DC has finally done it; they’ve created animated films for Batman Year One, The Dark Knight Returns and now one of the last classic Batman stories: The Killing Joke. I break down what it did right and wrong and come up with a final score after seeing it in theaters.

Batman: The Killing Joke (Warner Brothers Animation)

So what’s this movie about? The official movie summary reads:

To prove that one bad day can make any man as insane as he is, the Joker wages a psychological war on Batman that catches Commissioner Gordon and his daughter in the crippling crossfire and leaves scars on the Dark Knight that even time won’t heal.

Why does this movie matter?

Mark Hamill is back as the Joker (after saying Batman: Arkham Asylum was it for him), Kevin Conroy is back as Batman, and one of the most important Batman stories is put to screen. Why is it important? Some argue the version of the Joker in the original graphic novel dictated how he’d be written from then on. He’s sadistic, ruthless, and completely insane, which is a version of Joker we haven’t really seen in the animated movie front.

Fine, you have my attention. What did it do right?

It certainly makes you laugh (sometimes not on purpose) and that includes scenes with Batman and Batgirl. Frankly, I was surprised there was as much humor in the film considering its R rating. Writer Brian Azzarello does a good job keeping things light enough to be entertaining but balanced with just enough of the serious stuff too. That being said…


Batman doesn’t find it funny…yet.

It positively takes advantage of the R rating. People get shot in the head, lots of closeups of Batgirl’s breasts and butt are shown off (probably for the worse as it makes the film seem like it’s for horny teenagers at times) and sexual themes are dropped here and there too. Everything in the Killing Joke graphic novel is on display too (although the comic did have full butt shots of Barb and this does not). Most importantly, the incredibly iconic scene of Barbara getting shot is practically frame by frame exactly the same and they certainly don’t hold back. There’s something about a prone victim twitching that adds a whole new level of disturbing to the visuals. The creators also do a fantastic job with the more adult nature of the closing third in Joker’s amusement park.


Graphic…


But not as graphic as the comic.

Joker’s flashbacks work and it is in large part due to Mark Hamill’s great performance. When Joker is on screen he sounds exactly as he does in Batman: The Animated Series, but when we see the flashbacks Hamill infuses a bit more humanity in the character. He sounds, well, normal, and yet still somewhat Joker-ish too. You can tell he spent some time getting the voice to a point where one could compare the pre-Joker voice to the Joker voice and hear how Joker’s voice is a mental breakdown with a laugh. That adds some much needed complexity to the film.


Flashbacks of the Joker worked in large part due to the voice acting of Mark Hamill.

Harley Quinn shows up and yes, I know she wasn’t in the original. In a scene where Batman is looking at photos of the Joker, we see an image at the corner very briefly of Joker and what looks like a kid version of Harley. The comic didn’t have anything like that in it of course since Harley wasn’t even invented yet, but it’s a neat little nod and makes you wonder if a potential sequel is possible.

The entire portion of the film devoted to adapting the graphic novel works. Some of it is a bit wonky from animation hiccups or lack of a bigger production value, but The Killing Joke is sometimes shot for shot accurate to the original work. Most importantly Joker comes off just as sadistic and sick as in the comic and it all ends beautifully between Batman and Joker.


Time to laugh!

What did it do wrong?

I saw this in the theater so maybe the living room experience is different, but the first 15 minutes or so are spent interviewing Mark Hamill. They spend a good 5 minutes just talking about Star Wars and it’s nothing new. While his ruminations on being the Joker (and even taking the job at all) were interesting, it felt like they were padding out the movie to be able to call it a movie.

The first 45 minutes or so feel like an extended episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Now some will love this, but it draws things out, makes you wonder if they’re ever going to get to Joker, and seems to all be there to thrust the sex of Batgirl down our throats. One might argue it’s also there to give Batman more reason to want to end Joker permanently, but we really didn’t need so many close ups of Batgirl’s butt and breasts. Because of this new section of the film, it runs on too long never getting to the meat of what made The Killing Joke. We want the Joker dammit!


Are they as bored as we are?

Batman comes off as a huge dick in the opening non-adapted material section. Instead of being a mentor to Batgirl or even showing her one ounce of respect he’s mean and unnecessarily short with her. Maybe that’s usual for them, but it just makes him look bad. The dialogue in these scenes is laughable too and so overly dramatic it’s a joke to think Batman would ever be so petty and childish. It further makes the sex scene even stupider since there’s not one iota of sexual tension between them (unless you count Batman’s jealousy over a bad guy giving Batgirl attention). They show us more of Batgirl’s POV in this section and therefore show more of her apparently considering her and Batman a thing, but it’s so one sided it rings false.


Prepare for a lot of Batgirl.

Much of the actual animation isn’t bad, but there are moments where you’re reminded this isn’t a big-budget animated film. Characters move a tad for instance, but then hold that position for a beat too long as if the budget didn’t have enough money to have them move about a bit more. It’s a bit of a step up from the animated TV show, but it’s not as far along as one might like.

