‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ (2016) – Review

 Mild Spoilers Ahead, Proceed With Caution! 

Okay, so we have that cat out of the bag, lets proceed with the review. A little background check first. I am not much of a comic book reader myself, though I grew up with a lot of Batman from the animated series, the Burton-Nolan films and the DC animated movies. When I first decided to take a step into universe of comic books, The Killing Joke was my first read. This was simply because the comic was a very iconic one. It was always praised for its hard hitting narrative, the further exploring of the Batman – Joker relationship and of course, Joker’s origin.

SO when the animated movie was announced last year I, like many fellow fans of the character, was overjoyed. Plus Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill returning to voice the characters was simply a cherry on the cake. And to top that off, Warner Bros apparently gave a go ahead for an R rated adaptation keeping in mind the mature tone and content of the original graphic novel by Alan Moore.

Now the comic itself is very short. The whole story is wrapped up in 50 odd pages. Now if a strict adaptation were to be made, it would have made for a 30 – 40 minute long movie at the most. So to avoid this situation, Brian Azzarello and Bruce Timm decided to add more backstory to a certain character to extend the length of the feature. Hence, I will be splitting up my review into tow parts – the first dealing with the actual adaptation and the second dealing with the extended prologue.

The Adaptation

The actual Killing Joke part begins about 30 minutes into the movie. The adaptation is pretty straightforward. It is like watching the actual graphic novel come to life. This was as perfect an animated adaptation could get. Brian Bolland‘s art is faithfully recreated here.

Watching Conroy and Hamill voicing Batman and the Joker was an absolute treat. The duo have worked together since the 1990’s Batman The Animated Series and then into other spinoffs like Justice League Animated and the Arkham games. You can always tell there’s a chemistry going on between these two characters.

Hamill deserves a little more praise here since the movie is a little bit Joker heavy. That man can get up in the middle of the night, get into a recording studio and record his dialogues for the Clown Prince of Crime. Listening to the “memories” monologue from the novel was one of the best moments from the film. Also props to Tara Strong who voiced Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl. Strong had previously voiced the character in the animated series and also voices Harley Quinn in the Arkham series.

Director Sam Liu does justice to every page in the novel. The Killing Joke is filled with heavy moments that felt disgusting upon reading at first, creeping me out from the inside. The director does his best in recreating those eerie moments. The filmmakers do not shy away from tackling some controversial subjects presented in the novel. They do not g out of their way to make it more difficult to watch than it probably would’ve been, they hit the right balance in doing so.

The Killing Joke Screen grab
Easter Egg – A scene from the film depicting the various incarnations of the Joker over the years in movies and comics.

However, not everything was upto mark in the film. The animation was more along the lines of 1990’s series. This made the film look a little choppy in parts overall. I wish that the quality of animation would’ve been better or more modern. This is however more of a nitpick for me.

Also there’s a moment in the comics in the where the Joker breaks into a song “I go looney”. That moment in the film, however great it was, felt a little jarring as it took me out. The film is moving with such a serious tone and as soon as the singing starts, it switches gears to a Disney movie.

During the flashback scenes, Hamill’s voice acting doesn’t feel exactly matching to the meek comedian. There is a moment in the backstory with the character at the bar that needed a more steady approach, a pause that needed to maximize the impact. However the director lets the talking go in the background and quickly move with the narrative. This moment was never explored to the fullest and doesn’t let one feel truly sympathetic with the character when needed to be. There are many more moments like these that do not allow the film to hit you with its full potential

Even with these minor faults the latter half of the film works, and shines the most.

The Prologue

Now this is the part where most of the dislikes for the film generally comes from. The film if it adaptation was very strict, then the feature would’ve been just around 40 minutes tops. The filmmakers then chose to add an extended prologue to help us connect to an important character in the comic – Batgirl.

The prologue has Batman and Batgirl going up against a young mob boss who starts developing an obsession with her. The part was very genius as it sort of gives Barbara her own arch rival like Batman has Joker who’s world sometimes just revolves around the vigilante. The story also has Barbara going paranoid slowly thanks to the hijinks of this guy which makes her go against her mentor and eventually giving in to her dark side for once (ha!). It also shows how damaging playing a vigilanté can get.

Batgirl - The Killing Joke
Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl

The prologue moves in a nice little way and helps you connect more with Batgirl before the whole thing just falls apart. I will be elaborating on this point below with a spoiler tag so those of you who have watched the film can get my perspective on it. The writers have the story go into truly awkward territory which has been received in a very lukewarm manner by most fans.

The whole prologue feels tacked on. It feels as if it were a part of another film just shoved into this one by the time the actual adaptation kicks in. This is because at the end of the day, The Killing Joke is ultimately a Batman-Joker and more so, a Joker story. Barbara was sadly just used as a plot device in the novel to show the disgusting side of the Joker. The prologue would have rather worked well as a separate short which chronicled her time with the Bat instead of being a direct part of the film itself.

I’ll give, Azzarello, Liu and Timm points for trying to play with the adaptation and adding parts with the best of intentions, even if it worked against the film on the whole.

The Controversial Bit

Here’s the part that has received the most hate online.

SPOILERS

Final Verdict

After all said and done, is the film really worth it? Yes it is. Even if the film makes some unusual and one fairly big controversial decision, it is still a solid adaptation of the graphic novel. The only point of disappointment would be how the prologue with Barbara was handled.

The performances are still good, the story is still chilling, and over all the film is still enjoyable. It is still a stronger film than the recent string of DC’s animated stuff in a long time ever since The Flashpoint Paradox.

If you are an ardent fan of the characters and the graphic novel, you’ll most likely find the first 30 mins insufferable, the rest of the film however will be a more enjoyable watch.

SCORE : 6.5/10

Batman: The Killing Joke is currently available in Digital HD and Blu-ray.

Batman The Killing Joke Box Art

Kenneth Sequeira

A self confessed Nolanite, Batfan and a young cinephile.