Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to watch the animated version of The Killing Joke on the big screen. There was a lot of hype surrounding this movie. What, if anything would they omit? What would they add? Most Importantly, would it live up to the quality of it’s comic book predecessor? Let’s dive in and find out.
Right off the bat I was pleased that the animation on display was reminiscent of Bruce Timm’s classic style, albeit with a modern edge. Now on to the story. The interesting thing about this adaptation is that it begins with a totally new storyline that focuses heavily on Batgirl. I know a lot of Killing Joke purists will have their strong views on this but it wasn’t too bad. I say this because it wasn’t without it’s flaws either.
Without giving away too much, the ” prologue” focuses on seeing Barbara Gordon in action as Batgirl. It also gives us a taste of the true nature of Batman and Batgirl’s relationship. The entire segment lasts about 20 mins or so. It’s very well done, production wise. It’s well paced with snappy dialogue and entertaining action, but the whole thing seems out of place to me. As a standalone prologue, I suppose it works, but as part of the movie itself I found it weird. It’s very Batgirl heavy and the things move at break neck speed. Once the more familiar aspects of The Killing Joke begin the pace slows down.
The plot, for anyone who hasn’t read the comic or seen the movie is basically a character study of The Joker and loose origin story for him. It touches on Batman’s psyche and relationship as well but it’s very much Joker centric.
Joker wants to prove that anyone, no matter how ordinary or good they are, can succumb to maddness if they have enough terrible ordeals in one day. Therefore, anyone can be like the Joker. This is something he seems dead set on proving to Batman and Jim Gordon, and he goes far to do it. Barbera Gordon/ Batgirl becomes a consequence of his horrific plan. It’s a disturbing story but the movie didn’t present it too graphically, so I give them kudos for it. As dark as it is, I was engaged throughout. There’s some great monologues in the movie. When heard on screen, The Joker’s word take on a diff rent meaning as opposed to reading them. It was an interesting experience. Ultimately I’m not sure if the comic lends itself for a cinematic translation but it is very well done nonetheless. Much like most of Alan Moore’s stuff, it works best in it’s comic book format. The movie tends to follow the comic beat for beat and thus provides a faithful adaptation, which is a good thing if you’re a fan of the comic as I am. The Batgirl story in the beginning seems to be the dividing point for many. More on that later.
The Animation/ Action:
The animation is stellar throughout the picture. The subtle expressions on Joker’s face are a treat to behold. He looks genuinely creepy on several occasions. Brian Bolland’s art was done as faithfully as possible while still remaining it’s own thing but the key moments were unmistakably Bolland’s art. The fluid animation and colors really impressed me. Again, it was a welcome come back to the Bruce Timm animaiton style!
There is quite a bit of action on display, much more than the original source material provided. It’s quite good but not the best I’ve seen from DC animated movies. To be fair the movie is not really about the action but I expected a few more exciting action sequences. I will say that the Batgirl story did deliver more on that side of things.
The Voice Acting:
Outstanding. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil deliver as they always seem to do. Tara Strong more than holds her own among these giants. I felt she provided some excellent emotinal moments. Perhaps, some of the best in the movie. For my money, Mark Hamil stole the show. He provided the best performance of the character since his days on the Animated series. He gets every beat right and speaks every line with conviction. The Joker’s flashback sequences really showcased how diverse a range he has. I got shivers a few times I heard he spout off some of the dialogue from the original comic, great stuff. As good as Kevin Conroy was, I was hoping that a little bit more emotion would come through, not a lot just…A tiny bit more. Still the moment those two come together, everything works.
The Killing Joke film is a faithful adaptation that only helps to honor the material but doesn’t surpass it. Ultimately the comic book version can’t be touched and it works best in that format. Fans of the comic will appreciate more than the first time watcher. What about the Batgirl story addition? Well, I liked it quite a lot. On it’s own it’s great, but as part of the main story it doesn’t completely work.
Does it really add anything to the Killing Joke? For me, not really, but it doesn’t take away from the story either. For the most part The Killing Joke story is an examination of The Joker and the nature of his insanity. Batman is big part of this because of the history between the two. the story tries to briefly hold up a mirror and show how similar and dissimilar they both are. What the Batgirl story does for the audience is showcase Barbara Gordon as her own person and not simply a victim of The Joker, and while that is incredibly important it feels a bit forced. Perhaps the story was done to appease the growing number of fans over the years that often complain about this story’s treatment of Batgirl, with the very argument being that she is nothing more than a victim of the Joker. For a long time I could never see it that way but DC has always gone back to that moment time and time again. It makes you wonder why they continue to bring Barbara Gordon back to that horrible time.
