Batman: The Killing Joke – A Review
Comic vs Animated Movie… Two Sides of the Same Coin?
Days before the 2-day theatrical release of Batman: The Killing Joke, all the headlines pointed to one huge mistake the filmmakers made when adapting such a major comic story into an animated film: the fact that they changed the whole story. Okay, okay, that may have been a bit hyperbolic, but once rumors got out of the Batgirl/Batman sex scene, the nerds readied themselves with pitchforks and fire to rage-complain on the internet. Unfortunately, this animated film became the victim of overcompensation of past critiques, but not so unfortunate for the fans who can look past the first 30 minutes, it was still a very entertaining experience.
Batman: The Killing Joke is a 1988 one-shot story written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland. The story focuses on the Joker’s origin, as well as his latest plan to cause mayhem to Gotham. The story is pivotal for many reason: Joker now has an origin story, Barbara Gordon is shot and paralyzed, Batman and Joker are juxtaposed as “two sides of the same coin,” and Batman has a dark monologue about the ultimate fate—maybe fatal—of the Batman and Joker rivalry. This story is quick, gritty, and shows many of the vital characteristics that both characters grow on.
And on the other hand, we have the animated film. Directed by Sam Liu and written by Brian Azzarello, but, more importantly, featuring voice acting from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker, respectively. The film was intended to be released directly to home-video and as digital download, but the studios then decided to premier the film at San Diego Comic-Con on July 22, followed by a 2-day theatrical release in select theaters.
The Killing Joke story is actually well intact in the animated film version, but with an addition of a 30-minute set-up story before we get to the content from the graphic novel. This is where it goes to shit. The added “original content” that starts the film involves a thief, a crime family, and Barbara Gordon’s attempt to figure out what it could mean to be a part of the crime-fighting Bat-Family. Batman tries to show her how dark and dirty it gets as a Bat-Person, “pushing you to the edge,” but Batgirl ignores it all and ends up being part of the Bat-Family in a different sense… and insert here the sex-scene that makes no sense.
If you walk into the theater late, then you are treated to an amazing telling of The Killing Joke with the two original, amazing, voices working the main characters. If you take out the sex-scene and add a black intermission scene, then we get a two-part film with completely different episodes. But, the way it happened, we saw a retelling of a story through what they claim to be “modern” eyes.
The Killing Joke is a dark story, and although it isn’t a story that warrants an R rating (that was more marketing than anything else, I believe), it still has some dark plot points to go along with the damsel-in-distress theme. The film’s first half is almost a response to the later, where in a more “modern” story, the only girl in the story isn’t a plot point, but a main character. Unfortunately, this was not done right, and the film seemed to try to create a story to go along with Batgirl’s involvement in the plot that just doesn’t add anything. The sex-scene didn’t add anything.
I’m a firm believer that if part of the story is not needed, if it doesn’t further the plot, then take it out. Batman and Batgirl already have a close relationship—one more in a fatherly sense—so having the two of them romantically involved didn’t add to that relationship, it didn’t add to Batman’s need to catch the Joker in any way. And if I want to keep with my exaggerated statements in this article, I think it did the opposite and it actually made Batgirl seem more needy and less powerful. Barbara Gordon is portrayed like a child in the first half of the film, and I think that’s the opposite of what the filmmakers were trying to do.
All-in-all, I can’t keep from stating that the film was in fact entertaining. The Killing Joke is an amazing story, and being able to see it in action, with voice actors Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, was exceptional. Plus, the featurette that opened the film, with Hamill journeying his time as the Joker was enough for me to shell out the $15.
Maybe next time I just start the film 30-minutes in…
– Nahuel F.A.