Batman: The Killing Joke as a piece of Batman Lore needs little in the way of introduction. I feel like that fact, in some ways, has lead to one of this movie’s biggest problems. All in all, I quite enjoyed this film, but I absolutely hated the first half hour.
Let Me Back Things Up a Bit…
But, I am getting ahead of myself, so let me set things up a little. Batman: The Killing Joke is based on Alan Moore’s infamous Batman story with the same name from 1988. Like The Dark Knight Returns before it, this story takes Batman and the city of Gotham to some very depraved and violent places. The violence and brutality, while a bit self-indulgent, has a direct purpose in the story that is being told. This is very much the case in the animated movie for the most part. Unfortunately, this message is somewhat lost as it muddles the story of the most underserved characters in the original story.
The first 30 minutes of the film focus on a new story about Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl. I honestly question the purpose of this story as it does not add anything adequate to the main narrative. I believe it was meant to give her a bit of depth before the proceedings of the main plot, but it serves only to make her look incredibly foolish. This is a shame because within the narrative of The Killing Joke, Batgirl is little more than a pawn. It is unfortunate that their attempt to give her more of a backstory ended up adding little that can be called development. Tara Strong, more commonly associated with her iconic voicing of Harley Quinn does an admirable job of voicing Batgirl in a thankless role.
Batman and The Joker
After that point, the film launches into the main story and that is when things get more interesting. This film is at its strongest when it is focusing on its main character, the Joker. Mark Hamill reprises his role as the Clown Prince of Crime in spectacular fashion. His cruel laughter and whimsical yet sinister voice really got under my skin in a way like no other. Interestingly, this film puts a lot of focus on this villain, giving viewers some ideas of what makes this monster tick. The implications towards his ultimately nihilistic outlook on the world is integral to his plot as his heinous actions chill both the viewer and the characters within the movie to the bone. But again, it is more his message that is compelling than anything else. This rare look into the abyss that is the Joker’s mind is what truly makes this movie interesting.
Kevin Conroy continues to… just be Batman. While he is not allotted the same focus as the Joker, Conroy eases back into the role as if slipping on a familiar pair of comfortable loafers. While Batman himself it business as always, he takes a moment to discuss his relationship with the Joker and what that could possibly mean for the future of both of them. Batman knows that the Joker is a force that is near unstoppable, but both he and the Joker try to get inside each other’s heads to better understand their adversary.
The art style of this film is top notch. There are several images within the film that are taken directly from the graphic novel itself and they look absolutely beautiful/terrifying. The darker colour palette evokes the feel of the 90’s animated series, which is not surprising considering Bruce Timm is an executive producer. It is also thematically appropriate as the story and its themes are quite dark. The background music is a mix of cool atmospheric tones meant to evoke feelings of whimsy and unease. The animation, while clean, is not quite as smooth as the recent New 52 inspired animated movies from DC and Warner Brothers. At first, this seems somewhat unfortunate, but unlike those movies, the action scenes are not the main focus. This movie certainly has its share of well-animated punching, but if you are expecting something that looks like Batman: Bad Blood, you will be disappointed.
Verdict: Fans of Batman and the Joker Should Watch This
In the end, I enjoyed Batman: The Killing Joke. Sadly, I cannot ignore the absolute disservice it does to Batgirl as a character. She was already relegated to a damsel in distress. The added pre-story does absolutely nothing to fix or alleviate this fact. It actually makes Batgirl looks worse in a story that is literally Batgirl’s lowest point within her whole existence. It is a lot to get past. Once the main plot kicked in and the exploration of the Joker and his relationship with Batman and reality itself took hold, the movie became much more interesting. This on top of fantastic performances from Hamill and Conroy save the second part of this movie.
I had a really difficult time reviewing this movie. I will not lie. I absolutely hate the first half of this film for the reasons I had pointed out earlier, but I also resent it because it’s very existence weakens the story. It literally would have been a better movie if that part was taken out. What saved the film for me was the exploration of the Joker and the concepts of nihilism that he sets forth more so than the violence or the shock value that was on display. If you are a Batman fan, this movie is definitely worth checking out for that alone. For an entry level Batman viewer, this story may be a bit confusing and even excessive as an understanding of the characters and their purpose withing Gotham City really helps elevate the stakes.
Nedu is a writer for AYBOnline. He is wondering if you would like to know how he got these scars. His views are his own.