joker and showing him that his case is unique and cannot be replicated.
The other story we see in The Killing Joke is what most people consider the definitive origin of the character. The Joker, without a real name given (As we now know that there are three Jokers), is a down on his luck Stand Up Comic with a wife and a child on the way. After yet another failed audition, The Joker puts his lot in with a couple of gangsters who want into one of his former jobs, the card factory that is connected to Ace Chemical. The goons give The Joker the outfit of known criminal The Red Hood (Not to be mixed up with Jason Todd, the current Red Hood as seen in the Animated movie “Under The Red Hood”). Before the group begin their plan, The Joker is informed that his wife and child are dead in a freak accident. The group break into Ace Chemical, but are spotted by security and a chase begins. Batman shows up on the scene and confronts The Red Hood, who trips on his own cap and falls into a vat of chemicals that give him the white skin and green hair of The Joker. Seeing his own disfigured face, The Joker cracks and becomes the madman we know today.
The film ends with the exact same scene as in The Killing Joke Graphic Novel, The Joker telling a joke and finally getting Batman to laugh.
Usually, this is the part where I go through character motivations and the people who played them and talk about all that. This time around I’m going to just say this: If you enjoyed Batman: The Animated Series, or any type of Batman or Superman based Animated TV series or movie, then you are going to enjoy this. Every actor and actress has had something to do with Batman in the past; from Batman: TAS legends Conroy, Strong & Hamill, to Wise, George & Downes who have been in other Animated movies or Superman: The Animated series, to Nolan North… Because he’s in fucking everything and John DiMaggio who played The Joker once before. Everyone involved has a history of working in animation and Batman and none of them disappoint at all. So instead of going through each one saying that this was perfect casting, I’m just doing it this once. Perfect Casting.
The animation, the delivery of the lines by the very talented voice cast, the overall look, and feel of the film from beginning to end was perfection. This is truly one of the best adaptations of a comic property in animated form. But then again this is WB Animation, and I’ve always said that they are far above and beyond anything the WB Pictures company is putting together with the live action properties. The Killing Joke nailed every shocking and disturbing image from the Graphic Novel and didn’t look to skimp on the blood or skin at any point.
Audio was spot on. Kristopher Carter’s music score locks into every tense moment and is everything that we can expect from the man who wrote the musical score to Batman: The Animated Series, one of the best Batman cartoons ever made. The Voice cast, as I mentioned before, is perfection. You needed the gruff manly voice of Conry for Batman, the insane tones only Mark Hamill can provide, the young and innocence that Tara Strong brings to Batgirl; all are perfection for this film. Even those who are in the roles for the first time, like Ray Wise as Commissioner James Gordon, sound like they have been doing these roles forever. This is a true testament to Sam Liu as Director and the legendary Bruce Timm as Producer. WB delivered on making this the best adaptation of book to film since Lord of the Rings, except a hell of a lot shorter. From a technical stand point, it’s very hard to find fault with this film at all.
What Didn’t Work?
There are only 3 things I found issue with The Killing Joke.
28 minutes dedicated to Batgirl and her emotional obsession with Batman. I know that Barbara/Batgirl was nothing more than an emotional object in The killing Joke. The whole purpose of her getting shot was to motivate Batman into the showdown with The Joker and to also send James Gordon insane. The problem I have with this whole new prologue to The Killing Joke is that it comes so out of nowhere and has next to no actual logical nor lore sense that it makes Batgirl look like an obsessed stalker. Hell, the controversial sex scene between the two looks so forced and one-sided (plus created for the point of getting those sweet controversy headlines) that people were groaning at it’s inclusion because it made ZERO SENSE! People came into this film knowing the connection between the characters and all 28 minutes was not needed.
The Joker’s Song “Going Looney”. Ok; this one is also a fault with the book too. There’s a scene in The Killing Joke where a naked James Gordon is being dragged through a House of Horrors where The Joker is trying to break James into becoming just like he is. This is capped off with a scene where The Joker shows a lot of photos of a naked and dying Barbara on the floor of their apartment. While this looks like a shocking scene, it tends to lose a lot of it’s emotional weight as you hear The Joker singing a song about going insane. I think, out of all the things that could have been changed, the exclusion of the song by turning it into a monologue would have helped with the emotional weight of the scene.
Everything felt “safe”. This is a slight continuation of my second point. The film gets an R rating in the USA, which means I should be walking out of the movie shocked that such things could ever be put into animation. What happened was that I walked out of it thinking that they played the whole movie a lot safer than it should have been. For something so psychological, the impact of the more shocking scenes almost was comical. I personally think they could have pushed things to an insane limit and really made this into a true adult film. However, it seems too much like Batman: The Animated Series and just way too safe. I didn’t see a sadistic Joker that appeared in the book, but the jokester that blasted away on a Christmas Tree. A real chance lost because the people involved knew things would be under a microscope from specific groups that are ruining storytelling these days.
The Killing Joke is one of those Graphic Novels that is a must have for anyone who is even thinking of getting into Batman comic books. This film is a technical perfection of adapting that. However, the forced addition of the Batgirl prologue and the missed chance at pushing things to their limits hurts this film a lot more than it should. The Killing Joke is a must watch for any Bat-fan, however, it doesn’t seem to do enough right in the edits and additions that it stops this from being the perfect Batman/Joker film. If you plan to see it, I hope you didn’t go to the Cinema screenings as it’s not worth that money, just wait a little while longer and grab it on Bluray, or get it today in a Digital format if it’s out for a good price.
The Killing Joke is the best adaptation of a Batman story that WB Animation has ever done. Music, voice acting, and animation are all top level that we have expected from the people involved. However the biggest letdown is an addition of a story that tries to force us to develop a connection with Batgirl leading up to the event of her shooting, but falls flat when her sexual stalker nature is shown on screen for no reason other than to create buzz for the movie. I hate that I dropped Cinema money on this as it really is something that is a must buy on Digital/Physical media and that’s it.
Faithful adaptation spoiled by playing it safe and bad additions