For years, people have been clamoring for Alan Moore’s (writer) and Brian Bolland’s (artist) classic story The Killing Joke to come to life on film. This iconic and classic tale solidifies what many believe is the first definitive origin story for Batman’s arch nemesis the Joker. DC pulled out all the stops as they casted Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to reprise their former roles as Batman and the Joker, the two characters they made famous in what is known as one of the best animated adaptions of Batman to exist, Batman: The Animated Series. Tara Strong and Ray Wise pull up the rear as they voice the daughter-father tandem of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and Commissioner Gordon.
This film has received nothing short of mixed reactions, but the fact remains, it has earned the indecisiveness of its viewers as they were met with interesting creative choices that literally split this film in half. Here is where we review the good and the ugly:
Good: Voice Talent
It is absolutely undeniable that the vocal acting was the real star of this film. Regardless of the feelings that accompanied certain areas of this movie, most scenes were driven by strong actors. Mark Hamill is the real MVP of The Killing Joke. He, like we expected, took control of every scene he was in and made the most of it despite how short his time in the film seemed to be. For those of us who have read the graphic novel, it was incredible to witness Mark Hamill’s dialogue lift every monologue off of the screen and into a place where the viewer could feel his emotion, all of it, whether it was in his origin story or his last moments of the film. He once again showed why he is legendary. Ray Wise, who played Commissioner Gordon, also kept up with bigger names as he had a large part to play sharing space with the likes of Kevin Conroy and Tara Strong. Kevin Conroy seemed a bit sleepy at times, but overall, the vocal talent was a shining plus.
Ugly: The Prologue
At this point, it is cliché to even mention the prologue as a downside to this movie, but it has to be discussed. The prologue was a creative choice that did not quite work out, for several reasons. Tara Strong did the best she could with her material, but it was not her performance that caused this to backfire. In a way, Batgirl seemed incompetent. She was poised against a two-bit, one-dimensional villain with a ridiculous name, one she could barely handle, which ultimately made her look absolutely average. It played up to the “woman need big man” caveman-esque philosophy that really hurt the depth of this character, no matter how complicated she was portrayed to be. With the understanding that Batgirl needed to be given some source material in order to not seem like a standard plot device, they ended up making her seem rather childish, needy, and weak especially when looking at the man that she shared an onscreen relationship with. It set a relatively stereotypical image that many heroic women characters have been able to stray away from as of late.
Good: The Last Half of the Movie
Near the middle of the movie, The Killing Joke really begins as the film people were raving to see finally arrives. This movie stops feeling like Batgirl: The Killing Joke, and gets a full head of steam. The Joker makes his way into the movie and the energy instantly shifts. The graphic novel takes shape in cinema form thus becoming a word-for-word adaption until the very end. After having to wait far too long, the extra exposition is over and fans can begin hearing the voices behind what they could only imagine for years. The Killing Joke attacks this story hard and with passion, regaining its identity once again as the cult-classic many comic fans have known it to be. Not much really has to be said as the last half of this movie stand on its own two feet and with authority. This half of the movie separates itself from first half making one consider the idea that it would have been better off by itself.
Ugly: The R-Rating
In order to spare the general public of a full-blown rant, I will just say this. The buzz surrounding the r-rating was costly and for lack of a better term, pointless. It soured people on what they actually got in the movie which was not THAT much, honestly, not compared to what an r-rating actually means for something expected to be graphic. There was that red stuff, a few cuss words, sexual innuendos, a little skin, and slight hinting of a sexual encounter. On paper, that really does seem like a lot, but visually, it was not. The movie would have been far better off with a lesser tv rating instead of the r-rating that began to seem more like a marketing campaign rather than a reality. The Killing Joke was not as brutal or as graphic as it was portrayed or marketed to be, enforcing why it was met with such mixed reactions and criticism in that regard.
Bonus Ugly: Batman/Batgirl Relationship
Fifteen minutes into the film and the relationship between Bruce and Barbara is already weird. ALREADY. WEIRD. FIFTEEN MINUTES. Among the noticeable things that just felt wrong was the age gap. Love can be found in spite of age, but the combination of teacher/student and man/girl (not woman, but girl, for a reason) felt off. Them being from two different worlds did not help. It felt forced and pushed together just to make their relationship more complicated than it really had to be. And with Barbara being portrayed in way that made her feel very close to college, if not IN college and Bruce being portrayed in way that made him feel like he has been around well before her time, not to mention being good friends with her dad, their entire physical relationship was an awkward direction for them to go. (I know there is comic precedent for this, but this story is a stand-alone and does not make it less weird). It did have a deeper purpose which did help push the original story a little bit more which leads us to…
Bonus Good: Batman/Batgirl Relationship – The reason that this is included in the good section is because though this was a strange, this relationship made Batman’s connection to Joker that much stronger. His hunt for the Joker became much stronger because of how he felt toward Barbara (which was completely unaddressed, just implied). It adds another layer to the original story which makes Barbara’s injury more personal, and as stated before, not a plot device. It forced Batman’s fight to extend beyond people and the dangers of the Joker and made it for a person. An emotional quest that Batman rarely entertains and consistently separates himself from. It gave more substance to Batman’s quest and gave the viewer more reason to latch on to the climax of the story.
Super Ultra Bonus Ugly – Paris Franz though? I mean did they even try?
I do not know if I would advise paying hard-earned money to go see this…sorry DC, but if you want to see the classic graphic novel come to life, take the leap! Who knows, you may find it worth it!