Victims only get on with their life if they move forward and get stronger from their ordeal, which she did. But we have been reminded of that moment in Batgirl’s life many times in many different stories far to often. That is problematic, but not totally unjustified either. It was a deeply traumatic event for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl so why shouldn’t it have left a scar on her? A scar so deep that it reverberates in her whole world, including the people around her. Batman’s traumatic past is touched on over and over. The night of the his parents murder has left an undeniable scar on him that has clearly never healed. I know, I know… Batman wasn’t the direct receipt of the crime and Barbara Gordon was. Also, Batman was never physically incapacitated after the event. He was fully abled to exact his own form of justice. But I hate the implication that once Barbera lost the use of her legs she became less of a hero or a person. For those that don’t know… She got on with her life and even went on to become Oracle. She became an integral member of the crime fighting team, The Birds Of Prey. She also became the eyes and ears for Batman, saving his ass on many occasions.
Some fans often complain about why Joker had to do this to Barbera Gordon? You hear that he went too far., that DC went too far in allowing Alan Moore to write this. Maybe they did.
Maybe they did go to a grim place that was so dark it shouldn’t of happened, but it did. That argument could lead to a further argument in regard to the direction that comics took in the late 80’s and beyond. It might mean you disapprove, which is fine. But if you continued to read on, than you must accept the fact the this is where comics went. Once DC decided to cross that dark territory no one can really be surprised about what a character like the Joker has done or will do. Over the years the Joker has become a deranged psychopath who has zero regard for the well being of anyone. He scarcely has regard for his own well being. He’s a cold blooded sadistic murderer, do you expect a murderer to be nice? If not, then why be enraged when said murderer kill’s and maims? And it’s not like Barbara was the only victim in the Joker’s wake. Jason Todd( the 2nd Robin) shared an even grislier fate. He was beat with a crowbar within an inch of his life only to be blown to bits shortly after, and that event certainly defined him. For a long long time Jason Todd was not able to enact his own justice until, of course, he was. But even after coming back from the dead, the scars of that moment remained.
At the end of the day you can’t please everyone but I think it’s best to look at both sides of an argument objectively and as fairly as possible. Perhaps this version of the Joker is not YOUR joker. Perhaps the joker you grew up with is more in line with the easier to root for version in Batman the animated series or the even goofier version of the 1966 Batman TV show. Maybe you like your Joker a bit over the top, but just menacing enough. In that case, Jack Nicholson’s version might be right up your alley. Or maybe you like your Joker grounded and a lot scarier, in which case Heath Ledger’s version is the one to go with.The one thing that they have in common is that they all have the same spirit, just done a different way. Everyone’s tastes and opinions are their own and we’re all entitled to them. The point is that Joker, like Batman, can be done in a multitude of ways. It’s very hard to have a definitive version that will please everybody so I try to remember that whenever I see any interpretation done on screen or on paper. I found something to like from all the versions of the Joker I just mentioned and the version in the Killing Joke comic or movie fits into my spectrum of what the Joker is and should be. He can be cruel, sadistic and violent but he can also be complex, engaging and even sympathetic. A lot of fans might call that wrong, I just call it a good character.
Much like Tony Soprano or Walter White, you’re not supposed to love them or even like them, they just are who they are and you kick yourselves for having developed a connection with them as you watch them do something that makes you hate them. It’s almost a betrayal to see such a thing because, let’s face it, a lot of people like the Joker. How many people weren’t rooting for him just a little bit in Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight? It just that when they go too far into a place that a we can’t follow, it offends and disappointing us. Make no mistake, the signs are there and the Joker is many things but a good person ain’t one of them.
Does what happened to Barbara offend me? No, does it anger me? Yes, I care for the character immensely. I don’t believe that The Killing Joke dismisses her worth as a chracter, that’s for sure. Fans may have an argument against that and they may have a point but I don’t let that moment define her as a victim, a defining moment, yes but not THE defining moment.
Barbara Gordon has been retconned and will have the chance to purge whatever baggage there may be left from the Killing Joke. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s what she deserves. A hero is someone who rises up against all obstacles to do right by others in times of need. That’s Barbara Gordon to me. before the Killing Joke or after, during the New 52 or DC rebirth, that’s who she is.