Batman: The Killing Joke presents us with an R-rated Batman flick, which we somewhat got with the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition. Though BvS’s R-rated cut wasn’t a theatrical release, The Killing Joke was (it was, however, only a limited release). While the film has a great sense of action and competent enough animation (I’ll get to that later), it fails to present a story that feels complete (I’ll talk about that later).
In Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman (played by Kevin Conroy) and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon, played by Tara Strong) have to work together to weed out crime in Gotham City. However, when the Joker (played masterfully by Mark Hamill) escapes prison and brutally terrorizes the Gordon family, Batman has to hunt the Clown Prince of Crime once more.
The Killing Joke was directed by Sam Liu, who had the difficult task of bringing this iconic and controversial graphic novel to the big screen. While the book is wholeheartedly brought to life in the movie, Liu made sure that the graphic novel wasn’t all they added in the movie. I guess the book would have translated to only a 40 min short film so writer Brian Azzarello added another 35 min to the beginning to tell a Batgirl story.
I personally thought the Batgirl stuff in the beginning was weird. The only thing it achieves is that it explains the sexual tension between Batman and Batgirl. However, the beginning has some pointless scenes involving a crime boss that doesn’t really add much to the movie except for wonderful fight sequences (I have to give credit to the film for doing those fight scenes). I thought the crime boss stuff in the beginning was important, but when the film finally progresses to the Killing Joke part, the whole thing is dropped and it only serves to flesh out Batgirl (which – spoiler alert- doesn’t make much sense since she was only in the beginning of The Killing Joke graphic novel).
While the first 35 minutes are pointless, the Killing Joke part (the rest of the movie) is actually pretty freaking great. It’s a straight adaptation of one of the most beloved graphic novels of all time (which means the ending is still kept in and I’m still confused by it) and director Sam Liu did a great job bringing it to the big screen. The Joker is trying to prove a point to Batman in this (much more riveting) half of the movie. The Joker intends to show Batman and Commissioner Gordon that the law is messed up by scratching the surface of his own past. I thought this was more of a psychological tale as opposed to a straight up action movie. The Joker isn’t really killing too many people like he does in The Dark Knight Returns Part 2, but he’s instead up to something more personal and that felt like a more genuine reason for his character to realistically exist. The Joker’s maniacal dialogue is exemplified by the impeccable Mark Hamill doing one of his finest interpretations of the famous villain yet.
While the themes in the movie are great and the motives are very clear, the animation is not. I thought the animation was subpar and maybe that had to do with the fact that I sat in a movie theater for this, but I felt that the art could have been better. I liked some of the 3d elements that the animators put in, but mostly the 3d figures stood out from the 2d background and it was somewhat jarring. Since this wasn’t supposed to really get a limited theatrical release until the hype skyrocketed, I can’t really blame the makers of the movie. It’s not like they had a big budget (the film had a modest budget of $3.5 million), but I think they could have taken out some of the 3d stuff like the Batmobile and replaced it with something hand-drawn.
Another con for this film is that it didn’t justify the R-rating everyone was talking about. I think the rating was given to make the movie more controversial and therefore more talked about, but if they were going to do an R-rating, I wonder why they didn’t take full usage of that. They could have made the Joker much more evil and the weird theme park stuff with Commissioner Gordon could have been more sinister. Even the way Batman and Batgirl fight could have been more rugged and gruesome, but I don’t really think the movie reached that height. The fights were still cool, but I wish the film utilized the R-rating more.
Overall, the film isn’t terrible, but it’s not great – it’s meh to say the most. I would say it’s worth watching simply for the experience. Whether you’ve read the graphic novel or not, you can still follow along with the story, and it’s worth noting that the movie has some interesting questions to ask to the audience despite its unnecessary first act and messy structure. However, I think this is a good stepping stone for DC Comics to be able to adapt some of their more R-rated graphic novels onto the big screen and I hope DC realizes that as well. They messed up on their first try, but these guys know how to make an animated film – we’ve seen it time and time again.
So what do you think about Batman: The Killing Joke? Did you like this review? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below! Thanks!
Categories: Movie/TV Reviews