Batman: The Killing Joke Review

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Since 1939, Batman is one of the most recognizable and beloved superhero characters of all time. His adventures have spanned a wide array of multimedia platforms that has expanded his popularity to virtually every demographic. Yet, despite his countless number of stories, none is more controversial than Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. Does DC animation knock another animated film out of the park or does the film fall due to its extreme expectations?

Unfortunately, Batman: The Killing Joke is a tale of two cities, so to speak. The prologue is an unneeded disaster of a padded storyline while The Killing Joke portion is a masterpiece and what we all came to see. Clearly, the filmmakers had a tough time trying to expand upon The Killing Joke‘s short storyline and it shows.

Batman: The Killing Joke follows Batman’s (Kevin Conroy) disturbing path to save Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) from the Joker’s (Mark Hamill) twisted quest to drive him insane.

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For such a definitive Joker storyline, audiences won’t even see the Clown Prince of Crime until a third into the film. Screenwriter Brian Azzarello made a calculated decision to write in an unnecessary Batgirl storyline before we finally get to the Killing Joke storyline. Regardless of what your thoughts are of the Batgirl controversy, we can assume that this storyline was created to establish an intimate connection with her before her encounter with the Joker. Yet there’s a noticeable disconnect between the two storylines. The two storylines don’t mesh well together, and Batman: The Killing Joke feels like two television episodes pieced together to make a full-length feature.

However, once the film reaches the pièce de résistance then The Killing Joke really takes off. The thing is, though, if you were never a fan of the story to begin with then this film won’t convert you. The Killing Joke closely follows the graphic novel, right down to the novel’s complex themes. Both the novel and film comments on the never-ending struggle between Batman and the Joker with their “you need me more than I need you” point-of-view coming into focus.

Sam Liu perfectly adapts this theme onto the screen by allowing Moore’s work to do the talking. In addition, the film incredibly does a great job turning The Joker into a semi-sympathetic, tragic character. He may be a sadistic monster but he wasn’t born that way.

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Much of these feelings comes from the incredible voice work done by Mark Hamill. It’s known that Hamill wanted to adapt The Killing Joke for years and when it came down to it, Hamill knocked it out of the park. It’s probably the best work Hamill has ever done as The Joker. Not to be outdone is Hamill’s legendary “partner-in-crime” Kevin Conroy. Both Conroy and Hamill provide a vulnerable angle to their characters which are able to humanize them during the most iconic moments from the novel.

Filling out the rest of the cast is Tara Strong (Batgirl/Barbara Gordon) and Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon). Despite the said controversy and unneeded storyline, Strong does a bang up job as Batgirl. She’s able to bring a performance that rises up from the preconceived expectations audiences had for her character. Wise brings Commissioner Gordon’s pain and agony to life in the most heartbreaking way possible.

Unfortunately, the animation leaves MUCH to be desired. Compared with Brian Bolland’s stunning artwork from the graphic novel, the animation here looks cheap in comparison. The uniformity to the lines and awkward shading doesn’t have that same impact as Bolland’s work. Compared with the other DC animation films, this one seems rushed.

Overall, Batman: The Killing Joke had a chance to be one of the best films DC has put out there. Controversies aside, Alan Moore’s graphic novel gave readers a rich insight into the vicious relationship between The Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. While The Killing Joke portion of the film perfectly captures that essence of the novel, the Batgirl storyline “padding” that was inserted to the beginning of the film is completely unneeded. If it wasn’t for the stupendous job by Conroy and Hamill, this adaptation would’ve fallen apart right from the get-go.

Rating: 3/5 atoms
NR 3 Atoms - C

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1475 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.