One of the most controversial Batman stories of all time has been given the WB Animation treatment! Should you pick up The Killing Joke when it hits stores next week, or wait for the $5 bin? Find out now!
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
Starring: Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, Ray Wise
Directed By: Sam Liu
Reuniting Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy as Joker and Batman, The Killing Joke is one of the most hyped up DC releases of the year. However, it’s also one of the most controversial releases as well, and not because of what you’d expect (okay, it’s also partially because of that too). Bringing back Hamill and Conroy (as well as Tara Strong as Batgirl), Killing Joke is a faithful adaptation of the Batman/Joker story, but the additional material added to pad out the run time sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s so disjointed that I’m actually going to split up the review score. It’s that jarring.
Much of the problem with this adaptation of The Killing Joke is the fact that the original story is only 64 pages long. If you took it as is, it would be about maybe 35 minutes long, which isn’t exactly the length of a project that Warner Bros wants you to shell out $25 for. So, director Sam Liu and producer Bruce Timm decided to add some additional scenes as a “prologue” of sorts to help flesh out Batgirl’s portion of the story, something that she really needs. With Brian Azzarello helping out on script duties, this shouldn’t have been a problem, right?
Oh was I wrong. So very, very wrong.
By now you’ve probably seen the GIF that’s been making the rounds since The Killing Joke had its premiere at San Diego Comic Con. If you haven’t, well get ready:
Batman and Batgirl have sex.
Yes, you read that right. Batman. And Batgirl. Have sex.
It feels dirty just typing it.
Now, I had heard the about this over the weekend, and while I was very disappointed, I was hoping that it might work better in context. Unfortunately, it doesn’t at all. Barbara Gordon, frustrated at Batman’s refusal to treat her as an equal partner in their investigation of criminal Paris Franz (yes, really), lashes out at Batman. The two fight for a while, and then Batgirl goes in for the kiss. This sadly leads right to where you think it will.
Afterwards, Barbara becomes depressed, calling Bruce Wayne to talk things through, and Bruce essentially brushes her off. We can assume that this is because of the complicated nature of their relationship, but come on. It’s bad enough that Barbara Gordon is paralyzed by the end of this story, but to have her be relegated to a cheap love interest is pretty lazy on Azzarello and Timm’s part. If both writers wanted to give Batgirl more to do to make her “stronger” in this story, then they should’ve tried harder, cause they missed the mark completely. It sucks even more when up to that point, Barbara was kicking ass and taking names. Having her and Bruce hook up doesn’t add anything to the story, and feels like a cheap stunt that’s beneath both creators.
Aside from this complete and utter screw up, the addition of new crime boss Paris Franz (again, really) does NOTHING to add to the story of The Killing Joke. All it does is make you have to wait even longer for the Joker to show up and the actual adaptation to start. It’s like Timm found an old unused Batman: The Animated Series script, gave it to Azzarello to add some sex, violence, and PG-13 cuss words, and called it a day.
Anyways, the actual adaptation of The Killing Joke is handled really well. I’ve read the story numerous times and yet I was still surprised at how dark and downright scary some parts of this story are. Joker’s carnival from Hell is definitely the dark standout of the movie. Everything about the sequence clicks, from the animation to Conroy and Hamill’s performances.
Speaking of their performances, Mark Hamill clearly had a blast performing the voice acting for this movie. He really gives his all, showing a surprising amount of range for his Joker. The flashback sequences are fantastic, and take you off guard because you know this is the voice of someone who will become a truly evil and despicable man, but you can’t help but feel bad for him. And when Hamill performs Joker’s “I Go Looney” song as Commissioner Gordon is sent through his carnival ride, it’s downright disturbing. You don’t even need to be looking at the screen to be creeped out by Hamill. He’s that good.
Kevin Conroy doesn’t have as much to do as Batman (we only see him as Bruce Wayne once, and that’s in the batcave as he takes off his suit), but he still brings the goods. At times it sounds like maybe his age is catching up to him, but he’s still got it for the most part. Tara Strong’s Batgirl is great as well, and Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon is also surprisingly really good. He really sells the torment that Gordon goes through, and when he tells Batman to “show him our way works” as Joker runs off, it’s hard not be taken aback by how Wise delivers the line.
Surprisingly the animation, one of the aspects of the film that I was most worried about, ended up being pretty good. There were a few sequences that looked like they were from a motion comic (sadly one of them is the Joker’s full reveal after his chemical swim), but for the most part, the jerky motions from the first trailers weren’t there at all. It’s really fluid, and the colors from some of the sequences are really bold and help make some lasting images.
Batman: The Killing Joke is fine, but it should’ve been stronger, if only to make it worth Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy’s time. I still can’t figure out why in the world Bruce Timm thought the Batman/Batgirl relationship was a good idea, or why they didn’t use any of the run time to, I don’t know, explore more of the Joker and Batman’s relationship. At least then the movie wouldn’t feel like two separate things smashed into one. For now though, it’s worth a watch for Batman fans, but to save you some time, skip through the opening forty minutes.
Opening 40 Minutes: D
Killing Joke Adaptation: B+