Batman: The Killing Joke – Review


If there is one film that producer Bruce Tim has been trying to get going since DC went almost completely animated, it’s The Killing Joke and why not it’s one of the most iconic Batman stories ever written, although it could be argued that it’s more of a Joker story, but we will get more into that when I discuss the plot. The problem has been a lot of red tape, as you would expect. The Killing Joke was a very violent and very controversial book when it came out due to some of the things it depicted in the book, and again we will go more into that later, and as a result Warner Bros were often rather sceptical about doing it. However, considering that DC’s fortunes have been rather mixed in recent memory, though I would argue that there comics are starting to get better, Warner Bros finally gave Bruce Tim the go ahead to make the film and what’s more, he was allowed to make it R rated. That meant he could go all out with the film, getting fans more hyped. What’s more he also managed to get the brilliant double team together again, Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. Where do I sign up for this film?

It is directed by Sam Liu, who also directed the recently reviewed Justice League Vs Teen Titans as well as several other DC animated films which I would highly recommend. The script was penned by comic writer Brian Azzarello, as far as I am aware, this is his first screenplay, aside from one of the shorts he wrote for Batman Gotham Night. Azzarello is a decent writer, I have never read a comic series he has been writing on that I have fully enjoyed, for example, I am pretty sure he did his best but his Wonder Woman series in the new 52 was a bit off and I am not really a fan of many of his other series, though he is currently co-writing a Batman story and I use the term co- writing in the loosest of terms, Dark Night 3 The Master Race with Frank Miller and if I were to discuss my thoughts on Dark Night now we would be here all day and would go completely off topic, so let’s move on.

The other factor in this film is that it is based on an Alan Moore comic, which as usual, means, his name has not been attached to the project and almost certainly he will bitch about it in an article when some interviewer asks him about it. Alan Moore has never been a fan of the Hollywood industry, particularly with how his comics have been adapted into films. He famously decided that the only film based on his comics that ever had his name on was the disastrous adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and between that and what he believed to be the poor handling that Witchowski’s gave to his script for V for Vendetta, he swore that no one would every get his name on any of his adaptations which has still stood because Watchman did not have his name and he even turned down the royalty he was about to receive for that film. I am glad that Alan Moore sticks to his principles, but I think he has been stubborn in the fact that he still complains about V for Vendetta and he doesn’t want to watch Watchman, both of which I think are decent adaptations of his work. In fact V for Vendetta is probably one of my favourite films ever and while it may be different to the comic, I still enjoy it. So will Alan Moore have a very good reason to dislike The Killing Joke or will the first DC animated movie to get a release in cinemas since Batman Mask of the Phantasm be worth the wait that everyone has had.

I am certain that a lot of people reading this review are fairly certain of the plot of Batman The Killing Joke, but just to make sure that everyone is on the same page I will give a brief plot synopsis and it will still remain a non spoiler review, which as I get in to I think fans of the comic will want me to keep it that way.

