Movie Review: Batman: The Killing Joke

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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-movie-posterBatman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Starring: Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, Ray Wise

Directed By: Sam Liu

SPOILERS

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 batman-killing-joke-movie-mark-hamillacting 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.

Verdicts:

Opening 40 Minutes: D

Killing Joke Adaptation: B+

Jonwahizzle is a comic book slinger for Jetpack Comics Find him on PSN (Jonwahizzle), follow him on twitter and check out his blog, The Collective: Examples of Nerdery for more!

10 thoughts on “Movie Review: Batman: The Killing Joke

  1. Yeah I waited to watch the film before making my mind up about the sex thing and I at first was really liking their relationship because it seemed she was keen on him but not sexually(but maybe a crush?) and I even like her kissing him in the heat of the moment but him taking her up on it instead of pushing her away was weird to me, even without the idea Dick Grayson, their relationship should be boss and employee or father figure.

    Also all the batgirl stuff plus that gangster obsessed with her and the gay friend just seemed to be just that, filler, until we get to the batman/joker story we want, if anything they shouldve added more Joker, every part of his flashbacks I was hooked. The batgirl relationship stuff really adds nothing to that so it just seems separate, even the fucking stinger seems outta place.

  2. Maybe they had them have sex because of Batman Beyond? But that Barbara Gordon wasn’t paralysed, so who knows.

  3. Great review brotha, I sadly just couldnt get over them adding a sex scene in and Batmans animation/style, it reminded me of a Mr. Rogers Puppet at times. Like you said the actual Killing Joke story line was pretty good, but the filler scenes just killed it for me. Dark Knight Returns is still my favorite DC animated project and it doesnt seem like it will ever be topped.

  4. I totally agree, I watched this last night and it really felt like two completely separate stories just meshed together rather poorly. I really didn’t think it felt right having Batman having a laugh with the Joker when Bats just hooked up with Batgirl the week before. They each could have easily been their own separate episodes. I thought the Killing Joke half was really good, it’s just the first half was a let down and didn’t fit in.

  5. Couldn’t care less about the sex scene, it’s totally fine if that’s part of the story they want to tell. The problem is, it’s from a different story.

    I did really enjoy it (I saw it in the theater and I’m really happy I did), but my main complaint is that the Prologue, as you say, is a completely separate story that only adds a little to the Batgirl side and nothing to The Killing Joke. They needed to expand the story, to build up to it. Hell, even simple things went dismissed – why is Colleen, the friend who Barbara is supposed to be meeting, not part of the Prologue? Why didn’t they replace Colleen with her gay friend to add a bit of extra continuity? There’s not even a hint of the Joker before the Killing Joke part starts.

    Take all that into account and you’ll probably enjoy it like I did.

  6. They probably shou;dve just shown batmans origin again to juxtapose the twos transformations, or a moment of weakness of batman where it looks like he might go crazy.

  7. I’m not a Bat-prude.

    I would actually love a better writer than Dini or Azzerello to explain the idea of Batman and Batgirl having sex, the reprecussions of that and figuring out what that meant for their relationship. It is a literal analogue to office sex, only with costumes and Jokers.

    The problem is- this idea doesn’t get a chance to be explored in this story, because it’s about Batgirl being paralyzed. And if you pay attention, implied to be raped helpless by the Joker. Which unlike the original, isn’t an implication or distant thought- a prostitute literally says that Joker usually buys a woman except this time, this time he has a helpless woman. Keep in mind that Azzerello’s Joker IS a rapist when he writes him, and that is not at all hinted at but flat out stated.

    The whole movie would have worked fine without it, and again I LIKE the idea of exploring Batman/Batgirl office sex. The problem is that here it’s used to make Batgirl suffer emotionally before she suffers physically, and it came off needlessly grim.

    1. That prostitute scene was weird. When reading the comic, I never thought Joker raped Barbara because his purpose with the photographs was to drive Gordon crazy. But I agree. You throw in that prostitute scene and suddenly it seems like Joker just raped Barbara. They really messed up with this adaptation.

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