There is somewhat of a new ending for the story that I won’t spoil, but is incredibly unnecessary. The film should have ended just as the graphic novel does, but instead the director thought it best to close it out differently, possibly due to all the time spent on Batgirl. Instead it just reminds us Batgirl’s scenes were misguided and did not work.

Conclusion:

Batman: The Killing Joke is a drop in the bucket of many much better made animated films. Dark Knight Returns was far better in many ways (including Part 2) and it also held true to the source material much more. It’s obvious the new Batgirl opening was slapped on, not because they rushed it or forced it, but because it’s not integrated into the whole as well as it should have been. It’s hard to blame them though, considering any changes to the portion that’s actually an adaptation would have angered fans and potentially ruined the story.

Ultimately, this is worth a viewing if you thoroughly enjoy Hamill and Conroy’s voice acting and if you adore the Killing Joke graphic novel. Just don’t expect to remember or care about a single second of the opening Batgirl scenes and you’ll come away feeling fulfilled…enough.

The Rights and Wrongs - Batman: The Killing Joke Review
When we get to the Killing Joke adaptation portion it follows the source material closely and well, especially the last 15 minutes!Mark Hamill does everything right, especially the flashbacksIt earns its R rating mostly for the betterIt will make you laugh more than once
The quality of the animation certainly reminds us this was originally slatted for direct to videoBatgirl's opening portions are boring, much too focused on her sexuality, and a distracting padding of time that doesn't entirely workBatman doesn't come off very well in the opening portions either. He's either unnecessarily mean or comes off as strangely jealous Many strange closeups of Batgirl's butt and breasts that are distracting and forced down your throatA tacked on ending that's insulting to the source materialInexplicable interview with Mark Hamill to open the film, possibly to pad it out, or to possibly remind us the great Luke Skywalker is in this movie, or possibly because Joker doesn't appear for 40 some odd minutes so we need to be reminded in case we fall asleep and forget
4.5Meh
Reader Rating 7 Votes
5.2
  • Chad Hutchings

    I actually liked the first half better than the part that focused on the graphic novel. I felt giving joker a plan, a scheme, a point to make, isn’t really what the Joker is about. He’s completely insane and random. He’s cruel and sadistic, and finds the different ways he can hurt others and kill them to be funny and THAT is the crux of his character. Him trying to make a statement… it’s something a sane person would do. It’s a cry for attention, an attempt to connect, and attempt to justify themselves, and the Joker just doesn’t work like that. His own vanity and capacity for madness is what keeps him going. Even in the Dark Knight, when he arranges for that bombing incident on the two boats, I never felt he actually cared whether both, one or the other, or neither, blew up. Just the idea of doing something like that amused him.

    Secondly, giving Joker a past also weakens his mystique. Do we know about Moriarty’s early life before he became a criminal? Or how about Lex Luthor’s school days? Or Loki’s life growing up with thor in the movies? Or how Agent Smith was created and distinguished himself from the other agents? NO! Because that’s not the point, they are villains, they are the foil to the heroes. A good villain needs a backstory, a GREAT villain doesn’t need one because they are great at challenging, foiling, and opposing the heroes.

    I felt that batman showed that he cared about Batgirl by wanting to keep her off the case, and that he needed that connection with her, but couldn’t express it because once batman gets all touchy feely, all the ugly stuff he feels comes pouring out. He’s just wound up that tight. I felt it was a good enough story that stayed true to the characters and flowed well. The actual story from the graphic novel itself… lousy action, a Joker that feels very off, cliche action, It just felt… meh.

  • OverMaster

    “Secondly, giving Joker a past also weakens his mystique.”

    This is something I see parroted from fan to fan a lot, but I don’t get it. Batman villains need to have that tragedy element to fully work as foils to Batman’s own tragedy, and it’s hard to get that with someone with no past and no emotional depth whatsoever. Joker sometimes can become a bit of an onedimensional cardboard cutout killing machine, and Killing Joke at least gives him something beyond that. I wouldn’t trade that for a nebulous, ill defined ‘mystique’ that by now it’s mostly a perceived result of fan tradition being passed over through the years.

    “Or how about Lex Luthor’s school days? Or Loki’s life growing up with thor in the movies?”

    Regarding Luthor, yes, in many continuities we do, and often it even can get interesting, especially if Elliot S. Maggin is writing. Regarding Loki, in the movies everything has to be abridged, obviously, but in the comics and animation we do get a lot of Thor and Loki’s shared childhood and it certainly doesn’t diminish either character.

    I want my characters to feel like human beings with human emotions, even if those are twisted, broken human beings with monstruous, negative human emotions.

  • trustno173 .

    Now that all the overrated popular crap (Year One, DKR, Killing Joke) is out of the way I hope they will finally give us adaptations of The Long Halloween, Hush, and Court of Owls, those are my personal favorite Batman stories and it’s irked me to see them ignored.

    • David Brooke

      According to IMDB it’s already out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4705944/

      I concur, I really want to see this.

      • trustno173 .

        From what I know that’s some unofficial audio drama, as I couldn’t find anything about it. But thanks anyway.

        • David Brooke

          Aha, interesting. Thanks for letting me know!