The Joker (played by Mark Hamill) has once again escaped from Arkham asylum and once again, Batman (played by Kevin Conroy) has to pursue him to stop whatever scheme he is planning this time. The Joker, after buying a Carnival approaches the house of commissioner Gordon (played by Ray Wise) and proceeds to shoot and paralyse his daughter Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl (played by Tara Strong) and take Commissioner Gordon back to his fun fare of horrors (I couldn’t make it up, even if I tried) with the sole purpose of breaking him down. The race is now on for Batman to not only rescue Commissioner Gordon but also retain his sanity. Just for the record, I have read the comic The Killing Joke so I will be judging this film as an adaption as well as a film on it’s own merits. That being said, I’m not certain that fans of the comic will be entirely happy with this adaptation and I can’t say I’m entirely happy myself. For example, there is a whole prologue section of the film about Batman and Batgirl trying to take down a new mob boss in town and it’s not like this is a small segment of the film, this goes on for 30 minutes, that is a long time considering that unlike most of the DC animated films that go straight to DVD, this has received a theatrical release, it still is only 77 minutes long. Coming in only at the bare minimum time to warrant a theatrical release, that means that half of the time is took up with stuff that wasn’t in the comic! However, while this section does feel like a portion of a lost script for an abandoned Batgirl movie, it’s not too bad, it’s actually quite good in parts and I understand the purpose of it. I get the sense that Brian Azzarello wanted us to relate more to Barbara Gordon and have her have more of a character before she is inevitably shot. In the original comic she felt more like a plot device than a character, so I actually think this, in some ways, actually benefits the film, that being said, however, a few, how shall I say, iffy decisions in this section, including which I am pretty sure fans are already aware of at this point but nevertheless it demands being mentioned, things get a bit Adult for the lack of a better term and I think it may annoy a few people. My personal thoughts, in case you have got the hint of what I am on about and have seen the film, my opinion of it is that I am not a fan of it because I think it messes up the dynamic of the characters. While I do believe the segment does go on a little to long I do believe it gives the Barbara Gordon character time to shine and I am glad we get to see some of the iconic Batgirl in an animated film at last. When we finally get into the Killing Joke adaptation, it is absolutely fantastic. I will say with the first section compared to the second section, Brian Azzarello is a better writer when he is kept on a leash and doesn’t have the ability to go off too much on his own path, that being said he does give a few good additions to the film.

The Killing Joke is a very short graphic novel, you can probably read the whole thing in about 40 minutes. I first read it on a flight to Miami and it barely killed any time whatsoever. He doesn’t just pad out the running time with that, there are also a few scenes with extra action than was in the comic and a few of the action scenes tend to go on a bit longer than you would expect, plus extra scenes added in. Personally I think the film should have been smarter with what it cut and how it expanded on the graphic novel. The additions don’t harm the adaptation however and do feel like they expand on the source material but also take something away from it. The action feels necessary to justify the film. The original comic was more of a character piece and despite the fact that a lot of additions have been made to the film version, the character piece is still there. We get several flashbacks to a possible back story for the Joker and we also get one of the most devious Joker plans ever. You can really tell that both Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan were heavily inspired by this story because the Joker in this story heavily resembles both the Jack Nicholson literation and the Keith Ledger version from the Dark Knight. In fact the plot of this film was very similar to the Dark Knight in the sense of the Joker doesn’t really have a plan to make riches or get one over on Batman, he just wants to make a point to society, being that everyone is just as insane as him and all it takes is just one bad day and everyone will be just like him, so you might as well go mad. This is where the film really gets to sink its teeth into the source material. This is a sadistic film with some really horrific imagery. The R rating allows the film to go all out in the way we had hoped and as a result really delivers the terrifying, almost disturbing story that Alan Moore created and it is very much in the spirit of the original comic. I felt the comic really underplayed Batman and it was at the expense of the fact that the Joker got the majority of the focus. I think the film balances out the two better and it doesn’t feel like Batman is playing second fiddle to the Joker. If I did have one complaint about the narrative it’s that despite the fact that Barbara Gordon is built up big time at the beginning, she goes back to being the plot device that she was in the comic. Granted we would see the impact this would have on her in future comics, but this is a stand alone film, we are not going to get to see any more. We do get some closure in a post credit scene, however, I think it’s another minor point of complaint and it’s really a nit pick because it’s a part of the source material that they had to adapt and I would be lying if I said the initial prologue hadn’t aided this plot well.

