Title: Batman The Killing Joke
Release Date: July 25, 2016
Studio: WB Animation
Director: Bruce Timm, Sam Liu
Release Format: Theatrical
Batman: The Killing Joke is the animated film adaptation of the classic 1988 Alan Moore graphic novel. It is considered one of the most definitive origins of Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. While it might seem to be ripe for some sort of adaptation, Bruce Timm’s R-rated take on the material doesn’t necessarily translate well in a feature animated film. It won’t go down as the worst animated Batman film, but it won’t go down as one of the best.
For the most part, The Killing Joke stays true to the source material. The biggest difference though, lies in the first 3o minutes of the film’s story. Bruce Timm wanted to go back to Batman The Animated Series, it seems. With that in mind, the opening moments are more in line with a very dark episode of the BAS, just not a great one. The opening moments are is sure to be the most controversial part of the film in already a controversial classic story. Though there has been a Batman and Batgirl relationship dynamic in the comics, it still might bother some in this adaptation. It gives “motivation” for Batman later on, when there really is no need for it. In a way, it just makes Batgirl a plot device, nothing more, which is upsetting.
The first 30 minutes of Killing Joke, simply put, are pretty much non-sense. The focus is on Batgirl, not the Joker like it was supposed to be. Batgirl is cocky and has so much angst. It doesn’t connect to the last half of the movie at all. If it flowed better and the Batman/Batgirl relationship dynamic worked, it might not have been an issue. In my screening of the film, the audience just were like “What the hell?!” or other variations of confusion. This causes some pacing problems with the overall film. The movie is more enjoyable and faster paced when the story pivots into the classic Killing Joke. Even more so when most, if not all of the story, is taken straight from the graphic novel.
One of the things The Killing Joke has working for it is the superb voice acting. It is always a blast to have Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy in their iconic voice roles. I filled with glee to hear them again as Batman and Joker. Hamill always stands out, as apparent in the likes of the Arkham games and the original BAS. When you think Hamill can’t take the Joker any further, he does. There is one scene in particular which involves a Broadway musical number that might seem light-hearted when it fact it is very dark. This is definitely one of Hamill’s best performances, even topping the Arkham games. I honestly can’t picture hearing anyone voicing the Joker in this film besides Hamill. Tara Strong also uses her voice acting chops, but her performance as Batgirl/Barbara Gordon wasn’t anything special.
As mentioned before, the movie is pretty close to the source material. Taken straight from the pages are the dialogue and scenes. Just from the care, it took for the animators to portray scenes such as the musical number or the infamous scene when the Joker shows up to the Gordon residence, it looks like the filmmakers were passionate about the material. It is just a shame that not everything works out.
Though some things like the musical number translate well to the screen, not everything from The Killing Joke does. Yes, it is nice to see Joker reminiscing about his past, but the flashbacks feel choppy. The placement is just like the Alan Moore novel but just doesn’t translate well. There is no confusion as to what is a flashback and what isn’t. They color of the picture changes. It just was the transitioning. The movie could have done without those scenes and it could have stayed true to the novel.
As with any Batman film, the soundtrack is also front and center with the story. It was haunting. Add the beautiful animation, The Killing Joke, besides the issues with the story, could go down as one of the best looking DC animated films. Think what Mask of the Phantasm did in the 90s and you get the idea of how The Killing Joke can revolutionize the DC animated films in the future. With having screenings at Comic Con and in over 300 theaters, DC felt sure this movie will be a huge hit. It was their first R-rated animated film after all. Unfortunately, things are bogged down by some poor transitioning and unnecessary story additions.
Despite the things that bring The Killing Joke up such as being close to the source material and the fantastic performance by Mark Hamill, it still falls flat. For die-hard fans, you might be able to enjoy the film, otherwise, don’t go in expecting much. It just won’t go down as the best Batman story every told on screen.
- Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy
- Close to source material
- Musical number
- The first 30 minutes
- Batman/Batgirl dynamic
- Close to source material
- Slow pacing