I have never read DC Comics’ The Killing Joke graphic novel prior to watching the animated film. It’s just something I never really gotten to, even though the comic comes heavily recommended as one of the best comics ever released. Oh, I do know what the story is all about prior to watching the animated film and reading the comic as you can’t really escape its influence. It’s the comic where Barbara Gordon got paralyzed and became Oracle. It’s the comic where the idea that The Joker doesn’t have a canon origin story. Heck, The Killing Joke was the basis for Heath Ledger’s interpretation of The Clown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight. And we all know how that turned out!
So, it’s no surprise that the animated adaption of The Killing Joke has become one of the most anticipated DC Animated Movies of all time. It definitely has a lot to live up to. But, did Batman: The Killing Joke live up to the comic’s legacy and legendary status?
One of the good things about not reading the comic before watching the animated film is that my expectations are just limited to the trailer of Batman: The Killing Joke. Think of me like one of the people who just watch the Game of Thrones television series on HBO but hasn’t read any of the books from A Song of Fire and Ice. Actually, that’s true for me, too! But you do know that these people who just watch Game of Thrones are super eager to find out what’s going to happen in the next episode even though the books already spoiled everything. That’s me with Batman: The Killing Joke.
Oh, while we’re on the topic of spoilers, I do have to warn everyone that this is going to be a SPOILER FILLED review. I think it should be okay now since most geeky websites have already reviewed it and the Internet is abuzz with most of the things I’m going to discuss anyway. Anyway, on with the review!
If I were to summarize my thoughts on Batman: The Killing Joke, I would say it’s half of a good movie. That is, the first part that deals with Batgirl’s adventure and conflict against an obsessive crime boss is fine but incredibly pointless and feels out of place (and kind of insulting actually). The second part, the segment that actually focuses on The Joker, is the true meat of the movie and is what makes Batman: The Killing Joke worth watching.
Let’s talk about the “bad” part of the film, which is the Batgirl story. I said that it feels pointless because, well, it doesn’t really add anything to the Joker part of the story. I can see why it’s there. Batgirl kind of gets an arch-nemesis during the first act. The man she has a feud with is a psychotic mob leader named Paris Franz. Paris develops an obsession to Batgirl and manages to get under the heroine’s skin, much like how the Joker manages to push Batman’s buttons at times. However, it doesn’t really become interesting and still seems like an ordinary Batman adventure… until we get to the Batsex.
Oh, we got to talk about the Batsex, one of the most polarizing parts of Batman: The Killing Joke. Batman tells Batgirl she’s off the case as she doesn’t know how to control herself when she encounters Paris Franz. This ticks off Batgirl and the two heroes fight. And then, in the heat of passion… they look into each others eyes and they “make love.”
Honestly, this… was just bad. Oh, I’m guessing it was good for Batgirl; she even tells a colleague there were “fireworks” (Bat-fireworks?). But it looked incredibly out of place and doesn’t really fit the characters at all! I can see why it’s there as it’s supposed to show that Batgirl is a little more than an acquaintance to Batman. But, besides the awkward banter between the two afterwards, nothing really develops from this.
The entire Batgirl story is good but it feels soulless and empty. The dialogue of all the players isn’t that memorable. What also makes this part of Batman: The Killing Joke is that it was like they were pushing Paris Franz to be this diabolical mastermind and a worthy Batman foe. And I just couldn’t see it! He’s smart and a somewhat brilliant tactician. But a foe with the same caliber as Batman’s regular rogues gallery? I don’t think so!
And after reading the actual comic, I can see why the Batgirl portion felt tacked on. It’s because it wasn’t in the original comic! I guess when DC were busy creating the animated film, they realized that, when all was said and done, The Killing Joke would only come to something like 30 minutes! They needed something to draw it out longer so they added this entirely filler story at the start. I can commend DC for trying but it’s nothing compared to the second part of the animated Killing Joke movie. The part that’s actually from the comic!
And, wow! The latter part featuring the Joker was fantastic! I have to first mention that the animation here looks like a step above the Batgirl story! There are some scenes that looked really fantastic. I especially loved a couple of the close up shots of The Joker as he looked incredible menacing and disturbing. If you weren’t sure if The Joker was a scary supervillain, you’ll definitely be afraid of him once you get a glimpse of what he looks like in those close ups! That scene where The Joker knocks on Barbara Gordon’s door and you just see his wide, malicious grin and those points of lights covering his eyes is terrifying! Heck, that entire scene would’ve given me nightmares as a kid! R-rating earned!
The dialogue is also on point throughout the entire Joker portion of animated Killing Joke movie. It all sounds really… I don’t want to say that it sounds natural because, well, no one would actually talk the way Batman and The Joker did in real life. I guess it’s more appropriate to say that all of the lines does fit the characters. Batman tries to sound like the cool and collected Dark Knight and his words reflect that. The Joker is a direct mirror image, spouting off things that almost sounds like very intelligent babbling, almost like it’s nonsense but actually makes all the sense in the world. It’s totally engrossing and I was hanging on to every word!
It certainly helps that the voice actors for Batman and The Joker were perfect. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise the characters from Batman: The Animated Series (but I’m more familiar with them in the roles from the Batman: Arkham games). But they do sound pitch perfect for the roles! That’s not to say Tara Strong as Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon were bad; both did swell in their roles. It’s just that they’re simply overshadowed by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s performances. And I honestly wouldn’t believe that Luke Skywalker and The Joker were the same person! But Mark Hamill as The Joker gives an incredibly delicious performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. I’m not afraid to say this: Mark Hamill is hands down the best Joker ever!
I was honestly expecting The Killing Joke to be more action packed. Well, the first part with Batgirl had a lot of action but it felt really empty. The Joker portion was lacking in action; there’s actually only one fight scene and it happens in the climax. But The Joker part of The Killing Joke works because it’s more of a thriller than an action packed story. The mood is so dark and heavy but perfectly fits what’s happening on the screen. It’s very tense at times and kept me on edge throughout, which makes sense. After all, we’re essentially diving into what makes The Joker tick.
I think that’s what was wrong with The Batgirl part of Batman: The Killing Joke. I immediate read the comic after watching the animated version and, yes, the comic was fantastic. But part of what made it so engrossing was because the star of the comic isn’t Batman; the protagonist is actually The Joker! The Batgirl portion totally forgot that The Killing Joke is supposed to be about The Joker. As such, the first part of the film feels so out of place.
Would I recommend getting Batman: The Killing Joke? I would definitely recommend everyone give it a watch because of the fantastic Joker story. You can totally skip the Batgirl story… unless you really are curious about the Batsex thing (which you actually shouldn’t be).
What did you think of Batman: The Killing Joke? How does it stand up to the original comic? Let me know in the comments section below!