Finally, this film has one of the best endings of any of the other DC animated films I have seen. It’s fantastic, to such an extent that the director really lets this scene play out entirely. In fact there is no music for a large portion of the credits. That’s how much Sam Liu believed this ending was. Plus we get some of the best back and forths between Batman and the Joker. The one thing that makes this film, it is the dialogue. Much of the dialogue has been lifted from the comic and are direct quotes, though obviously some bits and pieces have been added here and there. The dialogue is still great from the comic and I even think some of the additional scenes work well, though I do feel that Alan Moore’s writing style doesn’t mix entirely well with Brian Azzarello’s and as a result some of Alan Moore’s lines feel slightly out of place, mainly around Batman’s dialogue. I think Brian Azzarello writes Batman slightly different to Alan Moore. The plot was fantastic in the comic and it’s really well done here, despite my complaints this is still one hell of a well written plot. I even get how well Commissioner Gordon was written as well as some of the other side characters that feel like they were given some love and care, even if a couple of then are a bit under used.

What really makes the film stick is the performances. Kevin Conroy frankly, is Batman. No actor has managed to outdo him in this role and I don’t think any actor will. The man, frankly, has earned his bragging rights on this one. Likewise, Mark Hamill, is the Joker, and not only is this one of the best written Jokers, it is also one of the best performances of his career. He really sells the terrifying nature of the character and really complements the source material perfectly. Tara Strong who seems to be darting back and forth between various DC characters makes an excellent Barbara Gordon and an excellent Batgirl in this one and I would argue that the film would have sunk if this role had been mis-cast. Incidentally Ray Wise who is more well known in America due to his profile on television plays is an excellent Commissioner Gordon, I don’t think he’s the best actor to play the role, but he damn well delivers the part in this film and I really liked him. There are other supporting players in here but none of them left as much of an impression since those four characters get the most time and effort. I did enjoy the performance of Mauray Sterling as new mob boss Paris, but what really sells it is the Conroy and Hamill performances which really make the film.

As for the action. Well it’s a DC animated film. Once again it’s absolutely fantastic. While most of them are tacked on to keep up the running time they are at least done very well. They are fast paced, have excellent cuts and we are allowed to see the full physics of the scene, which I feel is missing heavily from several action films. It hadn’t helped that the day before I saw this film I saw Jason Bourne which I felt had some action scenes that had been very poorly edited. As for the animation, well The Killing Joke was illustrated by Brian Boland who as I mentioned in previous animated film reviews, most of the films try to replicate the artist of the original comic, in this instance, however, I get a sense that the film is really trying to give its own sort of animation at times, although they have still borrowed heavily from Brian Boland’s original art. Several of the scenes of the comic are brought to life in loving detail. The designs of Batman and the Joker are also very close to the comic. I think the animation is great in this film. It’s lovely and fluid and really delivers on the horrific imagery of the comic. It definitely deserves some kudos, although I didn’t see this film at the cinema as I was out of the Country when it was released, I do think it will have worked in the cinema for all of you who did go to see it at there.

Batman The Killing Joke is one of the best DC animated films to date if you look purely at the second half and overall it’s a mixed bag. It has padded out its source material slightly and I would be lying if I didn’t say that there were parts of this film that bothered me and the flow of the narrative is terrible but I think overall it’s a really great Batman film. Especially if you judge it on its own merits. The animation is great, the fight scenes are good, the dialogue is absolutely fantastic and it tells one of the most iconic Batman stories very well. I don’t think it will do too well at the Box Office considering that it’s coming off the heels of Deadpool which is another R rated comic adaptation, I think people are still in awe of that film, but I think the comparison between the two is a bad idea. Compared to the other DC animated films however it’s not the best of the year but I still think you should add this to your collection. If you like Batman you definitely need to watch it and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who liked the Dark Knight, just don’t buy it for your kids, this is not their Batman movie.

So what are your thoughts on The Killing Joke. Was it the adaptation you wanted it to be or did you feel there were some issues with it? Please leave some comments if you have an opinion. I welcome all opinions, good or bad. I would just love to hear what you thought about it.

If you want to know what is coming up next week, then check out my review of Suicide Squad, it is announced there.

Thanks for reading my review, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please read my Suicide Squad review.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia10th July 2024
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