“JUST GO LOONEY!”
Note: The following review contains MILD SPOILERS.
Batman: The Killing Joke has long been a favorite among critics and fans, with it being one of the first graphic novels to receive critical acclaim and its dark themes and philosophical battle between Batman and the Joker influencing every comic thereafter. Ever since it was announced that there would be an animated adaptation, featuring the return of Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s Joker no less, and that it wouldn’t skimp on the violence with an R rating, anticipation was at an all-time high. However, the film goes further than merely adapting Alan Moore’s novel, and whenever it deviates from the source material, it falls flat on its face.
The Killing Joke movie is divided into two parts: one a straight adaptation of the novel and one a prequel story of sorts featuring Batgirl. The Batgirl portion actually opens the film, and features Barbara Gordon working with Batman to take down a mob boss who becomes obsessed with her. While the story’s themes of obsession and the idea of when a conflict becomes personal sounds like fine material for a Batman story, the Batgirl portion falls apart due to weak characterization of its heroine. Instead of the strong, passionate crimefighter she usually is, Barbara Gordon here is reduced to an eager schoolgirl hoping Batman will notice her. This culminates in a particularly awkward sex scene which undermines all that we’ve learned about the characters not just in this film, but over the last 50 years of Batman storytelling.
And to top it all off, it has barely anything to do with The Killing Joke, with the 30-minute segments only lasting effect being Batgirl hanging up the cowl. (The film even includes a hard cut where eagle-eyed fans can see where the Batgirl segment ends and The Killing Joke begins.) Although, considering the quality of the writing in the first act, perhaps it was for the best. There were far better ways to add time to The Killing Joke than this.
For fans of the book, however, The Killing Joke movie delivers, with a visual style that perfectly captures Brian Bolland’s original artwork and rich color palette. Brian Azzarello, who handled script duties, recreates the novel almost word-for-word, with many fan favorite scenes being faithfully recreated by him and director Sam Liu. Your enjoyment of this adaptations hinges pretty much entirely on whether or not you enjoyed the book. There won’t be much to sway critics of Alan Moore’s novel, but fans of it will find the spirit of Moore and Bolland’s work intact here. (Although it’s easy to wish that Warner Bros. had opted for some higher quality animation, considering how the film was hyped enough to get a theatrical release.)
But that’s not to even mention to the biggest strength of the film: the acting. Both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their fan favorite Batman: The Animated Series roles here, to great effect. Kevin Conroy once again provides a balanced and contemplative Dark Knight, and Mark Hamill predictably steals the show as Joker. Pouring every ounce of his Joker’s menacing glee into the role, Hamill absolutely owns the film, nailing iconic scenes from the comic and pulling double duty as both the Joker and the failed comedian who would become Batman’s nemesis in a few flashback scenes.
Batman: The Killing Joke isn’t really one film—it’s two. Writer Brian Azzarello nails the adaptation of the Alan Moore novel, but creates some of the most cringeworthy scenes in Batman history in the Batgirl segment. Were it not for the downright sexist first act, The Killing Joke would be a great adaptation and a fine reunion for two fan favorite actors, but instead, you’ll have to trudge through one of the worst Batman stories to get to one of the best. The Killing Joke movie is worth a look, just fast forward through those first 30 minutes.
Were you a fan of the novel? Tweet me @MaxMielecki or us @YouNerded.
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